CNN reports that police in Tehran recently arrested 29 women for their involvement in protests against Iran’s compulsory headscarf law. During the protests, women have been removing their headscarves in public and waving them around on sticks.
Women in Iran have been required to wear the hijab since 1979, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in the Islamic Revolution. Some believe that forcing the hijab on non-believers undermines its genuine value.
Masih Alinejad, an Iranian activist based in the United States, launched a campaign called White Wednesdays to protest the religious restrictions imposed on women in Iran, according to the New York Times. The campaign encourages women to go out in public wearing a white hijab or no hijab on Wednesdays. Women post photos and videos of themselves on social media using the hashtag #WhiteWednesdays to draw global attention to the protests.
The United States has commended the demonstrators. “People should be free to choose the clothes they wear and practice their faith as they desire,” said Heather Nauert, the spokeswoman for the State Department.
Police in Tehran have suggested that the protests are incited and funded by foreign powers. Alinejad responded to these accusations in an interview with CNN. “The movement started inside Iran. It has nothing to do with forces outside of Iran,” Alinejad maintained. “This is a campaign that’s been going on for years and years. The women of Iran have long been ignored. We’re just giving them a platform.”
In fact, a recent study released by the Iranian government shows that almost half of Iranians believe that wearing the hijab should be a private decision. The same study compares data collected in both 2006 and 2014. Findings show a steep decline in public support for enforcement of the hijab law. Thirty-four percent of Iranians in 2006 were against the hijab law while 49 percent were against it in 2014.
The study was released by the government of President Hassan Rouhani just days after police announced the arrest of women involved in the protests. Analysts cite this as a strategically timed move by Rouhani, who ran for president as a reformer. “One cannot force one’s lifestyle on the future generations,” Rouhani said.
These remarks came after weeks of anti-government protests in Iran. Nationwide protests erupted in December 2017 over the declining economy. The police crackdown on the protesters ensured that the demonstrations ended by mid-January.
The anti-hijab demonstrations, however, have continued to gain momentum and draw increasing support from Iranian women in all sectors of society. The women involved in the protests come from different classes, ethnicities, and religions.
These anti-hijab protests mark just the beginning of the movement for women’s rights in Iran. Other religious restrictions on women— including divorce and child custody restrictions—are other issues being pursued by Iranian women.