A new report commissioned by Iran’s police force has come to the conclusion that “the internet” is to blame for women’s increasing resistance to the mandatory hijab law.

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the government of Iran has done its best to force and intimidate women into conforming with mandatory dress codes it considers to be “Islamic.” Throughout the years, it has tried a variety of tactics to enforce the practice, including deploying the “morality police,” uniformed or undercover, to stop, lecture, fine, harass, arrest and sometimes flog and otherwise punish transgressors. However, the most conspicuous incarnation of morality police and this policy of intimidation has been “Guidance Patrols,” also known as “Morality Patrols.”

The Morality Patrols were established in 2005 as a branch of the national police. They draw mostly on the manpower provided by the paramilitary Basij organization, and a patrol's public face usually consists of a van with male crew and a female patrol member wearing a chador. They station themselves in busy intersections, outside shopping malls and other public places — mostly in well-to-do neighborhoods where women are thought to be more likely to flout dress codes and the accepted way of wearing hijab.

In 2016, General Hossein Ashtari, the commander of the national police, proudly admitted that every day approximately 2,000 women in Tehran and other cities were arrested for wearing improper clothing and for transgressions against hijab.

But the patrols have proved very ineffective in actually intimidating or swaying their intended targets. In 2015, the Iranian Parliament’s Research Center concluded that the patrols had failed and that, furthermore, had led to negative consequences among the public [Persian link]. And a 2014 study published by the Iranian President’s Center for Strategic Studies found that nearly half of Iranians want the wearing of hijab to be voluntary, not compulsory.

An App to Avoid Morality Patrols

In 2016, anonymous software developers created an Android app to help people avoid Morality Patrols. But the resistance to mandatory hijab and “Islamic” dress codes has also manifested itself in much more public defiance. Early this year, a group of women who became known as “Revolution Women” stood on makeshift platforms in Tehran, Isfahan and Mashhad, tied their scarves around sticks and waved them in front of them. Some were beaten, at least one was injured when she was kicked down from a utility box on which she had been standing, and a number were arrested and put on trial.

But despite all this, rulers of the Islamic Republic have never entertained any doubt about the legitimacy of harassing women to force them to yield to their will. Iran’s Supreme Leader marked the 2018 International Women’s Day in March by dismissing the Revolution Women protest movement as “insignificant and small,” adding that the only achievement Iran’s “enemies” could claim was that “a few girls” had been "deceived into removing their scarves in a corner.” He also voiced strong support for police action in dealing with the matter.

Now, in the continuing search for “enemies” and culprits to blame, a police report has identified new ones (or perhaps regurgitated an old scapegoat). The report, entitled “Explaining External Challenges Facing the Police in Controlling Bad Hijab,” is published in the latest issue of the Scientific Security Studies Quarterly of the National Police. It claims that “the media, satellites and cyberspace” are the most significant challenges and obstacles for law enforcement in its fight against “no hijab” or “bad hijab”.

The study asked 32 police officers and clerics about the most important challenges the police face when dealing with hijab. The answers identified the challenges as follows:

- Administrative: 26

- Cultural: 21

- Legal and judicial: 18

- Relations with other agencies: 15

 

Not Enough Unjust Laws

People who participated in the study were asked about “bad hijab” and why enforcing it continued to be such a dilemma. Out of the participants, 25 pointed to the media, satellite TV and the internet as the top challenge. “Lack of comprehensive laws and regulations regarding hijab” came second, with 14 respondents highlighting this as an obstacle. The third biggest challenge, according to 12 of the participants, was “fashion worship and the availability and the sale of improper dresses.”

The report shows that, within the ranks of the police, there is some belief that the broadcast of “domestic and foreign series and movies” on Iran’s state-run television contributed to the “promotion and normalization of bad hijab.” Others some blamed the judiciary for “not giving priority to hijab-related cases.”

Another challenge participants cited was that “the media magnify police actions in a negative light.” They also highlighted “lack of skilled and caring manpower and a shortage of facilities.”

Of course this is only part of the story. Negative media coverage reflects the public response to police action taken when trying to enforce the wearing of hijab and other “proper” dress codes. The public has been outraged by the numerous photographs and videos that have been posted on social media, including one video showing a young woman being given a verbal warning and then slapped, attacked and wrestled to the ground by a female police officer. The young woman, who was wearing a headscarf that revealed part of her hair and had been walking down the street with her fully covered friend, can be heard screaming repeatedly: “Let me go, let me go!” The footage shows one of the young women threatening the police with legal action, to which an officer can be heard responding: “You can’t do a damn shit.”

 

Not Safe Even inside a Car

But pedestrians are not the only ones targeted for harassment. The police also fine cars carrying women passengers who they judge to not be wearing proper hijab. The practice has taken place for years, and the owners or drivers of thousands of automobiles in cities across Iran have been fined or impounded. In addition to fines, the police also forces these women to attend morality classes. Attendance is obligatory and their cars remain impounded until they do.

The study by the President’s Center for Strategic Studies, mentioned above, shows that support for mandatory hijab has been dropping steadily. The study was based on four surveys conducted in 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2014. Among the key points it asked people to respond to was the statement: “Dress type and hijab are personal questions and the government must not interfere.” In 2006, 34.7 percent of respondents agreed with this statement. In 2014, the figure rose to 49.2 percent.

The results of a 2015 survey by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance shows an even more dramatic change. According to a report by Mohammad Maljoo, an Iranian scholar based in Iran, the ministry’s survey sampled the opinions of 14,906 Iranians [Persian link]. Among other questions, it asked people about mandatory hijab. It found that 78.3 percent of those questioned favor voluntary hijab, while 21.7 percent are in favor of mandatory hijab. This is significantly different from the results of the 2014 Center for Strategic Studies survey and shows a jump in the number of people who favor the practice of voluntary hijab.

One important point is that the survey does not show any significant difference between rural and urban areas. On average, in provincial capitals more than 82 percent of the people polled favor voluntary hijab, while in villages the number is 72 percent. Furthermore, men and women are not far apart in their views either. Seventy-nine percent of men and 77.6 percent of women favor voluntary hijab. And people from various age groups do not differ significantly in their opinions. In three age groups — 15 to 29, 30 to 49 and over 50 — those who favor voluntary hijab are, respectively, at 82.6, 78.3 and 71.8 percent.

And yet another study [Persian link], published in July 2018 by the Parliament’s Research Center, found that number of Iranians who believe in mandatory hijab has dropped by 50 percent to 35 percent. Another “problem,” according to the report, is that even women who do wear “proper” hijab and believe in it are increasingly opposing intervention by the government and the police. The study states that 70 percent of Iranian women are against mandatory hijab.

One way that the Iranian women have been showing their opposition to forced hijab is by taking part in White Wednesdays, a campaign launched by the journalist Masih Alinejad, who now lives in the US. The campaign asks women to wear white headscarves or pieces of white clothing on Wednesdays as symbols of protest. A similar campaign, another brainchild of Alinejad, is the My Stealthy Freedom online movement. Among other things, it encourages women in Iran to send photographs of themselves not wearing hijab in public places for posting on the movement’s website. Thousands have taken part, and continue to do so.

But it is unlikely that Iranian authorities will stop their efforts to solve the “hijab problem.” Instead, they come up with new scapegoats. The newest culprit, the newest enemy, is the internet. But it will not be the last. As the tide turns more and more against them, they are bound to find new targets for their vitriol and propaganda.

 

More on the fight for women’s rights in Iran:

Women’s Rights Activists behind Bars, October 1, 2018

Friends Fear for Activist 50 Days after he Started Hunger Strike, September 18, 2018

Husband of Prominent Lawyer Arrested, September 5, 2018

The Saga of an Iranian Peaceful Activist, August 30, 2018

Human Rights Lawyer Charged With Assisting Spies, August 16, 2018

Decoding Iranian Politics: The Struggle Over Compulsory Hijab, May 1, 2018

Guards Arrest “Revolution Woman” Maryam Shariatmadari, April 27, 2018

Exclusive: Interview with Revolution Woman Narges Hosseini, March 2018

Khamenei Dismisses Hijab Protesters as “Insignificant and Small", March 2018

Anti-Hijab Protester Sentenced to Two Years in Prison, March 2018

The Regime’s Tactics Against Iran’s “Revolution Women”, February 2018

People Want the Choice on Hijab — But the Regime Won't Listen, February, 2018

The Man Who Joined Revolution Women, February, 2018

Iran’s Prosecutor Dismisses Hijab Protesters as Childish and Ignorant, January, 2018

More Women Protest by Removing their Hijabs, January, 2018

The Woman Who Stood Up Against Forced Hijab, January, 2018

 

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