Women live in fear as government empowers vigilante moral police.
After a series of acid attacks against young women in the city of Esfahan, the Iranian parliament (Majlis) has passed a new bill, which would allow Basij, the governmental volunteer militia, to go around in the streets and give verbal warning to those Iranian women who do not comply with the government’s Islamic dress code.
More recently, stabbing women has become another sign of increased violence. A suspect was recently arrested for stabbing six women in city of Fars in Iran, reportedly for wearing an improper hijab. One of the women was stabbed in the stomach. According to Saham News, the suspect is the son of a Basij Commander from the village of Ghotbabad.
The Basij, which is supervised by the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, intervenes in the day to day activities of ordinary people, spying on individuals, and attempting to impose the ideological and Islamist doctrine of the Iranian government.
When I used to live in Iran, I, like many Iranian people, witnessed how young girls would be dragged into police cars by the moral police for not complying with the government’s religious dress code. Showing some strands of hair or some part of the body in public can lead to arrest, imprisonment, and fines.
The Vigilante Law to Impose Hijab and Dress Code
Under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian parliament has also introduced a bill referred to as the “Plan to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice.” Apparently, all of these human rights abuses and discrimination against women are part of promoting virtue in the perception of the ruling clerics in power.
Nevertheless, what is crucial to point out is that discrimination against Iranian women and the egregious human rights abuses against them are at the core of the cleric political power. In other words, these human rights abuses -- such as restricting women’s freedoms, imposing the hijab on them, encouraging them to stay at home and raise children, forbidding them from participating in sports or even watching some sports events such as volleyball -- are cemented in the state’s institutional structure as well as in the Islamic Republic’s constitution.
Secondly, women are being utilized as a crucial tool and platform to define the country as Islamic. Imposing dress codes and the hijab on women gives the clerical political institution unique character ideologically. Walking in public and watching millions of women across the country being forced to wear the hijab and cover their hair strengthens the image of the country as being Islamic. It also makes it stands out immediately in comparison to other Muslim countries, and it significantly ratchets up the ideological foundation and Shiite agenda of the Islamic Republic.
Third, forcing women to comply with a dress code is the manifestation of the state’s power. Technically, this is referred to as biopower of the state, which is applied in order to homogenize the population, immediately find those who dissent, make women compliant, subservient, and remind women everyday that the state is in power of even their basic activities such as wearing clothes, listening to music, and watching sports. As Michel Foucault states, biopower is a political strategy. “By this I mean a number of phenomena that seem to me to be quite significant, namely, the set of mechanisms through which the basic biological features of the human species became the object of a political strategy, of a general strategy of power.”
Fourth, marginalization of Iranian women by the state and depriving them of their basic and fundamental rights is a method to treat almost half of the population as second-class citizens. Subduing women, repressing them, and ensuring that women are controlled by their male guardians and state apparatuses, promotes the patriarchal character of the system.
Fifth, the increasing misogynistic laws and hatred against Iranian women will continue whether the president of the Islamic Republic is a reformist, moderate, hardliner, etc. This is due to the fact, all Iranian presidents believe in the fundamental institution of the Islamic Republic and they totally accept the superiority of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Nevertheless, misogyny and hatred against women has not halted courageous and brave Iranian women from fighting inequality and the repression against them. Several female leaders and formidable women's movements in Iran continue to resist the repressive apparatuses even though they face imprisonment, execution, and torture. Their efforts have produced powerful women such as Shirin Ebadi, the Noble Prize Laureate, and Maryam Rajavi, the human rights and political activist, and the president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
As the repression against women continue in the Islamic Republic, their resistance grows deeper, and their stance firmer. Our responsibility is to chart efficient approaches in order to give a voice to these women and assist them in their struggle for combating extremism carried out under the name of religion, the ruling cleric's version and the manipulation of Shia Islam.
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