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What is Iran’s ‘gender apartheid’ hijab bill and what does it mean for women?

A woman protests  the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died in police custody in Iran, during a rally in central Rome (Gregorio Borgia / AP)
A woman protests the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died in police custody in Iran, during a rally in central Rome (Gregorio Borgia / AP)

Women in Iran risk being jailed for 10 years if they continue to defy the country’s hijab guidance, according to a new law that’s awaiting approval in the Iranian government.

The UN has branded the strict ruling “gender apartheid”, expressing concern over the severe punishments facing those who refuse to wear a hijab.

The latest move by Iranian authorities comes almost one year after Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the country’s morality police — sparking widespread protests across the country.

So what does the proposed new law actually mean for women in Iran? And what’s being said about its potential introduction?

Mahsa Amini’s death sparked protests in Iran and across the globe (Justin Tang / The Canadian Press via AP)
Mahsa Amini’s death sparked protests in Iran and across the globe (Justin Tang / The Canadian Press via AP)

What are the current laws regarding the hijab in Iran?

Wearing a hijab in Iran has been mandatory by law since 1983, following the Islamic Revolution.

However, many women in Iran have continued to protest against wearing the hijab over the years.

In response, Iran’s morality police were given access to patrol the streets and detain people that they deemed to be dressed “immorally”.

In 2022, widespread protests erupted across the country and lasted several months after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in custody of Iran’s morality police. She allegedly violated the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women by wearing a hijab too loosely.

The hijab remains a point of great contention in Iran, and more protests are expected to take place on September 16 when they mark the first anniversary of Amini’s death.

Iranian police force stands on a street during the revival of morality police in Tehran (Majid Asgaripour / WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters)
Iranian police force stands on a street during the revival of morality police in Tehran (Majid Asgaripour / WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters)

What is Iran’s new bill about?

Iranian authorities are currently awaiting final approvals on a stricter update on women’s use of a hijab. It’s been named the “Bill to Support the Family by Promoting the Culture of Chastity and Hijab”.

According to the bill, women can face severe punishments, such as 60 lashes and prison time, for “nudity, lack of chastity, lack of hijab, bad dressing, and acts against public decency leading to disturbance of peace”.

Businesses that serve women who follow an “improper dress code” could also be forced to close if they are caught.

A UN expert has said: “The draft law could be described as a form of gender apartheid, as authorities appear to be governing through systemic discrimination with the intention of suppressing women and girls into total submission.”

According to the Human Rights Activists in Iran website, technology is also going to be used to mandate hijab laws and monitor any breaches.

The platform added that the newly proposed law’s “mere existence highlights the regime’s alarmingly intensified position related to the persecution of women in both law and practice”.