The Veil Debate

By: Chandrea Baster

The United States’ First Amendment, under the freedom of expression, prohibits legislation stemming from or against religious practices. It is virtually impossible to imagine federal laws infringing on an individual’s rights based on religious grounds. Precisely on this issue, there is a clear disparity between the US government and its Iranian counterpart. Through the lawful imposition of the headscarf, the Iranian government infringes on women’s fundamental rights to free expression.

Iran is one of only two countries that have laws requiring women to wear headscarves in public, the other being Saudi Arabia. In the 1930s, Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi banned the hijab to push forward his modernization campaign. However, Pahlavi’s decision was greatly altered on March 8, 1979, when the Iranian government, led by Islamic revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, enacted a law mandating that all women wear head coverings under a new campaign to valuing the modesty of women whilst out in public regardless of their religious affiliation.

The Iranian government has seen a considerable amount of backlash to this legislation as of December 2017. Women have begun removing their headscarves in city squares and other public areas as a means of protest. These actions are not without consequences, however. Because women are required by law to wear head coverings and modest clothing outside the confines of their home, removing the hijab has resulted in women being harassed, imprisoned, and fined by the Iranian government. Since last December alone, 33 women have been arrested for removing their hijabs in public.

Although the veil arguably acts as one of “the most potent and visible symbols of the Islamic republic,” it is also important to pay attention to the women in Iran who resist it as a legal requirement. International advocates for gender equality also strongly oppose these measures, claiming that they force religious practices on women who may not want to adhere to them. From this perspective, women in Iran have been forced to wear head coverings for 39 years too long and it is about time that women make their own decisions about what they wear.

Objections towards the veil are also beginning to resonate with more than just women. A  recent report found that approximately 49.2% of Iranian people strongly oppose the government making decisions regarding the veil and enforcing these laws on the public. The recent push for change by both genders in Iran has been brought forward due to recent social and technological developments. As they see the rest of the world progress, many Iranian citizens feel that the hijab law is a step backward.

What is most important in this debate are the notions of choice and equality. Women should have every ability to make their own decisions regarding the veil. If one woman desires to wear the veil, she should be permitted to do so. However, forcing all women to wear a veil is not morally correct and does not allow for the progression of women’s rights and place in society. Furthermore, the hijab law, which refers to any covering of Iranian women, perpetuates the unequal treatment of men and women in Iran, as it creates an indisputable divide between the obligations that the two genders have to the Iranian government.

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