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Iran: The Significance of the Hijab and Why We Must Do More

Emily Dawson

Wednesday, 15 February 2023

Iranian women are currently lining the streets in protest of the mandatory hijab and dress code. With support coming from all over the world, it is time we speak up about the deeper meaning behind the protests.

Being forced. Being asked.

Do you know the difference?


Do you think people should have the right to decide? Women in Iran are currently being deprived of this basic right.


Following the death of Mahsa Amini on 16 September, Iranian protestors have filled the streets fighting and protesting the brutality of the so-called ‘morality police’ and the strict dress codes enforced by the Islamic Revolution.


Mahsa Amini was killed by the country’s police after being arrested for not correctly wearing her mandatory hijab and not conforming to dress expectations. Statements explain how Amini was beaten and struck several times before she died, yet the government is denying any wrongdoing.


As of 4 December, six people have been sentenced to death, at least 26 others are currently facing charges for crimes that could see them hanged and 459 people have been killed. This hasn’t stopped the protestors from standing up for what they believe in.


The mandatory ruling of the hijab, a religious piece of clothing associated with modesty and one’s commitment to Islam, was established in Iran in 1983, with the expectation that all women, whether they are Muslim or not, would conform to the code. Ruling this item of clothing as mandatory is against what the hijab represents. Prior to 1983, when the government were advocating for women to remove their hijabs, many women wore the hijab as a way of protesting against the government. Ironically, the opposite is now taking place.


Women are currently taking to the streets in protest of the mandatory hijab. These women are fighting the violence of the so-called morality police with peaceful, non-violent demonstrations. They are removing and burning their hijabs ­– something which for many Muslims, not just in Iran but around the world, is a very significant and striking move.


Removing the hijab has caused controversy across the country. Revealing their hair demonstrates their opposition to the strict rules imposed by the Islamic government. Burning their hijabs is a very strong and significant form of protest, considering the religious connotations of the item. This act is done not with the intention of destroying the religious hijab but instead to get rid of the restrictions for women that come with this obligatory dress code. These protests go to say that if the government can’t respect the religious perspective surrounding the hijab, then neither can the women of Iran.


These demonstrations have certainly had the desired reaction; mobilising people around the world regarding a woman’s right to choose. Word has spread very quickly across the globe about the protests and the severe violence that the people of Iran are being subjected to.


However, media-led discussions have been minimal. Why, when the media have such a power to help, do they sit silently?


While the media have discussed the situation in Iran, reports focus on results rather than reason. These reports talk about the level of violence inflicted on the women, but not why the women are protesting. This style of reporting means the public draw their own conclusions that the religion is oppressive against women when this is not the case. It can be put down to the desire to remain oblivious; these events aren’t happening in the Western world therefore they don’t affect us. However, there is a need to discuss the whys behind the headlines; why these women are protesting, why the mandatory hijab is so significant and why this goes against everything taught in the Quran. There is a need to educate. Without these conversations, the Western world will remain blindfolded to what Islam is about and there will be no change in the way the Muslim community is viewed, therefore, perpetuating Islamophobic ideas. Everything comes back to education; the media have the means to educate and therefore the responsibility to do so.


With the protests showing little sign of coming to an end, support has grown from all over the world; both men and women are standing in solidarity with the protestors. The latest form of protest can be seen with the Iranian footballers at the Qatar World Cup, who in their first match did not sing the national anthem. However, this didn’t come without risks. The players, who were originally told by their coach that they could protest if it aligned with FIFA’s criteria, have been informed that if they continue with this form of protest, their families will be imprisoned and tortured.


These protests have spread across the world, with many of the world’s main cities fighting for ‘justice for Iran’. One brave man at the World Cup ran across the pitch as a form of protest with “Respect for Iranian women”, among other things, written on his top.


If people who go about their daily lives with no connection to Iran can show such bravery, why can’t the media drive the change we need to see?


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Iran: The Significance of the Hijab and Why We Must Do More

Emily Dawson


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