Long and flowing hair or tied in a ponytail, women in Iran show off their curls

An engineer strides across the stage at an event in Tehran, wearing tight pants and a stylish shirt, one hand clutching a microphone. Her long brown hair, tied into a ponytail, flew freely behind her, barefoot, despite Iran’s strict hijab laws.

“I am Zeinab Kazempour,” she told the conference of the association of professional engineers of Iran. She condemned the group for supporting the hijab rules, and then she walked off the stage, removed the scarf around her neck and threw it on the floor under a giant picture of the supreme leader. of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The packed auditorium erupted in cheers, applause and whistles. Video of Ms. Kazempour went viral on social media and local news sites, making her the latest champion for many Iranians in an ever-widening challenge to the hijab law.

Women have resisted the law, revealing every inch or strand of hair, since it went into effect two years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

But since last year’s death of Mahsa AminiAt 22, while in the custody of the country’s ethics police, women and girls became the focus of a nationwide uprising demanding an end to not only hijab requirements but even the Islamic Republic itself.

Women suddenly showed off their hair: let it be long and flowing in the mall; bun on the street; styling a bob on public transport; and wearing ponytails at school and on university campuses, according to interviews with women in Iran as well as online photos and videos. While these acts of defiance are rarer in more conservative areas, they are increasingly seen in towns and cities.

Kimia, 23, a graduate student in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj in western Iran, said: “I haven’t worn a scarf in months – I don’t even have one with me. article, asking not to use her last name for fear of reprisal.

Kimia says that many female students at her university don’t cover their hair even in class with male professors present. “Whether the government wants to admit it or not, the era of mandatory headscarves is over,” she said.

Iran’s hijab law requires women and girls over the age of 9 to cover their hair and hide their curves under long, loose robes.

Many women still follow the rule in public, some by choice and others out of fear. Video of the traditional market For example, in downtown Tehran, the capital of Iran, most women cover their hair.

But videos of parks, cafes, restaurants, and malls — places popular with young women — show more of them undiscovered. Many prominent women, including celebrities and athletes, have ditched the hijab in Iran and while representing the country abroad.

The state has long promoted the hijab law as a symbol of success in establishing the Islamic Republic, but enforcement has varied, depending on which political faction is in power.

Following the 2021 election of Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline, as president, increasingly strict and brutally enforced rules have outraged Iranian women, many of whom have fined, beaten or arrested by the ethics police. they are deemed to be in violation.

But anger over the law flared up in September, when a young girl, 22-year-old Amini, died while in the custody of the ethics police, and as street protests erupted across Iran quickly. turned into broader calls to end the practice. ruled by the clerics of the country.

The protests largely failed amid a violent crackdown by the authorities that included mass arrests, death sentences and executions of four young protesters.

But acts of civil disobedience continued daily, including chanting “death to the dictator” from rooftops, graffiti on walls, and tearing down and burning government banners.

And women went out in public without a headscarf.

Officials said in December they had disbanded the ethics police and have not been seen on the streets since. According to women and activists in Iran, currently, the authorities only occasionally enforce the rules on headscarves.

Authorities recently closed two pharmacies, one in Tehran and one in the northern city of Amol, after female employees were reported for not wearing headscarves. And in the religious city of Qum, they reprimanded the manager of a bank for serving customers without a headscarf. The judiciary has also opened a case against Ms. Kazempour, the engineer, according to Iranian news.

Officials said they are reviewing the enforcement rules and plan to announce updated measures. A conservative lawmaker has said that alternative enforcement methods are being considered, such as warning women with text messages, denying them civil services or locking down their bank accounts. .

In December, lawmaker Hossein Jalali announced in Iranian media: “The headscarves will return on women’s heads.

But women’s rights activists say the defiance is still too common to stop and too common to reverse.

“The core and heart of this movement is truly the revolutionary act of women turning their headscarves into the most effective and powerful weapon against religious dictatorship and deep layers of the women’s and women’s regime,” said Fatemeh Shams, a women’s rights activist and social activist. assistant professor of Persian literature at the University of Pennsylvania.

The women who stopped wearing the headscarf said they were determined to go their own way, but they were in favor of “voluntary headscarves”. They also say they respect the right of women who choose to wear scarves.

Leila, 51, who lives in Tehran, said she and her teenage daughter dress up in public as well as in private and when they travel abroad – wearing skirts, dresses, tight jeans and sweaters tight.

Leila said in a phone interview: “Recently I had to travel and struggled with whether I should wear a headscarf at the airport because there were so many security guards, but decided to do so. intend not to do so. She was shocked to see that most of the women at the airport that day had also taken off their headscarves. “We all passed through security and passports with our hair uncovered, and they said nothing. Our strength is in the numbers.”

Hathis, 25, an online book and movie reviewer, posted a photo of herself on Instagram in December while sitting with a friend, hairless, at an outdoor cafe in Tehran. “Is this what it feels like when the cool autumn breeze blows through your hair? And for 25 years I have been denied this?”

Even many religious women who voluntarily wear headscarves have joined the campaign to repeal this law. A petition with thousands of women’s names and photos is being circulated on Instagram and Twitter with the message: “I wear the hijab, but I oppose tying it up.”

Maryam, 53, who adheres to hijab laws and lives in Tehran, recently traveled with her daughter to the resort island of Kish in the Persian Gulf. They were surprised to find that most of the women were wearing short-sleeved sundresses, sandals, capri pants, and T-shirts. “Are we in Turkey or Iran?” her daughter, Narges, 26, asked.

Immediately after the trip, Narges changed all of her social media profile pictures to one with her long brown hair falling over her shoulders and her fist raised in the air. It informed her religiously conservative family that she would take off her hijab.

“I will never lower my fist until I am free, even if we have to wait for many years,” Narges wrote on his Instagram page.

Maryam said in an interview that she received numerous texts and calls from relatives and friends, some supportive and some critical of her daughter.

“I told them times have changed,” she said. “I respect my daughter’s choice and so should you. It’s nobody’s business.”

Leily Nikounazar contributed reporting.


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