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  • Writer's pictureBait Al-Amanah

Gender-Based Violence and The Politics of Hijab

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

By Haniss Haidi, Research and Advocacy Analyst of Bait Al Amanah

With the notorious protest in Iran that ignited the outrage of the masses around the world, it is a wake-up call for legislators to finally revise laws regarding the utilization of hijab - headscarf donned by Muslim women: A spectrum between curtailing personal liberties and adjuring the right. The death of Mahsa Amini purportedly detained by the morality police is yet another epitome of gender-based violence. Her death spurred the rage of civil disobedience, driven by long-standing everyday resistance over the ailing economy, inequality and corruption.

Since 1979, Iranian women have faced a long-standing systematic violation of women’s rights. When Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, the role of women became limited, particularly when he set out to implement the ‘Islamification of Offices’. Unveiled women were prohibited from gaining positions in Islamic ministries. This oppression was the catalyst for the unrest which brought the Iranian revolution that served as the idea of freedom. The progressive forces showed that Iranian women were ready to fight the injustice posed against them.

Forty years forward, the politicization of hijab gives rise to yet another nationwide civil unrest. This prevalent issue centered around the conventional image of gender equality begins to be poised as an American value - contradicting with the Islamic religious requirements imposed by the State. Unveiled women become the stereotypes of the ‘socially irresponsible’ where it is used to limit access towards education and working outside of home.

Months ago, it was allegedly reported that Iran’s morality police had been disbanded. This would be a great triumph for Amini’s supporters if it were true. The protest movement is inevitable as demands are best communicated by a performance you simply cannot ignore. Imposing hijab as a compulsory headwear for women is an apparent case of discrimination that infringes the core principle of human rights.

Donning a hijab should be seen as a personal choice and this decision should not result in any form of state-backed discrimination. Islam is a beautiful religion where it allows the freedom of belief, love and forgiveness. In my view, choosing to wear a hijab should be based on one’s individual relation with the Divine.

As set forth by Article 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), where Iran is legally bound by its provision, it is the State’s responsibility “to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights”. Detaining women just because of their choice of clothing or dismissing the Islamic hijab laws are violating this very Article. Simultaneously, challenging the right to expression and belief under Article 19 of the ICCPR, “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference”.

While laws are a step in the right path, there is little to no leeway given to Iranian women of their right to choose. Commanding women to comply with the hijab laws are a reflection of the persisting discriminatory culture - prolonged religious orientations in Iranian society. There are several gaps and missing links where it is far from being a woman-inclusive law due to cultural reasons. Greater efforts by the legislators and world leaders are required to push for policies that will protect women's civil liberties.

We must acknowledge the multifaceted nature of why women are subjected to unjust acts and prejudices and avoid feigning indifference to this issue. Wearing a hijab is a religious choice made by women and should not be transformed into a political symbol of oppression and marginalization.

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