In Iran, women are daring to go out without their headscarves in public places, streets, cafes, banks and even airports. For five months, thousands of Iranians have been pouring into the streets to protest against the Islamic regime. While the protests have waned in recent weeks, Iranians – especially women – have told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that the movement has caused irreversible changes in Iranian society. Our Observers say these changes are not due to any reduced pressure from the regime, but rather a newfound courage in Iranian women and support from society.

Protesters began seeing fewer morality police vehicles in the streets in December 2022, fueling rumours that the regime had disbanded the controversial unit. However, our Observers have underlined that no rules have changed.

Even if the morality police are patrolling less, there is still pressure on Iranian women to observe mandatory veiling laws. However, the Iranians we have spoken to say that the progress made in five months of protest is something they never could have thought possible.

‘You get the feeling that society has put an invisible safety net around women without headscarves to keep them in the fight’

Mahi (not her real name) lives in Tehran, where she works in a startup.

It’s true that we want much more than not wearing headscarves. We want the end of the Islamic Republic, but in a way I feel that with the “Woman Life Freedom” revolution we have already won something over the Islamic Republic.

I literally burnt my headscarves a few months ago. I never wear a headscarf anymore. I go out on the street, I go to cafés, even in banks, and I took a flight without wearing a headscarf. When I wanted to go through the security gate, which is controlled by the Revolutionary Guards, they asked me to cover my head and I said I do not have anything on me, I had a hoodie that I put on for a few seconds in front of the IRGC guards, then I took it off as well.

Until a month or two ago, men and other women would smile at me when I went for a walk in public and say encouraging words like “Well done” or “I am proud of you”. Now I’ve been seeing for weeks that not wearing a headscarf has become the norm – people don’t even see it as something special.

No one looks or stares at women without the hijab. Even men who seem to be religious look away but say nothing. That this has changed so quickly it’s inconceivable to me.

While it’s true that there are more women without headscarves in the more affluent neighbourhoods, the reality is that even in the southern parts of Tehran, which are poor and more conservative, women without headscarves aren’t uncommon. Many women – especially the younger generation – refuse to wear the Islamic hijab even in this part of Tehran, and by many I mean 20 or 30 percent. It’s amazing that I even felt safe there when I went for a walk. No one stared at the women, no men showed even the slightest signs of misbehaviour. You get the feeling that society has put an invisible safety net around women without headscarves to keep them in the fight.

But the real battle with the Islamic Republic is still ahead of us. It’s winter now, and we have to cover up anyway because it’s freezing outside. But in the one or two months when it usually gets hot in Tehran, I don’t see any reason to cover up like I used to. And I think many other women feel the same way, especially the younger generations. Even now, I sometimes see teenage girls walking down the street wearing crop tops, and when I imagine how these brave girls will dress in the summer, I already get excited. I think that our real fight to push these Islamists back even further starts there.

However, Iranian women still face pressure from the regime to continue wearing the veil, in the form of threats, restrictions and acts of violence.

Hossein Jalali, an Iranian MP, told Iranian media on December 20,2022 that “the restrictions regarding the hijab are very much in place, it’s just the way they are enforced that has changed.”

Several local governors in Iran have banned all organisations from offering services to women without hijabs. On December 25, 2022 the governor of South Khorasan province in eastern Iran informed all banks, government agencies and businesses that providing services to women without a hijab are breaking the law.

On February 18, engineer Zainab Kazempour threw her headscarf on the ground after being disqualified in an official ceremony for participating in the Tehran Construction Engineering Organisation’s board elections. According to Iranian media, she was charged with disrespecting the Islamic hijab.

On January 29, February 15 and 21, three pharmacies were closed in Amol, in northern Iran,Tehran and Shar-e-Rey a poor suburb of Tehran after the “extremist Islamists released videos showing women working without hijabs and refusing to wear headscarves. The three women are being prosecuted.

On November 26, 2022 a bank manager in Qom lost his job after serving a woman without a hijab and was prosecuted by the governor of Qom. A video of this was posted on social media two days earlier.

Ali Khanmohammadi, spokesperson for the organisation “Enjoining Good and Forbidding Bad”, which is responsible for enforcing Islamic Sharia law in public spaces in parallel with the morality police, said in an interview with local media on January 1, 2023: “The police are responsible for closing down shops that do not comply with the law […] We receive videos where someone has asked the shopkeeper to comply with the law [wearing the hijab or asking customers to do so] and they refuse to do so, we can not tolerate that, people have to comply with the law.”

And on January 4, 2023 Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, stressed in a speech that the hijab law in Iran must be upheld: “The hijab is an inalienable commandment of the Sharia.”

However, it seems to be becoming more and more difficult for the theocrats in Tehran to confront the growing demand for freedom. Women are defying the veiling laws not only in the big cities like Tehran, Tabriz or Mashhad, but also in rural towns, which are known for more conservative values.

‘Not wearing the hijab has turned into a political act, a sign of courage’

Faranak (not her real name) lives in Tehran, but originally comes from a small town in southwestern Iran. She visits her family there regularly.

When I visited my hometown a few days ago after several months, I could see that the people there have also changed. I saw many women walking the streets without headscarves, teenage girls chatting and laughing in the streets without hijabs. Not wearing the hijab as a sign of boldness or, at best, weirdness has turned into a political act, a sign of courage to stand up for one’s rights.

Many women wear their headscarves on their shoulders, many teenage girls wear it as a scarf, and some others just do not have it on at all. And I am surprised that I was there only four months ago. This is not reversible. If you close the shops or lay people off, it does not work anymore. Personally, I have decided not to wear a headscarf, no matter what. Even if I lose my job, even if they arrest me a hundred times, if they beat me, arrest me… it does not matter, I will not cover my body the way they think I should. And I am sure a lot of women feel the same way I do.

The death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police in September 2022 sparked the largest wave of protests in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Since September 2022, more than 480 Iranians have been killed and thousands injured in Iran’s continuing protests.

Source » france24