Iran’s legislation of the veil should be seen as a weaponization of culture in order to oppress women. Compulsion and culture are mutually exclusive and cannot exist within the same realm.
On January 8th 1963, Iran’s Reza Shah issued a decree, “kashf-e hijab”, banning all veils and head coverings for women. The law came as an attempt to Westernize the nation, with an emphasis on associating the religious veil as a sign of poverty and rural, non-Iranian culture. Years later, Reza Shah’s son, Mohammad Reza Shah, would lift this ban, and give Iranians freedom of choice in their way of dress. The act would come in an effort to increase popularity, with support for the Shah waning. Finally, at the onset of the Islamic revolution in 1979, soon after taking power, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini decreed that the veil was now mandatory for all Iranian women, along with a strict standard of modest dress. This law continues to be enforced today, with Iranian women lacking the basic freedom of choosing what to wear in public. Despite the fact that the head covering has been worn in Iran for thousands of years, the current mandate has seen backlash from women all over the country, even with its violent enforcement. Yet, for Westerners and non-Iranians alike, the hijab mandate is often dismissed as a factor of culture, written off as a small issue amongst a sea of much larger ones to be addressed. Is this oversimplification of the law an advantage for the Iranian government? An excuse used both within and outside of Iran to dismiss the oppression of women?