Iranian women's incredible battle for equality

Nour-Jihane Dahman | April 30th, 2023

| Change the Nation | Promote Equality | Inspire Passion

The Iranian government discriminates against women on a regular basis, classifying them as second-class citizens.


The Iranian regime has required women and girls over the age of nine to wear a headscarf in public since just after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Protests against the then-new regulation were repressed by the authorities.

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 fifty thousand to five hundred [thousand] Rials,” according to Iran’s Islamic Penal Code (Article 638). In addition to the punishment imposed for the crime, the article allows for a term of “two months in prison or up to 74 lashes” for “anyone who openly commits a sinful act.” 


Many Iranians have spoken out against forced hijab, particularly through the 2017 “White Wednesdays” campaign, in which Iranians wore white headscarves or other apparel on Wednesdays in protest.


On September 13, 2022, while visiting Tehran with her family, the Morality Police detained 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian Mahsa Amini in the street. The Morality Police informed Amini’s brother that she was being detained for “improper” hijab and would be taken to a “educational and orientation class.” They placed her into a van and, according to eyewitnesses, beat her while driving her to the police station. 


Hossein Rahimi, Tehran’s police head, said in December 2017 that officers would stop detaining and prosecuting women for dress code infractions. However, following countrywide protests against the administration in late December and early January, the authorities altered their policy. Iranian ladies publicly removed their headscarves and waved them in the air during the protests. These acts of disobedience by women called “The Girls of Revolution Street” went viral around the world.


Following Amini’s killing, thousands of Iranians took to the streets to demonstrate against the regime. Protesters chanted, “Women, life, freedom,” “Death to Khamenei,” and “Death to the dictator.” Women are increasingly going out without a hijab, with some even publicly removing, burning, and cutting their hair. Never before has a revolution been more focused on the hardships of women. 


There is an entire system that works against women. Iranian women over the age of 15 had a 13.9% employment rate, compared to 50.6% in France. Women in higher education were 22.9% in 2016, compared to 23.3% of men, which is comparable to several European countries. 


According to a GAMAAN research for the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, 71% of Iranian males and 74% of Iranian women would oppose the need to wear the headscarf. This same study demonstrates the true secularization of Iranian society in the face of theocratic rule: 76% of demonstrators believe religion is unimportant to them.


Several human rights organizations are keeping track of the number of deaths and arrests. The amount of young individuals in this tragic and terrifying parade is startling. Furthermore, many people condemn the torture and sexual abuse done on inmates of both sexes in order to tarnish and shame them.


Domestic violence is not a criminal in Iran, and the regime regards it as a private family affair. Legal penalties for domestic violence or “honor killings” are less severe than those for other types of homicide. Men guilty of murdering their daughters, for example, are sentenced to three to ten years in jail rather than the customary death penalty.


In Iran, marital rape is legal. In practice, Iranian law discourages most victims of non-marital rape from reporting to authorities. Victims of rape who come forward may risk prosecution for crimes such as adultery (which is punished by death), “indecency,” or “immoral behaviour.” Rapists can only be prosecuted if many witnesses testify against them.

A girl can legally marry at the age of 13 in Iran, or even younger if her father or grandfather allows and a judge agrees. The United Nations has voiced alarm about the rising frequency of marriages between girls aged ten and under.


The age of criminal responsibility for women in Iran is only nine lunar years, compared to 15 lunar years for men. Women face harsher punishments than men for a variety of offences, including adultery, which carries the death penalty. The majority of stoning sentences for adultery are passed down to women.


The end of the morality police could be a first step towards victory, but it will unfortunately not be enough to put women and men on the same level in Iran.