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Newly-Published Document Details the Full, Unhinged Scope of Iran's New Hijab Policy

August 18, 2022
Behnam Gholipour
10 min read
Publicity for the government's recent drive to restrict women's freedom of dress in Iran. Caption reads: "Hijab is not does not mean chador. Hijab means a wholesome way of dressing"
Publicity for the government's recent drive to restrict women's freedom of dress in Iran. Caption reads: "Hijab is not does not mean chador. Hijab means a wholesome way of dressing"
Conservative women demonstrate in Iran. Poster reads: “Hijab = The Greatest/The Best/The Highest Ideal”
Conservative women demonstrate in Iran. Poster reads: “Hijab = The Greatest/The Best/The Highest Ideal”

Iran’s Headquarters for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Setad-PV) has published a 119-page document detailing the Islamic Republic’s hijab policy, and the rationale behind a recent government campaign to enforce the veiling of women more strictly and with a greater degree of violence.

Entitled the “Hijab and Chastity Project”, the policy was apparently sent last winter to most of Iran’s government agencies. They were ordered to implement every single one of its stipulations, which had been pre-approved by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution. Among them are:

  • The introduction of surveillance cameras to monitor and fine unveiled women or refer them for "counseling";
  • Seminary students being placed in residential buildings to monitor how the occupants dress in communal areas;
  • Hospital staff being required to provide "appropriate garments" to female patients on their way to surgery;
  • Fines for any individual who designs, imports, buys or sells "vulgar dresses";
  • New disciplinary policies for actresses who do any work with the state broadcaster;
  • A mandatory prison sentence for any Iranian who questions or posts content against mandatory hijab online. 

The document declares the project’s most important goals to be “cleansing society of the pollution caused by nonconformance with Islamic dress codes”, to “build a model of an Islamic society in regard to chastity” and to “preserve values and the fight against cultural invasion”.



The Foundations of Iran’s Forced Hijab Policy

As this document points out, one of the first orders issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after the 1979 Islamic Revolution was the introduction of mandatory hijab in Iran. In 1981, Article 18 of the Law for Rebuilding Human Resources of Government Agencies and Ministries declared that not o following “Islamic dress codes” was an offence punishable by 74 lashes.

From then on all women in Iran, foreign or Iranian citizens, Muslim or non-Muslim, were forced to make a daily choice: cover up their hair outside of the home, or face the prospect of horrific state-sanctioned corporal punishment.

On July 26, 1984, the Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office issued a follow-up statement announcing that unveiled women, or those with “bad hijab”, were banned from entering public buildings and government offices. In 1996, Article 638 of the Islamic Penal Code added a prison sentence of 10 days to two months to the 74 lashes to the possible penalties for doing otherwise.

In 2005, the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution passed a “law” – overruling the Iranian legislature – on implementing and promoting “hijab and chastity”. It was amended in 2019 and specifies in detail the duties of Iran’s 32 government agencies with regard to compulsory hijab.


The Grounds for Enforcement

The Headquarters’ manifesto correctly notes that a range of surveys and opinion polls have found public opinion in Iran does not align with that of the government with regard to forced hijab. In fact, the authors concede, an estimated 74 percent of Iranians prefer a “globalist” outlook to the regime’s own ideology. The number of Iranians who do not believe in mandatory hijab, the report observes, is increasing by the day.

Then, however, the authors sought to present a series of “contributing factors” to rising disregard for forced hijab in Iran. In doing so, they revealed more about the Islamic Republic’s approach to governance than the Iranian people.

Among the obstacles, the report claims, are a “lack of a comprehensive and operational roadmap and plan”, the “absence of accountable custodians” of hijab, and a “lack of guarantee of an effective execution of the law”.

The document also includes a whole section entitled “Pathology” that seeks to analyze “failings” in the enforcement of mandatory hijab to date. It includes the law not being “comprehensive” enough, jail and flogging sentences not being executed, and the rules having gradually lost their “power of deterrence”. 

Tellingly the report also blames lower-level officials and managers who, it said, did not consider hijab a priority. Described as not having been “courageous” or “expedient” enough when it came to hijab, the report asserts that these officials had effectively turned into an “opposition” force.


Future Horizons

The authors from Setad-PV went on to lay out and analyze three different possible scenarios for the future of “hijab and chastity” in Iran.

The first is the abolition of Tehran’s mandatory hijab policy, and making what women wear a matter of choice for them alone. Unsurprisingly this was considered the worst possible scenario; if it were to happen, the report suggests, Iranian society would be left reeling from “seven calamities”: among them “the collapse of Islamic values”, “a rise in the number of divorces”, “people seeking diversity in sexual relations”, “an increase in sexual crimes” and “generational conflicts”.

The second proposal is a continuance of the current situation. But, the report insists, given that some 60 percent of women either do not support or regularly wear full “Islamic hijab” and are therefore “lawbreakers”, the do-nothing scenario would lead to “frustration in the religious community”, the “assimilation of the Western culture and lifestyle” and “confrontation between the people and the regime”.

The optimal solution, the document announces, is the third: Setad-PV’s Hijab and Chastity Project. This represents a doubling-down on the misogynist values first imposed by Ayatollah Khomeini, and on the currently-favored policy stance of social enforcement and control.


The Hijab and Chastity Project: Putting the Onus on People

Recently, the document notes, some Iranian citizens have begun to square up to the police and the “preventers of vice” (civilian vigilantes and the morality patrols). As such, it asserts, the first step in the project has to be “reducing tensions” between the two sides.

“In this project,” it states, “offenders are not arrested or confronted directly in any way. Social tensions are consequently avoided. The morality patrols’ activities would end, police would not challenge those wearing bad hijab and no new cases would be sent to the courts. Instead, it would be the job of managers in both the public and private sectors to address the issue.”

Most “unveiled” women, the report states, work for government agencies, so “cultural and executive” work to promote hijab and lead by example should begin there. In turn, it posits, ordinary people would see the changes being made, trust in them and “comply with Islamic hijab”.

Simultaneously, however, the report advocates for mandatory hijab becoming “a popular issue”: “trusted and trained individuals from among the people” would be appointed to step in and take to task those who call for women’s civic freedoms. Despite what was written earlier on, here the report advocates for their being backed up by police.

A number of the report’s other recommendations are highly opaque. They include “training and raising the intellect of the preventers of vice”, the “persuasion of the public mind”, “adapting regional customs to the ideal of hijab”, “making bad hijab costly in social interactions” and “creating a culture of admonishment, and acceptance of admonishment, and the absence of indifference”.


The Public Sector

According to Setad-PV’s proposals, the “Hijab and Chastity Project” should be rolled out in 11 types of location. They include government offices, public transport, clothes stores and schools, but also “neighborhoods” and “homes”.

In government offices, female employees of the state do not observe hijab, the document states, the will be fined. Those who provide services to women with “bad hijab” will also be reprimanded. The document also lists 66 “duties” for officials, as wide-ranging as “overseeing compliance with hijab and chastity in foreign agencies and health providers such as UNESCO, Unicef, and the World Health Organization... and homogenizing the uniforms of employees who work in these centers”.

State employees’ duties do not stop here. Setad-PV also called on them to monitor embassies and foreign cultural centers to ensure that they do not “promote improper and immoral culture, clothing and behavior”, and intervene with individual foreign and diplomatic staff members if necessary.  

Government officials who fail to carry out these “duties” when required, the document states, can be suspended for one to five years. If they violate the rules themselves, they face a two- to five-year prison sentence and a cash fine.

In neighborhoods and on the streets, Setad-PV has called for surveillance cameras to take pictures and videos of unveiled women. These, it says, could be compiled into a “cultural package” mailed to the woman in question together with the order to pay a fine.

At the same time, it says, “hijab and chastity counseling centers” will be set up to forcibly re-educate women fined because of “bad hijab”. If they undergo one of the courses, it proposes, the centers will have the power to revoke the fine.

Headteachers, directors and the heads of educational establishments will have their performance rated based on “hijab and chastity indices”. If the management of a given school or college appears to be “indifferent”, the document states, they can be punished and replaced.

Gender segregation in schools will be more tightly enforced. The document allocates 69 additional duties to staff, including “giving points to veiled principals and students”.

Similar new obligations will be placed on hospital and medical center staff. Among other things, they are now obliged to provide “appropriate garments for [female] surgery patients on their way to the operating room”.




Private and Commercial Spheres

So-called hijab “custodians”, according to the document, will be assigned eight specific tasks. One is to assign either seminary students or local religious [presumably Shia Muslim] leaders to monitor a given residential building; if enough people in the complex are not strictly following hijab, the building manager or freeholder may also be fined.

They are also warned to stay vigilant for, and target if necessary, “manifestations of corruption” and “gangs that promote moral corruption”. Going on past experience, this could be as innocuous as a mixed-sex group socialising together.

Government bodies are subject to 47 additional “duties” to encourage families and households to accept hijab as a norm. This includes “supervising and regulating the clothing market”, monitoring plans for new apartment blocks for “compliance with Sharia rules”, the “cultural supervision of the internet” and sharing (presumably disparaging) information about “the legal, cultural and social situation of women in the West”.

With regard to private vehicles, Setad-PV acknowledges that the government issuing fines to drivers if they or a passenger flouted the rules has led to “deepened anti-regime sentiment” while not being properly enforced.

The policy, however, is to remain in place – and be augmented. If drivers commit a second “violation”, the document states, their vehicle can be impounded or their license suspended for up to three months. Alternately, they can be subject to sizeable fines that have to be deposited in a special account for “Hijab and Chastity Promotion”, which will belong to Setad-PV.

Shopkeepers and their customers will risk similar action if they do not comply, as do the organizers of large-scale events like weddings. Businesses offering services like bridal make-up and garments are obliged to “control how the bride and her companions enter or exit the premises” – or face a cash fine and revocation of their trader’s permit. The Ministry of Culture is obliged to fine anyone designing, making, importing, selling or buying “vulgar” women’s dresses.

To hammer all of this home, the report adds: “Individuals who do not wear Islamic hijab should be deprived of their social rights.”


Media and the Internet

Setad-PV’s manifesto calls on the government to recruit women who support the Islamic Republic as cultural censors. Among the newly-listed duties of the state are to “formulate a clear and specific policy regarding a chaste lifestyle in terms of how artists dress and use cosmetics”, and then to seek “the membership of women committed to, and knowledgeable about, chastity and hijab in bodies that review and evaluate books and films”.

There are also demands for tighter censorship on the whole. The authors mention a “revision of rules for choosing foreign movies and TV series” and “establishing disciplinary policies for female actors” who work for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).

The hijab policy document is also heavy with references to so-called “psychological warfare by the enemy” – which, it claims, is putting women off hijab. The digital sphere is described as one of the key battlegrounds on which to “fight transgressions”.

It champions a law that would punish, with prison sentences ranging from 91 days to two years as well as a heavy fine, anyone, male or female, who posts text or images on social media that question or go against the mandatory hijab policy. If an Iranian woman posts an unveiled picture of herself on social media, it says, “she must be banned from using social media for six months to a year, and deprived of one social right or more.”


Marijke Bryden
October 21, 2022

What a tragedy


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