nternational Community Should Call for an End to Gender Apartheid in Iran

Center for Human Rights in Iran

'September 20, 2023 – On the anniversary week of the eruption of Iran’s “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement, sparked by the killing in state custody of a young women just three days after she was arrested for alleged inappropriate hijab, the Iranian parliament passed a bill that intensifies punishments against Iranian women and girls accused of wearing inappropriate hijabs. This legislation exposes them to heightened levels of violence.

“The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is trampling the rights and freedoms of all women and girls in Iran by criminalizing freedom of expression,” said Jasmin Ramsey, deputy director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “This includes the countless brave women who continue to risk their lives in peaceful defiance against the state’s forced-hijab law by appearing unveiled in public.”

“One year after the killing in state custody of Mahsa Jina Amini soon after she was arrested for alleged improper hijab, not one Iranian official has been held accountable, not for her death nor the killings of hundreds of protesters who rose up this past year,” Ramsey said. “Instead, all women in Iran are being subjected to collective punishment.”

CHRI has issued a stark warning that the “Chastity and Hijab Law” not only violates due process rights, denying women in Iran a fair trial before punishment, but also exacerbates discrimination and violence against women in the country.

Women in Iran Now Face More Violence, Discrimination

In June 2023, a woman in Tehran shared her experience of the law’s consequences with CHRI: “A few days ago, a man on the metro pushed me hard because I wasn’t wearing a hijab and I fell on the ground. Then he dragged me… If the police hadn’t arrived, the man wouldn’t have left me alone.”

This new law not only places undue burdens on ordinary citizens but also fosters vigilante violence, encouraging them to participate in the state’s enforcement of hijab regulations. Through a system of surveillance and reporting, it also leaves women even more susceptible to violence.

Alarmingly, even before the law’s official ratification, judicial authorities have shuttered restaurants for serving unveiled women, and women have been denied access to banks for appearing without a hijab. These unlawful actions have occurred before the law’s ratification.

Proposed in response to the growing number of women and girls appearing in public without compulsory hijabs over the past year, the bill passed with 152 votes in favor, 34 against, and seven abstentions.

Jasmin Ramsey, deputy director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), criticized the Iranian parliament, stating, “The parliament of the Islamic Republic has again displayed to the world that like the old men who rule over Iran through force, they are neither interested in nor accountable for the rights and demands of the people of Iran. Their only aim is to maintain their power.”

Hijabless Women Deemed “Prostitutes”

The newly passed “Chastity and Hijab” bill, comprising over 70 articles, now awaits review and approval by the state’s “Guardian Council,” which seems likely.

This council, composed of six clerics and six jurists, is headed by the 97-year-old ultra-conservative cleric, Ahmad Jannati, and is charged with vetting all legislation to ensure it compliance with the Islamic Republic’s interpretation of Islamic law.

Presently, women in Iran can face fines, arrests, or imprisonment for not adhering to hijab regulations. Article 638 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code stipulates penalties, stating, “Women who appear in public places and roads without wearing an Islamic hijab shall be sentenced to ten days to two months’ imprisonment or a fine of 50 thousand to five hundred rials.” The human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was imprisoned under this law in 2019.

Moreover, women can be charged with prostitution or “promoting prostitution” if they resist wearing the veil or advocate for a woman’s right to dress as she chooses, as outlined in Article 639. This offense carries a punishment of one to ten years’ imprisonment.

The proposed “Chastity and Hijab” bill goes even further by equating the act of appearing in public without a hijab, whether in person or on social media, with harm to society, deeming it equivalent to “nudity.” The bill introduces a range of additional punishments, including fines, restrictions on accessing bank accounts, confiscation of personal vehicles, travel limitations, bans on online activity, and imprisonment.

Saeid Dehghan, an Iranian human rights lawyer, criticized the bill’s legality, citing a violation of Article 9 of the Constitution. This article explicitly states that “no authority has the right to abrogate legitimate freedoms, not even by enacting laws and regulations for that purpose, under the pretext of preserving the independence and territorial integrity of the country.”

Dehghan further emphasized the bill’s problematic nature by highlighting the lack of clear definitions for key terms such as “violations of social norms” and “hijab.” This absence of clarity not only opens avenues for manipulation and misuse of the law but also increases the risk of citizens’ rights being infringed upon due to the ambiguity.

Global Action Required to Unite Against Gender Apartheid in Iran

UN human rights experts have strongly denounced the Islamic Republic’s practice of “criminalizing the act of refusing to wear a hijab,” asserting that it constitutes a clear violation of women and girls’ freedom of expression. They emphasize that this violation can lead to potential infringements on other fundamental rights, spanning political, civil, cultural, and economic domains.

Simultaneously, women’s rights activists launched a campaign in March 2023 aimed at securing formal recognition of gender apartheid as a crime under international law. The campaign’s ultimate objective is to dismantle the structures perpetuating gender-based discrimination and inequality in the Islamic Republic of Iran and under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Despite facing immense adversity, Iranian women continue their peaceful defiance against the hijab law, even within the confines of prison.

Prominent human rights advocate Narges Mohammadi, from inside Iran’s Evin Prison, recently published a letterin the New York Times.

In it, she wrote, “The regime seems to be purposefully propagating a culture of violence against women. We are fueled by a will to survive, whether we are inside prison or outside. The government’s violent and brutal repression may sometimes keep people from the streets, but our struggle will continue until the day when light takes over darkness and the sun of freedom embraces the Iranian people.”

During his address to the UN General Assembly in New York, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi faced condemnationfrom UN human rights experts for his government’s violent repression of protests. They expressed ongoing concerns about the policies and practices in Iran, which, they argued, result in total impunity for grave crimes committed under international law in the year following Mahsa Jina Amini’s killing.

“The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran could have learned important lessons from the tragic death of Jina Mahsa Amini. But its response to the demonstrations that have led to the deaths of hundreds of protestors since September 2022 shows that authorities have chosen not to,” they stated.

CHRI urges the international community to urgently call for the repeal of the state’s forced-hijab law and to demand and end the systemic repression and gender-based discrimination against women in Iran that it represents.

“The hijab should be a choice, not a tool of state repression. Iranian women’s courageous stance against this government of old men deserves international support,” said Ramsey.