Tuesday, September 27, 2005

25 Years of Unpopular and Mandatory Hejab

Iranian blogger, Farnaz Ghazizadeh, Rooz Online:
This year's academic year in Iran marks the 25th anniversary of women's mandatory hejab (Islamic dress code) in schools. In 1980, the little girls that started their primary schooling remember the first experience of wearing the headscarf that later turned into more religious forms and, despite warnings from health experts, psychologists and sociologists, institutionalized the hejab.

In Iran, the hejab has been mandated by the Ministry of Education and it must be worn at the age of seven, while many senior religious experts have released Fatwas (religious decrees) that unlike Arab girls, the puberty age for Iranian girls is thirteen.

In the 80s the overall strategy of policy makers was to focus on hejab and make it part of a girl's everyday life and routine. Officials tried hard to convince girls that the hejab would “protect them from malicious eyes.”

The color of the shoes and uniforms that school girls wore were limited to the gloomy shades of black, dark navy and grey. Young girls were not allowed to wear white socks or white shoes. In some schools in south Tehran, the chador was the mandatory attire.

Schools are segregated by gender in Iran. Girl schools are usually out of site, hidden behind tall walls where windows are half painted to hide the girls inside. Some street windows are bolted such that they cannot be opened. Schoolgirls purses are searched for hair clips least boys imagine long curls under a girl’s scarf.

Wearing the hejab for long hours of the day threatens the mental and physical health of school girls. Hejab considerably limits the physical activities of schoolgirls, and health experts have been warning of risks that these young women are subjected to. These calls have not been useless and have not all fallen on deaf ears. They have in fact gained acceptance among the different groups, strata and even among some religious elements. Some even raise the differences of opinion on this to be at a “crises” level. In any case, during the last 25 years the Islamic Republic officials have been trying to show that the hejab is constructive for mental health. The experience of Iranian society, however, indicates a different outcome.

Seventy years have passed from the day Iran's Reza Shah forcefully removed hejab from Iranian streets. That effort failed to have all Iranian women discard their chadors. Just as the efforts of the Islamic government to forcefully impose the chador or the hejab has failed.

Twenty seven years after victory of the Islamic Revolution, the hejab continues to be one the main social concerns of the government, even the new one that is still in the process of establishing itself.

While the Islamic regime strongly opposes the French government’s ban of hejab in French schools, it also criticizes the lack of choice of the French Muslim schoolgirls, as if such a choice exists in Iran. One really wonders why is it that government officials here do not mention the fact that Islamic laws have been imposed on religious minorities in Iran who are forced to wear the hejab in Iranian schools, while the government calls for the recognition of the right of non-Iranian Muslim women to chose their dress!

Women and children activists criticize the official policy that aims to either ban or force women to wear the hejab, saying such a move ignores the rights of women.
Despite massive opposition, the Majlis (Parliament) currently is working on a draft to design a national dress code and from the looks of it, it is trying to expand the failed policy of imposing the hejab in schools to the whole society. It is as if there are more supporters for the hejab outside the schools. Sometimes, they learn the hardway. READ MORE