Iranian women have been flaunting their hair in open defiance of Iran’s mandatory hijab law that requires women and girls over nine years old to cover their hair in public. The law has been in effect since two years after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, but since last year’s nationwide protests, women have been at the forefront of a growing open challenge to the hijab law. Women have been resisting the law by uncovering their hair an inch or a strand at a time, but now they are suddenly flaunting their hair openly in malls, on streets, on public transportation, and on university campuses.
The death of Mahsa Amini, 22, while in the custody of the country’s morality police last year, triggered nationwide protests by women and girls who demanded an end to the hijab requirements and to the Islamic Republic itself. Women are now openly defying the hijab law by leaving their hair uncovered, left long and flowing, tied in a bun, styled into bobs, and pulled into ponytails. Although such acts of defiance are rarer in more conservative areas, they are increasingly being seen in towns and cities.
The state has long promoted the hijab law as a symbol of its success in establishing the Islamic Republic, but enforcement has varied depending on which political faction was in power. After the election of Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-liner, as president in 2021, the rules have been increasingly enforced, leading to fines, beatings, or arrests by the morality police. However, acts of civil disobedience continue daily, including chanting “death to the dictator” from rooftops, writing graffiti on walls, and tearing down and setting ablaze government banners.
Although the authorities have shut down two pharmacies in Tehran and Amol and reprimanded the manager of a bank in the religious city of Qum for catering to clients without hijabs, the defiance remains too widespread to contain and too pervasive to reverse, according to women’s rights activists. Some officials have suggested alternative enforcement methods such as warning women by text message, denying them civic services, or blocking their bank accounts. Women’s rights activists have applauded the defiance of Iranian women, with one activist describing the movement as the revolutionary act of women turning their headscarves into the most effective and powerful weapon against religious dictatorship and misogyny.