Iran: Proposed Bill Pushes Denial of Basic Rights to Unveiled Women
Defiance Against Mandatory Hijab Grows as Iranian Government Seeks Stricter Measures
Unveiled Women Assaulted, Blocked from Accessing Essential Services
June 15, 2023 – In the wake of the “Woman Life Freedom” movement that ignited nine months ago, a new parliamentary bill has emerged, intensifying discrimination against women who choose not to wear the hijab in Iran, while also undermining fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, belief, religion, and association.
“Women in Iran have long endured a status as second-class citizens, both in legal framework and societal norms. Now, the government’s proposed bill aims to widen the scope of institutionalized discrimination by establishing a subclass for unveiled women,” said Jasmin Ramsey, the deputy director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “This bill suggests that simply revealing women’s hair should result in denial of essential services such as access to banking and public transportation, or even imprisonment.”
“The bill also places an onerous burden on ordinary citizens, compelling them to participate in the state’s degradation of unveiled women,” added Ramsey. “By enforcing a system of surveillance and reporting, it creates an environment of division and hostility among Iranians, leaving women even more vulnerable to violence.”
The imposition of compulsory hijab on women and girls in Iran dates back to 1981, following Iran’s 1979 revolution. Since then, numerous women have expressed their opposition to being coerced into wearing full-body coverings, either through public demonstrations or daily acts of resistance.
However, many have faced significant repercussions for their peaceful acts of civil disobedience, particularly in recent times due to the demonization by Iranian officials of unveiled women who have been growing in number since the anti-government protests that began in September 2022. These protests were triggered by the death of Mahsa Jina Amini, 22, who died while in state custody after being arrested in the capital for an allegedly improper hijab.
The ongoing peaceful protest by women against the forced hijab, which remains a prominent aspect of the “Woman Life Freedom” movement, has come at a great personal cost for these individuals.
In interviews with CHRI, women in various Iranian cities described being physically assaulted in public or blocked from accessing basic services simply because they were in public with their hair uncovered.
“A few days ago, a man on the metro pushed me hard because I wasn’t wearing a hijab and I fell on the ground,” a woman in Tehran told CHRI.
“Then he dragged me… If the police hadn’t arrived, the man wouldn’t have left me alone,” she said.
In light of the intense persecution they are enduring, all the women who shared their stories with CHRI for this article have chosen to remain anonymous in order to safeguard themselves from potential reprisals by state security agencies for speaking out publicly.
Further interviews with women recounting their experiences of appearing unveiled in Iran can be found later in this article.
“Chastity and Hijab Law” Increases Discrimination, Violence Against Women
Currently, women in Iran can face fines, arrests, or imprisonment for not wearing a hijab. Article 638 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code states that “Women who appear in public places and roads without wearing an Islamic hijab shall be sentenced to ten days to two months’ imprisonment or a fine of 50 thousand to five hundred rials.”
Furthermore, women can be charged with prostitution or “promoting prostitution” if they refuse to wear the veil or advocate for a woman’s right to dress as she wishes, as outlined in Article 639. This offense carries a punishment of one to ten years’ imprisonment.
The proposed “Chastity and Hijab” bill takes the notion even further by equating the act of appearing in public without a hijab, whether in person or on social media, with harm to society and considers it equivalent to “nudity.” The bill introduces a range of additional punishments, including monetary fines, restrictions on accessing bank accounts, confiscation of personal vehicles, travel limitations, bans on online activity, and imprisonment.
These measures further reinforce the discriminatory treatment of women who choose not to wear the hijab or advocate for their right to dress according to their own preferences. The proposed bill seeks to intensify the control and punishment imposed on women who defy the compulsory hijab, thereby perpetuating a climate of oppression and limitation of personal freedom.
Under the proposed law, government employees who are accused of not wearing a proper hijab or not wearing a hijab at all would face salary and benefit deductions and could potentially be deprived of their employment.
Business owners and their staff would be obligated to monitor and enforce compliance with the compulsory hijab law. Failure to do so could result in the closure of their businesses.
The proposed law also specifically targets celebrities who are accused of participating in or promoting the act of unveiling. Their actions are equated with acts against national security, leading to a range of punishments, including work bans, restrictions on using social media, and imprisonment.
These provisions demonstrate the far-reaching and oppressive nature of the proposed law, as it not only seeks to regulate the behavior of individuals but also places significant responsibilities and potential penalties on employers and public figures. “It aims to create a climate of fear and control, further curtailing personal freedoms and discouraging dissent against the enforced hijab,” said Ramsey.
“The proposed bill is inherently unlawful as it violates Article 9 of the Constitution, which explicitly states that ‘no authority has the right to abrogate legitimate freedoms, not even by enacting laws and regulations for that purpose, under the pretext of preserving the independence and territorial integrity of the country,'” said Saeid Dehghan, an Iranian human rights lawyer, during an interview with CHRI.
Dehghan further highlighted the problematic nature of the bill by pointing out that subparagraph (a) fails to define key terms such as “violations of social norms” and “hijab” itself. This absence of clear definitions not only creates opportunities for manipulation and misuse of the law but also increases the likelihood of citizens’ rights being violated due to the lack of clarity.
In essence, the proposed bill not only contravenes the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution but also suffers from vagueness and ambiguity, making it susceptible to abuse and potential infringement of individual liberties.
UN human rights experts have strongly criticized the Islamic Republic’s practice of “criminalizing the act of refusing to wear a hijab,” highlighting that it constitutes a clear violation of women and girls’ right to freedom of expression. They further assert that this violation opens the door to potential encroachments on other essential rights, encompassing political, civil, cultural, and economic aspects.
In a parallel endeavor, women’s rights activists from Afghanistan and Iran initiated a campaign in March 2023 with the objective of establishing formal recognition of gender apartheid as a crime under international law. The ultimate goal of this campaign is to put an end to the existing systems of gender apartheid in place within the Islamic Republic of Iran and under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. By advocating for this recognition, the activists aspire to dismantle the structures that perpetuate gender-based discrimination and inequality in these regions.
Unveiled Women Describe Being Denied Essential Services
Although the “Chastity and Hijab” bill has not yet become law, unveiled women in Iran are already experiencing extreme discrimination like that which is promoted in the bill, according to research by CHRI.
For example, at universities, paramilitary forces have been harassing and attacking women, while students have been threatened with grade reductions and being barred from taking final exams simply for showing their hair.
“They confiscated our [student ID] cards and warned that we wouldn’t be able to take the final exams without a card,” said one student at North Tehran University. “We complained to the university administrators, but they refused to answer our questions. They said this matter was for the disciplinary committee to decide. The disciplinary committee told us we would be summoned when the time comes.”
University disciplinary committees at dozens of universities across the country are spearheading a crackdown on students and professors accused of supporting the protests of the “Woman Life Freedom” movement, including by subjecting them to arrests, banishments and expulsions.
“We have anxiety over this issue and worry about the future of our education, which has become a nightmare in Iran,” the student told CHRI. “We have daily fears of entering a university without a hijab, where they have installed at least three more cameras to monitor us in the campus in 360 degrees.”
One woman in the city of Kerman described being refused a scheduled surgery from the moment she entered the hospital for her appointment unless she covered her hair.
“The head of security didn’t allow me. I said I could lodge a complaint against him. He said the hospital is owned by the Revolutionary Guards, and my complaint wouldn’t make any difference,” she said.
“In the end, the security official brought me a scarf and a long manteau, because I was wearing a short coat,” she added. “I wore the clothes and they accompanied me up to the doctor’s office, as if I was under arrest.”
Another woman in the city of Isfahan told CHRI she was told she had to wear a scarf to use the country’s domestic ride-hailing service, Snapp: “He said both of us would get fined. I had no choice, so I put on a scarf that I had in my bag.”
On another day, the cafe she was in was closed after the appearance of state security forces:
“It was crowded and nobody was wearing a hijab. Suddenly, six or seven plainclothes officers entered the cafe and loudly ordered everyone to put on their scarves. Some of the cafe customers were frightened and quickly put on their scarves, while others paid no attention to the threats and stayed unveiled. The officers left… The owner was very angry… After about half an hour, the officers came back and ordered all customers to pay their bills and leave because the cafe was going to be shut. We left and the owner was forced to close the cafe.”
Meanwhile, those who are seen as promoting defiance against the compulsory hijab are being sentenced to jail, while film industry members are being banned from working.
On June 12, 2023, Souri Babaei Chegini was sentenced to a year in prison by the revolutionary court in the city of Qazvin for allegedly promoting a woman’s right not to wear a hijab. Her husband, Mohammad Reza Morad-Behrouzi, is also serving a one-year prison sentence on the same accusation.
On March 14, BBC Persian published a judicial document revealing that 52 Iranians in the film and music community had been banned from contractual dealings, in effect denying them a legal source of income, because of their support for recent protests.
The list includes actress Taraneh Alidoosti, film director Asghar Farhadi and musician Kayhan Kalhor.
“The Iranian government’s refusal to acknowledge the demands of the ‘Woman Life Freedom’ movement, resonating within Iran and beyond, reflects its obstinacy in recognizing that the hijab should be a matter of personal choice rather than a tool for political repression,” said Ramsey.
“This systematic denial of fundamental rights represents not only an inhumane approach but also an ultimately futile strategy,” she added.
“Women, girls, and young individuals already outnumber the older male rulers who exert control through coercion,” she said. “Regardless of the government’s actions, the future of Iran will ultimately be shaped by the very people it seeks to suppress.”
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