April 17, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran Escalates Targeting of Women Who Refuse to Wear Mandatory Hijab

April 17, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran Escalates Targeting of Women Who Refuse to Wear Mandatory Hijab

Latest Developments

Iran on Saturday strengthened its efforts to compel women to wear the mandatory headscarf, or hijab, due to growing defiance of the law throughout the country. Tehran has now installed cameras in public places and in businesses to monitor women’s head covering. Women caught without the hijab will face prosecution. The Islamic Republic’s deputy attorney general, Ali Jamadi, said even people who merely encourage women to remove the hijab will also face prosecution, with no opportunity to appeal a conviction. The latest round of nationwide protests in Iran began in September 2022 after internal security forces killed 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly.

Expert Analysis

“The Islamic Republic has doubled down on its restrictions on women’s rights in Iran despite efforts to persuade the outside world it is becoming more tolerant. Modesty is a value many women hold dear, but punishing women and girls for not wearing the hijab is not about modesty — it is the regime seeking to exert control over its citizens. The Iranian people’s resistance is not merely against the hijab regulations but against the arbitrary and oppressive rule of the Islamic Republic itself. If the United States wants to support Iranian women, it should understand what freedom in the Iranian context really means. It’s more than just the hijab.” Toby Dershowitz, FDD Senior Vice President for Government Relations and Strategy

The Hijab Law

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Tehran has required all women to wear a hijab in public. Violators of the law face lengthy jail sentences and even torture. This policy has elicited protests in Iran even prior to the current round of demonstrations. In late 2017 and early 2018, for example, an Iranian woman named Vida Movahed became the public face of protests after she removed her hijab in public and waved it on a stick.

Tehran Views Hijab Law as Bulwark Against Western Values

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has described the headscarf law as a religious imperative rooted in the regime’s larger ideological war against the West. In a 2014 speech, he denounced the West for allegedly regarding women solely “as a means for satisfying lust.” This perspective, he continued, arises from the West’s misguided commitment to “sexual equality,” which obscures the natural differences between the sexes and leads to the objectification and humiliation of women.

Women Are Second-Class Citizens in Iran

Women hold a second-class role across the Islamic Republic, where they face a range of discriminatory laws. For example, in court, a woman’s testimony has half the value of a man’s. The law consistently favors men in marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. A married woman may not leave the country without her husband’s permission. Tehran also restricts women from running for president and other higher offices.

Related Analysis

Mapping the Protests in Iran,” by Mark Dubowitz

Maximum Support for the Iranian People: A New Strategy,” by Saeed Ghasseminejad, Richard Goldberg, Tzvi Kahn, and Behnam Ben Taleblu


Iran Iran Human Rights Iran Politics and Economy