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

February 6, 2018
4 min read
People Want the Choice on Hijab — But the Regime Won't Listen

Recently published research reveals that that nearly half of Iranians want the wearing of hijab to be voluntary, not compulsory. 

The study, conducted by the Iranian President’s Center for Strategic Studies, was actually finalized in 2014, but was only published on Saturday, February 3, shortly after anti-hijab protests — now dubbed the Revolution Woman movement — took place in several cities in Iran, leading to the arrest of at least 29 protesters. The center’s website touts the study as a “proper” guide to understanding what it describes as the Revolution Woman “phenomenon.” [Persian link]

It summarizes the findings of 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 2007, 2010 and 2014 the figures were, respectively, 25.5, 53.7 and 49.2 percent.

What is surprising is that the number of Iranians who agreed with the statement fell sharply in 2007, but then in 2010 the figure more than doubled. One theory to explain the sharp fall was that it was the result of widespread propaganda during the first two years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency — and then one year after the disputed 2009 presidential election, social and political grievances reversed the flow.

Based on these surveys and others, the study concludes: “It is very difficult to implement an official and a desirable model for how women should dress in a society where at least 41 to 50 percent believe hijab is a personal and voluntary choice.” Such a conclusion is, for all intents and purposes, a confession that policies to enforce mandatory hijab, set by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution and carried out by forces of law and order such as the Morality Patrols, have failed.

The second part of the study outlines the findings of the General Culture Council, a conservative body of 30 members that works under the supervision of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution. Its decisions on cultural and social policies can be only overruled by the Supreme Leader. According to a piece of research published by the council, between 2007 and 2013 the number of women who observed the rules of Islamic hijab fell by 10 percent. The number of women who wear chadors also fell by 10 percent.

Imperious and Abrasive Edicts

The third part of the study looks at the challenges of setting policies for chastity and Islamic hijab. The study notes that when Morality Patrols have taken action against the youth, “the families have stood by the young people.” Furthermore, they regard the tone of the edicts issued as being “imperious” and abrasive.“Hijab has turned into a moral question for everybody,” the study says, adding that “around 50 percent [of citizens polled] do not recognize Islamic dress as a religious duty.”

Of course — this being the Islamic Republic — the report does not ignore the role the “enemy” plays in helping people form opinions. “Hijab is under enormous attack from inside and outside,” it declares. “Our country is officially under attack by 300 global fashion and cosmetics networks...This means that the enemy is engaged in an organized effort, while we have no plans...Experts talk about the failure of our previous models [for managing hijab] but do not go beyond offering generalities for new models.”

At the same time, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has also published the results of its survey on Iranian’s cultural viewpoints, conducted in late summer 2015 — one year after the last survey carried out by the President’s Center for Strategic Studies.

An Unmistakable Majority

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.

According to this survey, in a number of provinces, including Alborz, Fars and Gilan, 91.7, 90.9 and 88.7 percent of respondents favor voluntary hijab, respectively. The lowest rates belonged to the provinces of Bakhtiari, with a percentage of 32.7, North Khorasan with 32.9 and Kohkiluyeh with 34.4. 

One important point is that this survey does not show any significant difference between rural and urban areas. On average, in provincial capitals more than 82 percent of the people 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.

The findings of the various surveys demonstrate that most Iranian people have reached an agreement on hijab: it should be voluntary. This contrasts with the views of the  Islamic Republic regime itself, which overwhelmingly appears confused in the face of the challenge posed by hijab and whether or not it should be a choice. 



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