(This was first published on 19 July 2022. It has been republished from The Quint's archives after protests over the death of a 22-year-old woman who was reportedly beaten up by authorities for not following hijab regulations on 16 September.)
The Iranian government recently announced that 12 July will be observed as the 'National Hijab and Chastity Day,' to mark the importance of the country's strict rules over women and their bodies. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, it is mandatory for women and girls above the age of nine to wear hijab in public.
On that date, this year, hundreds of women took to the streets and social media – not to celebrate but protest against the Iranian regime's mandatory hijab laws. They removed their headscarves on the streets, posted videos of the act on Twitter, or simply stood in protest – marking #No2Hijab the beginning of a new revolution in the country.
In the last one week since, at least two women activists have been arrested, and dozens detained by Iranian authorities.
One of the protesters was Negin, a 20-year-old private sector employee from Tehran, who was allegedly threatened with sexual harassment by the morality police, as they warned her against protesting.
'Morality Police Said Women Without Hijabs Are Nude'
The young professional decided to join the protest and reached the main street in the capital, when she saw that a dozen women were already assembled.
“It was a peaceful street protest but I soon saw the Gasht-e-Ershad (the morality police) surround us. They detained some of the women in vans and tried to warn the rest of us. One of the cops walked toward me and said I shouldn’t be in this campaign against hijab. He was implying that women who remove their headscarves are practically nude."Negin to The Quint
He then made a comment that the next thing they would do would be to sexually harass them if they didn't stop. "I was shocked. They are free to behave aggressively with us because the Islamic Republic of Iran provides for them financially," she told The Quint.
#No2Hijab: Why Now?
The #No2Hijab movement was started by Iranian women within the country and the diaspora in response to President Ebrahim Riasi’s 5 July directive which enforced “hijab and chastity law” for women. The order not only forces women to wear a headcover, but also directs them to cover their shoulders and neck. The crackdown against “improper hijab” led to call for online and offline protests around the country on 12 July.
Negin found out about the #No2Hijab protest on Twitter from prominent Iranian human rights activist and journalist Masih Alinejad, who's currently based in New York City.
Alinejad continues to share and amplify videos of women protesting against the mandatory hijab.
Speaking to The Quint, Alinejad said, “The Iranian regime has thousands of undercover agents employed across the country to report women for not wearing a hijab. I just received a video from a woman who confronted one of these agents. The agent was recording her and threatened to get her arrested. The undercover agents are even harassing women on their dress codes in women’s sections.”
“It wasn’t just me who started this campaign. The women in Iran started it and I am just their voice. This time the protest is different because women fearlessly share videos and pictures without hijab, while showing their faces. They’ve been fighting against this for years. They’re the true heroes for standing up for their freedom of choice. I have received so many threats over the years, including a kidnapping threat. I have been called various names. But if that’s what it takes for standing up for my dignity, for my freedom of choice, for democracy, so be it. We are not doing anything wrong but just fighting for our freedom of choice.”Masih Alinejad to The Quint
'No News About Whereabouts of Arrested'
After the protest videos of Iranian women went viral on social media, on 13 July, a civil rights activist Soori Babaei Chegini was arrested from Qazvin. Another protester, Melika Qaragozlu, was also arrested for posting a video in protest.
Although local media reported that Qaragozlu was released on bail, the whereabouts of Chegini are still unknown.
A recent report cited Chegini’s husband Mohammed Reza Moradbehrouzi saying that around eight government agents “stormed the house” of his brother-in-law, and arrested her. The report added that they also confiscated the phones of their children, and also threatened their 13-year-old daughter.
While Chegini’s arrest has discouraged some women from continuing their protest – many like Negin or Mery do not want to give up.
'My Family Won't Stop Me From Protesting': Negin
Negin, too, has been sharing photos of herself, without a hijab, since 12 July.
Despite witnessing the violence enforced by morality police against women without headcovers, she reiterated that she is determined to fight against the lack of choice for Iranian women to dress how they want, asserting that she will continue to walk unveiled.
“I am against mandatory hijab because the Iranian officials force women and girls to wear headscarves. Not only headscarves but they are also against the way we dress. We have witnessed them hit and abuse people. It’s very painful to watch. The Gasht-e-Ershad are picking up women and taking them away in vans.”
When asked if her family discouraged her from removing the hijab in the streets of Iran, since it’s an act punishable by law, she said,
“They are worried and they asked me not to get involved with the officers. They are sure that I will put myself in danger by protesting. My family just expressed concern, they won’t stop me from protesting.”
'I Feel Humiliated in a Hijab'
Mery, a law professional from Tehran, participated in the protest on 12 July, but now fears for herself and the other protesters.
“More than 40 years of compulsory hijab has affected our choice of career and social life. I did take part in the protest and the plan was to continue. But after arrests, it is difficult to continue. We need support,” says Mery.
She added, “I feel humiliated in a hijab. We have more important issues in women's rights but the hijab is very important too. When we want to do something about the compulsory hijab, we always have to convince others why it is our priority.”
Narrating her experience on 12 July, Mery says, “There was an atmosphere of fear but many of us removed our hijabs and put them on our shoulders. Soon, they were detaining women. Please be our voice and do not forget us. Iranian women are getting arrested for simple protests. I will continue to fight for freedom in the future.”
With an increasing crackdown on the dress code, the Iranian regime continues to oppress women’s rights and silence dissenters. However, for Negin, Mery, Alinejad, and other brave women fighting against the 'oppressive' regime of Iran, the fight for freedom continues.
(The author is an independent journalist based out of Paris. An alumna of University College Dublin, she writes about international conflict and war.)