An Iranian bill that would establish new penalties for women who do not wear headscarves in public has sparked heated debate among the Islamic republic’s leadership as more women flout the country’s strict dress code .
Since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, women have been required to cover their hair and necks in public places, with violators facing fines or prison terms of up to two months.
But a growing number are defying the law and appearing bareheaded in the streets.
The trend accelerated during nationwide protests sparked by the September death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd arrested for allegedly breaking the law.
The protests have rocked Iran, prompting a crackdown by authorities that has claimed the lives of hundreds, including dozens of security personnel, and seen thousands more arrested.
Iran’s conservatives, who dominate the country’s parliament and leadership, have passionately defended the dress code and believe that relaxing the rules would start a process leading to sweeping changes in “social norms”.
But as many Iranians demanded change, in May the judiciary and government proposed a “Support for the Culture of Hijab and Chastity” bill, to “protect society” and “strengthen the lives of family”.
The text proposes increased fines for “anyone removing their veil in public places or on the internet” but removes the threat of a prison sentence.
“This bill reduces the removal of the hijab from a felony to a misdemeanor, similar to a traffic violation but with heavier fines,” sociologist Abbas Abdi told AFP.
After Amini’s death and the protests that followed, society “no longer accepts that a woman is imprisoned for not wearing the veil”, he said.
Since the protests, authorities have imposed a series of measures to enforce Iran’s strict dress code, including closing businesses whose staff do not follow the rules and installing cameras in public places to track down people. offenders.
In recent days, at least three officials have been sacked or arrested for failing to prevent unveiled women from entering historic sites.
– “Not enough of a deterrent” –
Under the bill, the text of which has been published in government-affiliated media, offenders will first receive an SMS warning from the police.
A second offense will result in fines of between five and 60 million rials (about $10 to $120), a significant sum for many Iranians. The law would also provide for other penalties, including the confiscation of a woman’s vehicle for up to 10 days.
Defending the bill, judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei stressed the need to avoid polarizing society, saying he understood the “concerns of believers” in favor of the dress code.
As the bill waits to be considered by lawmakers, it has been accused of not being tough enough on the part of ultra-conservatives, an influential bloc in the current parliament.
Easing penalties for violations will see “the expansion of a repugnant phenomenon” by “removing legal barriers” for unveiled women, the ultra-conservative newspaper Kayhan said.
Proponents of the law “do not know that the enemy” seeks to “destroy the family as an institution and ultimately attack the foundations of the Islamic system” by removing the veil, said the log.
Social networks and foreign media, including television channels broadcasting in Persian, call for “social disobedience”, according to some ultra-conservatives.
Within the Iranian leadership ‘there is no consensus on the hijab’, as some are in favor of repression, while others ‘believe that we should try other means’, the sociologist says Abdi.
“The bill satisfies neither the supporters of compulsory hijab nor, of course, the supporters of the freedom to cover up or not.”
A similar situation developed in the 1990s with a law banning the use of satellite dishes, he said.
“It was only implemented for a while before it was dropped.”