The veil with which Iranian women are forced to cover themselves is “the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Marjane, the fictitious name of a 46-year-old Iranian woman, thus alludes to what she also describes as a “symbol of oppression”, the mark of a “theocracy” in which a woman’s life is worth by law half that of a woman’s. a man. That regime that has turned that garment into a pillar of her identity has suffered a defeat since September 16, according to the story that this Iranian woman tells this newspaper from a place that she does not need in her country. Since that day, when the young Mahsa Amini died in police custody after being arrested for showing a few locks of her hair, the Iranians who participate in the demonstrations against the regime “have lost their fear”, Marjane emphasizes. “It is incredible how many women, especially the young ones, go out on the streets without a veil. Ours is a revolution, but our fight is not only for that garment. We want a secular democracy. We fight for freedom”, affirms this woman, one of those who every day defies repression by removing her Islamic headscarf.
Marjane has suffered firsthand the violence of a system that she defines as “a dictatorial and criminal mafia.” A few days ago, when she had gone out to demonstrate, as she has done every afternoon since Amini’s death, some policemen beat up an old woman who had removed her veil. This woman got in the way and a policeman beat her up with her baton, which has left her a battered arm. Another day, when she was running from the agents, the policemen hit her on the foot, which she also has bruises. “I am very sore, but I continue to go out every night on the street. I do it for my country, for my people and for my freedom, ”she maintains.
Other protesters, such as the 342 who have died at the hands of security forces, according to Iran Human Rights, or the at least 14,000 who have been detained, according to the United Nations, have fared worse. At least five of them have been sentenced to hang. Marjane stresses that the regime “continues to kill, steal, torture and rape.” This professional with university studies, who works in a private company, says that the authorities “have withdrawn the morality police from the streets” because “the regime is afraid of the people.” Agents of that security body arrested and, according to a human rights NGO, allegedly beat to death the 22-year-old Amini in Tehran.
Authorities have also prohibited Basij militiamen, who often serve as the enforcement arm of the morality police, from forcing women to veil themselves, according to a memorandum signed in early November by the Iranian judiciary and that militia, to which EL PAÍS has had access. The basiyís are a branch of the Revolutionary Guard, the army parallel to the regular one whose purpose is to protect the Islamic Republic and its leaders. In that document, these paramilitaries are ordered to limit themselves to intervening against “those who sow chaos and disturb the peace”, an allusion to the protests that augurs that the repression will not stop.
For Ali Alfoneh, an Iranian political scientist living in the United States, the reason for what points to a step back, at least for now, in the imposition of the Islamic dress code is that “the mandatory veil is a battle that the regime has already lost ”. What is at stake now “goes far beyond the hijab”, says this expert. He also stresses that, although those who have held power in Iran since 1979 “do not have the courage to repeal the headscarf law, the regime’s security services do not seem willing to create more tensions by forcing [las mujeres] to abide by that law.”
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Article 638 of the country’s Penal Code punishes a woman with a veil in public with a maximum of two months in jail, but Iranians who have uncovered their hair on the street or in the subway have been convicted in the past. to much harsher penalties, accused of crimes such as promoting prostitution or even attempting against national security. In 2019, a lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for defending women who had removed her headscarf and herself in court.
Alfoneh believes that a future scenario is possible in which the Iranian authorities tolerate the voluntary use of the headscarf. But without changing the law, something that “they would see as a surrender to the protesters,” says Spanish-Iranian political analyst Daniel Bashandeh. This expert agrees that the security forces “are turning a blind eye” to unveiled women, but he wonders for how long.
Marjane assures that “the objective of the veil is to humiliate and discriminate against women. It is the mark of control; the outward sign that you are not a free human being, a free woman. Everything else follows: Iranian women inherit half as much as men [esta norma está vigente en la mayoría de países musulmanes] and girls can marry their parents [desde los 13 años o incluso antes con autorización judicial]. We need permission from our father or husband to work, get a passport, travel, and even have surgery. If a woman becomes a widow, her mother-in-law has preference in custody of her children. We cannot get divorced or have an abortion freely and neither can we enter the stadiums, ”she assures. Forced to veil from the age of nine, women in Iran, Marjane laments, cannot even “ride a bicycle or a motorbike.”
Like this Iranian, more than 50% of the country’s university graduates are women, but 70% of them are unemployed, according to official figures. This data and its low weight in the labor market —18% in 2019, a percentage that fell to 14% in 2020 due to covid-19— gives an idea of its marginalization in the country’s economy. The discrimination they suffer, the fact that they need a man’s permission for practically everything, has a lot to do with these figures. In 2017, Human Rights Watch revealed that it is standard practice in Iran to advertise male-only jobs and require female recruits to provide consent from their husband or boyfriend. In November 2021, a law prohibited voluntary tubal ligation and the free distribution of contraceptives in the public health system.
The veil, agrees Daniel Bashandeh, “is the symbol of the imposition of ever more severe standards for them. To take it away is to reject the codes imposed by the regime. This garment symbolizes that the Iranian woman is a second-class citizen.” Reducing the problems of Iranian women to a piece of clothing is “ridiculous and simplistic”, criticizes Marjane. “Many countries, including Spain, are complicit in this theocracy by maintaining relations with it. We ask you not to close your eyes to what is happening in Iran.”
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