April 1, 2024 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1756

The Women's Protest In Iran 2022-23 – Part II: A Year After The Iranian Regime's Crackdown, It Continues To Force The Hijab On Women

April 1, 2024 | By A. Savyon and N. Katirachi*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1756


A year after the Iranian regime cracked down on the antiregime "hijab protests," it continues its efforts to force women to wear the hijab, via legislation, punishments, and fines. In addition to calling on the public to report violations to the authorities, it surveils public spaces via CCTV and holds public conferences and conducts information outreach in the cultural, educational, and media spheres, and more.

Enforcement measures peaked in recent months, with the Majlis's approval[1] of the Hijab and Modesty bill (see excerpts below) that is expected to come into effect in April 2024. The bill is aimed at preserving "the morality and health of the Islamic society" and officially sets out harsh hijab enforcement measures, using CCTV and daily monitoring of female citizens, and also includes punishments that are harsh relative to the severity of the offenses. The punishments include fines of around $50 U.S., which is half of the average monthly wage in Iran, up from $10, and can be taken directly from the offender's bank account. The punishments also include 5-10 years in prison (up from of 10-60 days), suspension of social rights, and seizure of offenders' bank accounts. For repeat offenders – or for celebrities, influencers, and others such as teachers who encourage people to break the law – penalties are stiffer, possibly including appropriation of salaries, firing from jobs, and bans from practicing a profession. The law also mandates prison sentences of up to 10 years for activists who promote lawbreaking "in an organized manner" and sets fines for business owners who serve "transgressors," for anyone mocking the hijab in the media and on social media, and even for the owners of vehicles in which women are not wearing the hijab.

With the regime's success in suppressing the protests, in March 2023 Majlis Cultural Committee Chairman Ahmad Rastina called on the country's 32 institutions in charge of the issue of modesty and the hijab to exert all their efforts to carry out cultural activities promoting the wearing of the hijab. Regime supporters did not settle for this, however, and expressed support for harsher measures, including flogging violators and punishing regime elements that express relatively moderate views regarding enforcement. Justifications of increasingly severe punishments even included comparing failure to wear the hijab with murder. The severity was not merely verbal – a method employed every summer by the regime – but also included the use of street CCTV for identifying "transgressors," and harsh punishments, including severe fines, appropriation of vehicles, and closure of businesses that failed to force female clients to wear the hijab.

The regime's determination to enforce the wearing of the hijab led to an incident that took place on October 4, 2023 which ultimately resulted in the death of a 16-year-old Kurdish-Iranian girl named Armita Garavand, one year after the similar death of Kurdish-Iranian woman Jina (Mahsa) Amini at the hands of Iranian authorities (the incident that initially sparked the antiregime protests). Garavand was violently confronted in the Tehran subway by a female Guidance Patrol officer for not wearing a hijab, and she was subsequently hospitalized in Tehran in a coma due to head trauma. The regime claimed that Garavand had suffered from low blood pressure, fallen, and sustained a blow to her head. On October 28, it was reported that Garavand died, and in response the regime published an edited video in attempt to prevent additional protests.[2]

Top: Anita Garavand, the Kurdish-Iranian teenager who was put into a coma and subsequently died after being violently confronted by Iranian authorities for not wearing a hijab in public. Bottom: Footage of the incident. Source: Iran International, October 2023.

The regime's demand to enforce the wearing of the hijab has also led to the encouragement of pro-regime citizens to personally and violently force women to wear it, which escalated tensions in the streets and pitted citizens against each other. One such incident took place in March 2023 at a small grocery store in the city of Shandiz, near Mashhad, when a customer who was a Basij member dumped a bucket of yogurt on the heads of two women who were not wearing hijabs. Immediately afterwards, the store owner tussled with the Basij member, becoming a local hero, and his business became a pilgrimage site for citizens who wanted to express their support for him.

To view this clip on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

A video of another incident that went viral on March 9, 2024, the day after International Women's Day, shows a woman confronting a cleric at a medical clinic in the city of Qom who had filmed her without her knowledge when her hijab slipped off her head as she was caring for her sick infant.  Authorities announced that they had arrested three people involved in the release of the video, which was going to be provided to hijab enforcement authorities for their use in encouraging "promoting good and prohibiting evil," by which ordinary citizens could see themselves as participating in the work of the morality police.

Still image from video of woman confronting a cleric who filmed her without her knowledge when her hijab slipped from her head (Source: Iran International, March 9, 2024)

It should be noted that when the protests were at their zenith and Iranians took to the streets en masse, the Iranian regime and Khamenei referred to hijabs as a cultural matter about which people should be educated using peaceable methods. In this context, the regime held an international women's conference in Tehran in January 2023 that presented Iran as a defender of women's rights (see below). Ironically, however, it exposed the regime's double standard; the foreign women who attended the conference did not wear the hijab, although the regime requires Iranian women to do so in public; additionally, some of the foreign women were fashionably dressed in a manner that is outlawed in Iran. The conference was harshly criticized by Iranians due to this hypocrisy, particularly against the backdrop of the death of Mahsa Jina Amini at the hands of Iranian authorities a few months earlier for wearing her hijab too loosely. Criticism of the regime intensified after it stated that enforcing the hijab among foreign women is different from doing so among Iranian women, in accordance with local Islamic tradition.

It should also be noted that at the height of the protests, the regime concealed its aim of strict hijab enforcement by adopting a moderate and tolerant tone, but it is important to emphasize that as the regime's suppression of the protests grew increasingly harsh, so did its hijab enforcement. This shows that even though it occasionally softens its tone on this matter, the regime's hijab requirement remains unchanged.

Part I of this series, The Women's Protest In Iran 2022-23, focused on women's status in revolutionary Iran according to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, based on his statements and statements by his mouthpieces. This installment, Part II, will examine the measures taken by the Iranian regime to enforce the hijab in the year and a half since the protests, that increased in severity as the regime's suppression escalated. Part III, to be published soon, will examine the public criticism of the regime's violent enforcement measures in light of events in recent months that have also outraged broad sectors of the Iranian public.

Iran's Modesty And Hijab Bill For Protecting Health And Society

In June 2023, once the Iranian regime had managed to suppress the wave of protests, the Majlis began to advance a bill enshrining the harsh enforcement of hijab wear so as to underline its importance in Islamic society. The bill, titled "Defending The Culture Of Modesty And Hijab," refers to the hijab as the foundation of the morality and health of Islamic society, and as a necessary element in protecting the elevated status of women. It sets out severe enforcement measures against women who go bareheaded or dress immodestly: heavy fines, imprisonment, and even the suspension of social rights. Repeat offenders can expect even harsher punishments, including the seizure of their bank accounts. Influential public figures, such as celebrities and teachers, who criticize the regime's hijab enforcement may have their salaries appropriated, or be fired from their jobs, and banned from practicing their professions or from using social media. Business owners who do not enforcing proper hijab wear among their female employees and patrons may have their business shut down and their licenses revoked, on the grounds that their premises might become "a place of assembly for women with no hijabs." Furthermore, the bill dictates severe punishments for anyone posting anti-hijab messages on social media.

The punishments that are set out in great detail by the bill are the result of the regime's experiences during the anti-hijab protests. It addresses the gamut of scenarios that took place at that time, including anti-hijab statements by celebrities, online influencers, teachers, directors of education institutes, and even businessowners. The yogurt incident described above was one such incident.

Below is a translation of the bill as it was recently approved by the Majlis:

"In consideration of the importance of preserving social norms and protecting the health of society, and the necessity of preserving the honor and moral security of individuals, particularly women, along with the elevated and noble status of women in the Islamic regime and their fundamental role in the foundation of the family and the growth of society, and in consideration of the damage that ignoring these norms causes to society, we hereby present the following bill for the implementation of the necessary legislation:

" Bill For Defending Culture Of Modesty And Hijab (Protecting Health And Society):

"Article 1:

"Section A: Iranian Police officers are obligated to take action against those who violate social norms in public spaces or online, including by removing the hijab, with appropriate means or through the use of new technologies and smart systems, such as text message notifications. If the warnings are not heeded and the violation continues, [violators] will be fined, and the sum of this fine will increase if the offense is repeated...

"Section B: If part of the body ["nudity," in the original] is exposed [including the hair], or in the case of sheer or tight clothing worn in public spaces or online, the offender will be fined the maximum seventh-degree fine. If this warning is not heeded and [she] insists on continuing or repeating the offense, then in addition to this fine, the offender will be referred to the judicial authority and will be subjected to a maximum fine and the suspension of social rights...

"Note 2: If the offender refuses to pay the fine within one month of having been notified of it, her fine will double, and law enforcement will instruct the Central Bank of Iran to deduct it from her bank account. If for any reason the fine cannot be collected [this way], all banks and credit institutions will be banned from providing [her with] any banking or credit services – including issuing or renewing bank cards – until the abovementioned fines have been paid...

"Article 2:

"In the event that the offenses described in Section A of Article 1 of this law are committed by an employee of an institution such as education or research centers, governmental or non-governmental, including teachers: If the offenses are repeated, the Administrative Violations Committee will deduct one-fifth of her salary and benefits for a period of one to three months, and in the event of an additional offense, one-third of her salary and benefits will be deducted... Depending on the case, the employee may be fired or denied employment for a period of two to six months, and her case will be transferred to the qualified judicial authority for criminal trial...

"Article 3:

"If the offenses described in Section 1 of this bill are committed by an owner, manager, and/or operator of a commercial unit and/or public space, governmental or non-governmental, such as stores, restaurants, theaters, and facilities for sport, entertainment, and art, and if they violate this law at their workplace, then in addition to the aforementioned penalties, they will, in the first stage [i.e. first offense], be notified that their commercial enterprise will be shut down; for the second offense, the facility they own will be shut down, first for one week, and then for two weeks...

"Note: The owners, managers, and operators of [commercial] units are obligated to take the necessary measures, such as posting signs and notifications and preventing entry to people, in order to ensure that their patrons adhere to Section 1 of this bill. Should they refuse to take such measures, or if the units in question become places of assembly for women with no hijab or for any other illegal activities, the law enforcement arm is obligated to revoke their license...

"Article 4:

"Whenever individuals active in the fields of social, political, cultural, artistic, or sport activism who have prestige and social influence violate the articles mentioned in this bill, then in addition to being fined, [they] will be banned from professional activity and from activity online for a period of three months to one year. If these punitive measures do not bring about a change and reform in the offender's behavior, the penalties will become stiffer...

"Article 6:

"Regarding individuals who spread anti-hijab propaganda online: In addition to the removal of their online page or pages, they will, in the first phase, be warned by law enforcement, and, if the offender continues this activity, in the second phase [he or she] will be banned from any activity online for a period of three to six months, and receive the maximum fine... In the third phase, they will be brought before the judicial authorities...

"Article 9:

"The import, manufacture, and wholesale distribution of clothing whose use in public violates public modesty is prohibited. Law enforcement is obligated to confiscate these clothes and shut down the relevant manufacturing or distribution facilities, so as to act against and punish the offenders…"[3]

Majlis Speaker Amir Hossein Bankipour: "A Woman Who Does Not Wear The Hijab Will Be Fined... 3 Million Toman" By Direct Withdrawal From Her Bank Account; "For A Second Offense, She Will Go To Court"

On International Women's Day, March 8, 2024, Majlis Representative Amir Hossein Bankipour spoke to Ofogh TV (Iran) about the enforcement of the "Modesty And Hijab" bill. He said that women who do not wear the hijab would be fined approximately $50, about half the minimum wage in Iran, to be withdrawn directly from their bank account, and will only be able to submit an appeal afterwards.

The following is a translation of the key points from his interview:

"A woman who does not wear the hijab will be fined, and this fine will not be collected directly by the police officer, but rather via the system [by direct withdrawal from her bank account] a sum of 3 million toman [approximately $50 U.S., as of March 2024]. If she is the breadwinner for her family, some money must [remain] in her account, but the rest will be deducted. If there is no money in her account, she will go into debt. She is entitled to appeal, and if she wins her appeal the fine will be refunded. For a second offense, she will go to court.

"The heaviest penalties will be for well-known figures who break [the law] by not wearing the hijab. Some of their property will be confiscated, they will be prohibited from leaving the country, and they will be forbidden from making public appearances. In addition, their social media pages will be shut down. In my opinion, [the Modesty And Hijab bill] will come into force after the holiday[4] [in April 2024]."[5]

Majlis Justice And Law Committee Chairman Moussa Ghazanfarabadi: "CCTV Cameras Across The City Are Being Used To Detect The Crime And To Identify [The Offender] And Bring Her To Justice"

On August 13, 2023, Fars News Agency published an interview with Moussa Ghazanfarabadi, a Majlis member and chairman of the Majlis Justice and Law Committee, that discussed the details of the hijab bill. Ghazanfarabadi said that new technologies were being used to ease the burden on police and identify women who are not wearing the hijab. Explaining that the main punishment for these violations is monetary, he said that this is in order to prevent a collapse of the prison system, and added that the funds so collected should be used to encourage marriage and employment among young Iranians – issues that have been problematic for the regime in recent years.

The following is a translation of the key points from the interview:

"The Modesty and Hijab bill has two elements: cultural and criminal. From the criminal perspective, the [severity of the] offense is determined in accordance with the type of the crime. Offenses committed in an organized manner, or offenses by well-known individuals, are more heavily punished. In the Justice and Law Committee, we examined the criminal component in depth. The fines are determined based on removal of the hijab at tourism sites, in offices, in cars, on motorcycles, at parks, and in public spaces. We also examined the matter of imposing fines for various levels of hijab removal: wearing it loosely, immodesty, full or partial nudity [i.e. exposure]…

Majlis Justice and Law Committee chairman Moussa Ghazanfarabadi. Source: Fars News Agency (Iran), August 13, 2023.

"According to the bill, the method for dealing with women who wear their hijab improperly will be based on the use of new software, so that the police does not get mixed up, and on the use of CCTV cameras across the city to detect the crime, and to identify the offender and bring her to justice. In addition, most of the penalties are monetary. That is, we will deal with these criminals in a way that will not increase the number of prisoners in the country. The fines will be deducted from their bank accounts or will be turned into debt that they officially owe. The money so collected should be used [to encourage] employment and marriage among the youth, and to help the socially disadvantaged. Not one rial should be given to the police or other organizations..."[6]

Assembly Of Experts Member Ayatollah Ali Moalemi: "The Best Punishment For Not Wearing Hijab Is Flogging, Not A Fine!"

Speaking out against the fine-based penalties in the bill, Assembly of Experts member Ayatollah Ali Moalemi said in an August 1, 2023 interview given to the Jamaran News Agency (Iran) that fines will not deter women from failing to wear the hijab. Instead, he demanded "physical punishment by flogging," which he called "the most effective punishment." He added that women who do not wear the hijab are influenced by Western elements and have even been trained in methods of sowing chaos in Iranian society.

The following is a translation of the key points from the interview:

"The issue of the hijab is clear, and it is the word of God as it is said in the Quran. This must be observed in a religious society. Those who have mentioned the verse that states that 'there is no compulsion' [in religious matters – Quran 2:256] have drawn an incorrect conclusion... Either they are fools or they are mocking God's decree, because the verse 'there is no compulsion' refers to beliefs, and beliefs are something that you can never compel. This verse is clearly about accepting Islam and religious faith, since you cannot force somebody to accept Islam.

"But Islamic society, like other societies, has laws, and they are rational and must be followed. The hijab is a religious and political obligation, as the Leader [Khamenei] has said. Therefore, the legislators must rely on the shari'a obligation to wear hijab, and anybody who violates this violates shari'a law. Punishments must deter. Fines will not solve this problem. Unfortunately, we have not taken the enforcement of restrictions on society seriously, since if we had, theft and crime would not be increasing."

Ayatollah Ali Moalemi. (Source: Jamaran News Agency, Iran, August 1, 2023)

Asked about the optimal method for tackling the problem of women who do not wear the hijab, Ayatollah Moalemi answered:

"The first step is to warn and advise. This is correct, but today people do not naturally violate shari'a law. Today, people are being invited [by external elements] to violate the law. For instance, yesterday a video was published showing a woman sitting on a chair in a shop... She sat with her hair exposed, and one gentleman reminded her to rearrange her head covering, and then he immediately continued on his way. This lady attacked this man aggressively, and it was obvious that she had undergone training somewhere and that her mission was to create chaos and confusion on the pretext of having been aggressively warned.

"The legislator must pass serious laws. Women who do not wear the hijab need ta'zir [i.e. Islamic punishments that set at the judge's discretion], and the best ta'zir is with the whip, not with fines. It is known that many institutions, cultural departments, educational institutes, and sports centers have government oversight, and the government can start from this point."

Asked whether vendors or businesses should be fined for serving women who are not wearing the hijab, he said:

"When it causes the phenomenon of not wearing the hijab to spread, then yes, that vendor should be taken care of. He is guilty of not fulfilling his duty. It is his duty to say: 'Sister! Fix your hijab, and only then will I serve you."[7]

The Regime's Hijab Enforcement Measures In The Wake Of The Protests

On April 15, 2023, Iran's Police launched a hijab enforcement campaign, at the order of Chief of Police Ahmad Reza Radan. The campaign involved the use of advanced technology to spot women who were wearing their hijab improperly. Penalties for violations were increased, to include heavy fines and the confiscation of vehicles in which women were spotted not wearing the hijab. As part of the enforcement campaign, business owners were legally empowered to force female clients to wear the hijab, and were subject to fines or to having the business shut down if they did not do so. These measures increased public tensions and pitted civilians against one another.

In the campaign's first days, thousands of warnings were sent by text message to women who were spotted improperly wearing their hijabs, and hundreds of businesses were shut down. The regime's statements about the requirement to wear the hijab also prompted pro-regime civilians to take the law into their own hands, sometimes even forcefully, to make women obey this law in the public space, as was the case in the yogurt incident described above.

As more women removed their hijabs in protest against the regime, senior regime officials demanded stiffer punishments – including flogging, like in the case Assembly of Experts member Ayatollah Ali Moalemi. Other officials even suggested that regime institutions that do not diligently enforce the hijab should also be punished. To justify the punishments, hijab violations were equated with crimes such as theft and murder.

Below are several examples of statements by Iranian regime officials calling for harsher punishments for hijab violations.

Majlis Culture Committee Chairman Ahmad Rastina: 32 Institutions Are In Charge Of Modesty And The Hijab, And They All Must Use Every Means At Their Disposal To Advance Cultural Activities Promoting The Hijab; The Sin And Crime Of Officials Who Don't Care About [Enforcing] The Hijab... Is Worse Than That Of The Women Who Won't Wear It

In a March 20, 2023 interview with Fars News Agency, Majlis Culture Committee chairman Ahmad Rastina expressed support for the enactment of strict hijab enforcement measures for situations in which there are legal loopholes. He criticized regime officials who are lenient in the issue and said that they are worse than the women who oppose the hijab, and even suggested that legal measures be taken against them based on Majlis statutes. He said:

"The government and the judicial system must oppose the failure to wear the hijab, and must address it comprehensively. The Majlis stands alongside the government and the judiciary in addressing this, and in any case of ambiguity, contradiction, or violation of the law, the government and the judicial authority can submit a bill to the Majlis to close the legal loopholes in this area by enacting new laws.

"Unfortunately, we have witnessed silence and indifference on the part of some officials with regard to cases of [women] wearing hijabs loosely [or] exposing their [hair]. In this context, the sin and crime of officials who don't care about [enforcing] the hijab and who are indifferent about it is worse than that of the women who won't wear it. There are 32 institutions in charge of the matter of modesty and hijab, and they must all make use of all their capabilities to carry out cultural activities promoting hijabs. Thirty-two institutions are in charge of modesty and the hijab, and they all must use every means at their disposal to advance cultural activities promoting the hijab.

"In addition to taking legal action in the event that a hijab [violation] is discovered, legal action must also be taken against officials who remain silent and indifferent in this matter. In the near future, we will investigate and monitor instances of silence and indifference on the part of officials responsible for women removing their hijab, pursuant to Section 234 of the Majlis Internal Statutes [which allow investigation of failure to enforce the law], and we will refer violations of the law to the judicial authority."[8]

Iranian Police Chief Ahmad Reza Radan: First-Time Offenders Will Receive A Warning; Repeated Offenses Will Result In The Vehicle Being Detained, And Ultimately Impounded

On April 9, 2023, several days after Khamenei's speech on the matter, Iranian Chief of Police Ahmad Reza Radan announced that a widescale hijab enforcement campaign would be launched throughout the country. Radan justified the operation on the grounds that maintaining the hijab is a national demand and is considered by all Iranian women to be an essential element of societal health. This campaign, he said, would use advanced enforcement technologies, including CCTV, to identify women who are breaking the law. The campaign would be rolled out gradually, he added – for instance, if a woman is seen not wearing a hijab in a car, the owner of the vehicle will be notified; if the offense is repeated, the car will be detained and taken off the road for two weeks. After a third offense, he said, the vehicle will be impounded.

Radan also placed the responsibility to enforce the hijab regulations upon businessowners, explaining that if there are repeated offenses on the business's premises, it will be shut down.

The following is a translation of the key points from Radan's statement:

"In the beginning of my term as Iran's chief of police, I announced that it is my duty to identify the concerns of the people and act in accordance with them... This year, the issue of hijab wear was added to the police docket. This is a source of concern among religious scholars, members of society, and even the judicial system and the government, who have acted [as instructed]…

"We believe that the dear women of Iran are pure women who devote attention to the health of society, because it lies in ensuring [that women wear the] hijab, as befits their honor. However, some women are unaware of this, and act differently. Hence, we expect the [regime's] cultural units to fulfill their duties in this matter, so that even those few women will take note of this neglect.

"The police will very carefully plan measures in three areas – public roads, vehicles, and places where women remove their hijab – and will implement these measures diligently starting next Saturday [April 15, 2023].

"With regard to the use of advanced technology and equipment to identify women who break the law on public roads: first-time offenders will receive a warning, and their documents will be transferred to the court for handling her case. In any instance [of failure to wear the hijab] in a vehicle, the first offense will result in a warning [as noted], and any type of repeated offense will result in the vehicle being detained, and ultimately impounded. Thus, we ask dear drivers, and particularly vehicle owners, to be vigilant in this matter.

"Moreover, all the various businesses whose owners might allow women to not wear the hijab [on their premises] will receive serious attention and will be warned. In the event of a repeated offense, the business will ultimately be shut down. This includes places such as halls, parks, restaurants, and centers."[9]

Iran Police Chief Ahmad Reza Radan (Source: ISNA, Iran, April 9, 2023)

Video Published By Iranian Authorities: If A Woman Is Caught Without Her Hijab Inside A Car, The Car May Be Impounded

On April 17, 2023, Fars News Agency (Iran) published a public service announcement in video format setting out the Interior Ministry's and the Judiciary's instructions for the Public Security Police. The video states that "the police has an obligation to act in order to control social norms, and maintain society's security and peace of mind," and it detailed the measures that police will take when a woman who is not wearing a hijab is spotted in a vehicle, which include impoundment of the vehicle.

On Day One Of The Enforcement Campaign, 3,500 Warnings Were Sent By Text Message

According to the IRGC-linked Fars News Agency, in the first week of the police enforcement campaign, thousands of text messages were sent to businesses at which women were spotted without hijabs. Subsequently, hundreds of businesses would be shut down for repeated offenses.

The Fars report stated:

"The police are using smart systems, cameras, and equipment to identify women without hijabs, and is warning them via text message... On the first day of the Modesty and Hijab campaign, on April 15, 3,500 text messages were sent to owners of businesses at which women did not wear hijabs."[10]

Over 500 Businesses Were Shut Down In One Week

On April 28, 2023, BBC in Persian reported: "Following the Iranian government's plans to compel women to wear hijabs, over 500 businesses in various Iranian cities were closed just over the past week. These businesses include shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, cafes, and other businesses. In light of the measures, many businesses are refusing to take responsibility and to participate in compelling their customers to wear the hijab... These measures follow police commander Ahmad Reza Radan's announcement that enforcement against [women] not wearing the hijab would be escalated beginning Saturday, April 15 [2023]."[11]

Notification that a business has been shut down for failure to enforce hijab wear on its premises (Source: Mehr News Agency, Iran, April 28, 2023)

Kayhan Editor-in-Chief Hossein Shariatmadari: A Word For The President's Honorable [Female] Assistant!

In an April 15, 2023 article in the regime mouthpiece Kayhan, Hossein Shariatmadari, the paper's editor in chief, criticized Iranian presidential assistant Sakina Sadatfad for her opposition to punishing hijab violations by suspending the social and welfare services received by the offender, by revoking their passports or driver's licenses, or by leveling other sanctions in the framework of the hijab-enforcement campaign. In his article, Shariatmadari referred to the Iranian constitution and stated that such punishments are appropriate for women who fail to wear the hijab, and even compared these violations to crimes such as theft or murder.

The following is a translation of excerpts from Shariatmadari's article:

"[Iranian Chief of Police Ahmad Reza] Radan's Modesty and Hijab campaign emphasized that it would be launched Saturday [April 15, 2023] and that offenders would be punished, including with suspension of some welfare services, suspension of driver's licenses, bans on Internet use, suspension of passports, and fines of between 500,000 and three billion toman for failure to wear the hijab. Implementing this plan is demanded by the Muslim masses in this country, and the implementation is delayed for whatever reason (justified or unjustified).

"Following the announcement of this plan, the president's dear assistant Mrs. Sakina Sadatfad tweeted that 'suspending social services is in violation of Articles 19 and 20 of the constitution and is unjust.' She emphasized that 'we cannot break norms by using illegal, un-Islamic, and irrational decisions!'

"...I would like to say to her: Your references to Articles 19 and 20 in the constitution are meaningless. Articles 19 and 20 in the constitution emphasize the need to defend all the people. Article 19 states: '[All members of] the entire Iranian nation, regardless of heritage or tribe, have equal rights. Skin color, race, language, and so forth will not constitute a basis for privilege.' This article rejects discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or any other differences among people such as skin color, language, and ethnic or racial heritage, and is unrelated to the revocation of [the rights of] offenders and criminals, since naturally, every transgressor loses a series of civil rights.

"Article 20 states: 'All members of the nation, both men and women, are equally protected by the law and enjoy all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, in accordance with the guidelines of Islam.' This article also emphasizes the unity and equality of individuals and civilians when it comes to their right to legal defenses. But which article states that criminals and offenders are entitled to all the social services just like someone who does not transgress or break the law?! The law views transgressors and lawbreakers as subject to punishment.

"Now, we must ask the honorable assistant [Sadatfad]: If somebody violates the directives and article set out in the constitution, and harms others' inalienable rights, must he [be allowed to] continue to violate the norms, and is there no authority or right to punish him by denying him some of the rights set out in the articles?!...

"The constitution and the current laws emphasize the dignity of human life and property. Today, if somebody kills an innocent person or commits burglary or robbery, can we fail to punish him based on the laws respecting human life and property, and claim that according to these rights he cannot be punished? Does this viewpoint not require ignoring innocent people's life and property rights?! How many articles in the same constitution obligate the legal and judicial authorities to address [the matter] of criminals? Surely, you have read Chapter 15 of the constitution, which includes 19 articles and describes the duties of the judicial authority. What is your opinion regarding these articles?

"Finally, honorable assistant: A woman who is wise and religious is expected to notice the obvious point that many of the women who do not wear hijab are daughters of this country who have been deceived, and rescuing them from the enemies' deceit is an obligation that cannot be ignored. Of course, the calculus is different in cases of enemy intelligence agents whose mission is to [get women] to remove their hijabs."[12]

The Iranian Regime's International Women's Conference In Tehran

To defuse the international condemnation of the Iranian regime's violent repression of the anti-hijab protests and of women in general, the regime has also attempted to depict Iran as playing a leading role in ensuring that its women enjoy elevated social status, and to cast it, and Islam, as defenders of women's rights. To this end, in January 2023, the regime convened the first International Conference for Women of Influence, inviting influential women from across the world to witness "the achievements" of Iranian women. The attendees of the conference did not wear the Islamic hijab and were generally dressed in Western fashions – exposing the Iranian regime's double standard and hypocrisy vis-à-vis Iranian women. This is further reflected in the statement released by Iran's Office of Women's Affairs countering criticism of the conference: "Our enforcement of head coverings among women from abroad has always been in line with what was seen at the conference. For Iranian women, attire conforms to the local tradition."[13]

Criticism of the conference in Iran focused on the double standard regarding the attire of the foreign conferees and highlighted the selective and rigid enforcement that applies only to Iranian women. Critics also took issue with the large sums of money spent on the event, as well as with the regime's "obsession" with the hijab at the expense of other issues, at a time when the Iranian people face one of the worst economic situations in Iran's history.

The Achievements Of The International Conference For Women Of Influence

At the first International Conference for Women of Influence, held January 20-24, 2023 in Tehran, the keynote speaker, Iranian Vice President for Women's and Family Affairs Anasia Khazali, stated that its aim was to showcase the achievements of Iranian women and to spotlight other influential women. This was, she said, because Western media had spent months depicting Iran as a country where women are oppressed and human rights are abused, against the backdrop of the anti-hijab protests.

The invitees to this conference, which was promoted as international, included over 300 influential women from politically prominent families or with political or social positions, from 64 Iran-allied countries. It should be noted that the guest list published by the regime did not include the women's names but rather their countries of origin and their positions. Some were wives of heads of state – Serbia, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Burkina Faso. Others were ministers and MPs, from Iraq, Serbia, Uzbekistan, Senegal, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Ecuador, Pakistan, the Ivory Coast, Tajikistan, Cameroon, Nicaragua, Oman, Indonesia, Armenia, and Venezuela. Deputy prime ministers and vice presidents in attendance were from Uzbekistan, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Uganda; university presidents and representatives of international organizations came from South Korea, Georgia, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Syria, Belarus, Indonesia, Brazil, Kuwait, and Mali. In addition, women's rights activists and businesswomen arrived from Finland, Japan, Sweden, the UK, Australia, Ireland, Russia, Germany, Denmark, and Romania.[14]

After the conclusion of the conference, on January 24, Khazali enumerated the goals and achievements of the conference. She stated:

"We have said goodbye to the guests of the International Conference for Women of Influence. Most of them were in Iran for three days, and despite the short time, they were all influenced by the achievements of Iran's strong women. The long- and short-term goals of the conference are:

"1. To recognize and explain the achievements of Iran's women.

"2. To establish a multilateral and international approach to the issue of women.

"3. To establish economic trade for manufacturing women's products.

"4. To create a long-term plan for cooperation and interaction among influential women from all over the world."

Khazali also listed some of the conference's achievements:

"1. Exposing women across the world to the achievements of Iranian women, with visits to knowledge-based companies that they run. This provided the basis for sharing technology and for exporting products to certain countries.

"2. Establishing an international union of influential women, headquartered in Iran.

"3. Organizing international women's festivals for sports, art, culture, and science.

"4. Establishing a Fund for International-Level Innovation and Prosperity to support elite women's startup companies and scientific activity. The first deposit into this fund was by three chosen representatives at the conference; they donated the prizes they won to this fund.

"5. Expanding the activities of the Women's Group for Health and Security, which was initially proposed last year by Iran and was welcomed by the women around the world. This group is aimed at fighting all forms of economic, administrative, and moral corruption.

"6. The establishment of a cooperative virtual marketplace for trade in women's products from around the world, with the support of the participating countries' customs authorities.

"7. Agreeing to establish a physical location in participating countries for markets devoted to women's products.

"8. Agreeing to establish an international nongovernmental organization that will include women's rights observers, with the aim of monitoring problems encountered by women, neutralizing any political perspective or economic or political motivation, with the aim of improving women's situations.

"9. Creating bilateral communication between the ministers who attended the conference and their counterparts and signing a memorandum of understanding for economic, social, and cultural projects.

"10. Supporting improvements in the level of knowledge for women across the world by creating a system for monitoring women's education, with special support for Afghan women, as well as declaring physical and moral support for the continuing their education in Iran."[15]

Anasia Khazali, Iran's presidential deputy for women's and family affairs (Source: Tasnim News Agency, Iran, January 18, 2023)

Jamileh Alamolhoda, Wife Of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, At The Conference: "Conflict Is One Of The Temptations Of Satan"; "Women Symbolize Patience, Dedication, And Love – These Traits Must Flourish"

Also attending the conference was Iranian First Lady Jamileh Alamolhoda, who is also the daughter of a prominent Islamic scholar and preacher from Mashhad, Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda. In her January 20, 2023 speech at the conference, she attributed the values reflected by it to the values taught by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to the Iranian people.

Against the backdrop of the anti-hijab protests, Alamolhoda called on the women of Iran to focus on peace and friendship and to avoid the temptations of the Satan – i.e. the West – which she accused of trying to foment conflict among the women of Iran and to fuel the protests by calling for women's rights.

The following is a translation of the key parts of Alamolhoda's speech:

"I humbly thank all those who helped us organize this great conference, as well as the guests who came from afar. What you have witnessed today is the product of the teachings of the Supreme Leader of the Revolution [Ali Khamenei]. He taught us to uphold our values despite the differences among us, and to preserve unity and integrity. He led us towards a model that fights for justice via love, peace, and friendship. We must progress from the model of fighting for justice that can become violent to the model of fighting for justice with peace, love, and friendship. Conflict is one of the temptations of Satan. Together, we can build a more beautiful world. Women symbolize patience, dedication, and love. These traits must flourish.

"I hope that you will accept the invitation of the First Lady of Armenia and allow us to witness the second such conference in Armenia. At this conference, it was decided to establish an international association of influential women, along with a fund for supporting its various activities. We will also hold the first women's sports festival, and we hope that the women's groups will enjoy the friendly competition."[16]

Aser-e Iran News Outlet Criticizes Khazali: What Positive Impact Has Any Of These Honorable [Foreign] Women Had On Iranian Women? "For Example, The 25-Year-Old Lebanese Woman, Maya Sabah [Who Was Invited] Because She's A Model? Because She's An Actress? Or Because Of Her Anti-Israel Campaign In A Few Posts Online?"

The conference was controversial among various elements in Iran. For instance, the conservative Aser-e Iran news outlet published an article on January 22, 2023 titled "Four Questions For The Vice President For Women's and Family Affairs Mrs. Anasia Khazali: You Didn't Hold The Women's Meeting In A Private Home, So Answer For That!"

The article harshly criticized Khazali, the conference's organizer, on two fronts: first, the high cost of the event, at a time when Iran is facing one of the worst economic crises in its history; second, the Iranian regime's double standard regarding the hijab in allowing foreign women to not wear the hijab at a time when the regime was cracking down on much more modestly dressed Iranian women in public. In this second context, the article mentioned Jina (Mahsa) Amini, whose death in Iranian police custody following her arrest for improperly wearing her hijab set off the protests; the article stated that Amini had worn her hijab much more correctly than many of the attendees of the conference. The article also expressed doubt about the conference's achievements and demanded concrete answers to these questions that were not dictated by conference spokeswomen.

The following is a translation of the key parts of the article:

"The first International Conference for Women of Influence was held in Tehran, and some women from Guinea, Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka, Australia, Japan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Pakistan, Cameroon, Serbia, and other countries came to Iran at the invitation of Vice President for Women's and Family Affairs Anasia Khazali. Without elaborating too much, we would like to ask Mrs. Khazali some questions about this:

"1. At a time when the country is in an uncomfortable economic situation (over the few days that these women were in Iran, the value of our national currency fell by some 8%), why do we need such conferences and conventions? Really, why do we need this?

"2. Everything that is created must have a goal and an achievement. If it has no goal, it is pointless, and if it is not effective, it is considered a failure. Honorable madam, could you kindly explain what the goal of this international conference was, and what outcome it had for the country? After all, a conference of influential women must have a positive impact – even a small one – on the country. For example, when the directors of tourism agencies invite [representatives of foreign] countries to [their] country, they aim to familiarize them with its attractions and its tourist facilities, which brings tourists and shared income. Please provide concrete and logical goals and outcomes, and spare us dictated replies such as 'they heard our voice with no intermediary.'

"3. Exactly what positive influence did these honorable ladies, on whom you spent money from the wallets of the Iranian people and whom you described with the prestigious term 'influential'? If they have done something valuable for their countries, why do we need to celebrate them? Are we their advocates or acolytes? Do we pay their expenses? Have they done anything worthwhile for the Iranian people? Please tell us which one of them has done anything worthwhile for us. For example, the 25-year-old Lebanese woman Maya Sabah, a model who has had minor roles in some Arab movies, and who has of course shared some anti-Israel posts – by what criteria is she considered an influential woman who [deserves] her trip to Iran funded by the Iranian nation? Because she's a model? Because she's an actress? Or because of her anti-Israel campaign in a few posts online?

"4. Did you for one moment consider what the people of Iran think of your hypocrisy regarding the hijab [not worn by the attendees of the conference]? While you [i.e. the regime] clash with Iranian women and girls because of how they dress – although they sometimes dress more respectably than the guests you invited – you spend these same [Iranian] women's money to fund Lebanese Internet influencers so that they can walk around Tehran with no hijab and post stories [on social media] from restaurants.

"It isn't your helplessness and whining that the money and budget [for the conference] were low, nor your wastefulness (are you willing to publish how much [this all] cost?). It isn't your repeated and emphatic insistence on the hijab, and it isn't your selfie in Tehran itself with women who dressed [less] modestly than Mahsa Amini, may her memory be a blessing.

"Mrs. Anasia Khazali! The nation awaits your explanations for why you did not [simply] host a women's meeting in a private home."[17]

Photos showing the attire and head coverings of the conferees; Maya Sabah is at bottom left  (Source: Aser-e Iran, January 22, 2023)

The Women's And Family Affairs Office's Response To Aser-e Iran: The Conference Demonstrated The Strength And Centrality Of Iranian Women At A Time When The Enemies Have Attempted To Deny Their Presence On The International Scene

A few days after Aser-e Iran published the article, the Iranian Women's and Family Affairs Office responded with an official statement to its questions. Lambasting the article for "criticizing the glorious conference" at a time when "Iran's enemies – the arrogant superpower [i.e. the U.S. and the West] – which have in recent months supported the protests in Iran and used Iranian women to blacken the status of women in Iran and remove them from the global stage," it explained that the conference was aimed at showcasing all the achievements of Iran's women. It called it "a space for the strength of Iranian women" in order to create partnerships with influential women from all over the world, and added: "The conference made the guests look at the strong women of Iran, and the [foreigners] were shocked by the difference between what is heard in global media and what they actually saw."

Clarifying that the conference expenditures were in accordance with protocols, and that minimal sums had been spent for maximum effectiveness, the statement said that the restaurants where the conferees dined were basic and that they had paid for their own coffees. It added: "We hosted the conference, and you will indeed be surprised when you hear how much it cost – that is, how we achieved what we did with such a minimal [budget]." It also stressed that it would have long-term benefits for the Iranian people when the latter reaped the fruits of the cooperation agreements signed, and noted that deepening economic ties with other countries could help circumvent the U.S. sanctions against the Iranian regime.

Noting that the feast held by the wife of then-president Hassan Rohani, Sahabeh Arabi, at Saadabad Palace in Tehran at the height of Iran's previous fuel crisis, the statement accused the article of a pro-Rohani bias, and pointed out that the conference was never claimed to be a private gathering and that "it is strange that you ignore the wastefulness of the previous administrations."

The statement went on to accuse the article of mocking and humiliating women and of failing to recognize their potential and influence. It concluded by clarifying that many styles of head coverings are acceptable, and that "our enforcement of head coverings among women from abroad has always been like what was seen at the conference. For Iranian women, attire conforms to local tradition."[18]

* Ayelet Savyon is director of the MEMRI Iran Media Studies project; N. Katirachi is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.


[1] Once the Majles approves a bill, it must be ratified by the Guardian Council to be passed as a law. The Hijab and Modesty bill has not yet been ratified by the Guardian Council, but it is expected to be ratified and to go into effect in April 2024.

[2] The third article in this series will discuss this incident in-depth, as well as the public criticism of the regime's hijab enforcement policies.

[3] Mehr News Agency (Iran), June 8, 2023.

[4] It is unclear whether Bankipour was referring to Ramadan or to Nouruz.

[5] Aser-e Iran (Iran), March 3, 2024.

[6] Fars News Agency (Iran), August 13, 2023.

[7] Jamaran News Agency (Iran), August 1, 2023.

[8] Fars News Agency (Iran), March 30, 2023.

[9] ISNA (Iran), April 9, 2023.

[10] Fars News Agency (Iran), April 21, 2023.

[11], April 28, 2023.

[12] Fars News Agency (Iran), April 15, 2023.

[13] Aser-e Iran (Iran), January 25, 2023.

[14] Jahan News (Iran), January 24, 2023.

[15] ISNA (Iran), January 24, 2023.

[16] Khabar Online (Iran), January 22, 2023.

[17] Aser-e Iran (Iran), January 22, 2023.

[18] Aser-e Iran (Iran), January 25, 2023.

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