Women in Iran are defying the Iranian regime’s law that mandates wearing a hijab (roo sari or chador, which means “head covering”) while driving by letting the headscarves rest on their shoulders instead of on their heads while in their vehicles.
The move has reportedly sparked a national debate over whether a privately-owned vehicle is a private or public space. In Saudi Arabia, women are not even allowed to drive.
Women have been required to cover their hair with a hijab since the 1979 revolution in Iran removed the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi from power and replaced him with the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Under the Shah, women had the option to show their hair.
Over the past few years, there has been an uptick in the number of women who are pushing back against what most of the civil society in the country see as an archaic rule.
The phrase “bad hijab” has been used on social media to describe the offense of women failing to cover their hair properly.
In April 2015, Iranian youth took to streets to celebrate Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s announcement that America had reached a tentative nuclear framework deal under former President Barack Obama. International observers may have noticed the dozens of cars being driven by women who let their chadors recline to their shoulders and expose their flowing hair.
A similar scene took place with the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal several months later.
These were offenses for which Iranian women could ordinarily be arrested. On the surface, it seemed like the regime was moving in a direction of “reform” and “moderation.” This public image rapidly crumbled as the state began cracking down on women.
Over the course of eight months in 2015 alone, Iranian authorities seized and or fined more than 40,000 thousand cars because the women driving them did not cover their hair with the compulsory hijab properly.
That same year, the Iranian regime deployed religious police to monitor patrons at the ski slopes in the Alborz mountains to ensure that men and women were not committing “immoral offenses” and that they remained separate while skiing.
Last May, Breitbart News reported that Iran arrested eight people in a crackdown against women who “promote immoral and un-Islamic culture and promiscuity,” by appearing on Instagram without wearing the mandatory hijab, in what was revealed as a two-year sting operation.
The Guardian pointed out that, in 2015, Iran’s so-called “moderate” president Hassan Rouhani said, “The police can’t do something and say I’m doing this because God said so. That’s not a police [officer]’s business.”
However, there is a swirling debate within Iran’s judicial branch about what constitutes a public or private space.
“The invisible part of the car, such as the trunk, is a private space, but this does not apply to the visible parts of the car,” Hadi Sadeghi, the deputy head of Iran’s judiciary chief, said last week, according to the Guardian.
The Guardian also noted that “An Iranian environmentalist and journalist tweeted: ‘In the whole country, we only have 2,600 conservationists protecting the environment, while in Tehran alone 7,000 people have been hired to police people’s hijab.'”
There is also reportedly a debate over whether wearing a “bad hijab” is considered criminal under Iranian law. While some legal analysts who are not affiliated with Iran’s government believe it is not a crime, Saeid Montazeralmahdi, a spokesperson for the Iranian police, reportedly disagrees. The Guardian notes that he said, “What is visible to the public eye is not private space and norms and the rules should be respected within cars,” and he warned against tinted glass windows.
Social media users have reportedly pushed back with satirical memes including this one from a man named Arash that shows a couple making out in the trunk of their car with a “LOVE ME” license plate on it:
— بوف آستیگمات (@arash1789) July 7, 2017
The pushback against chadors recently also saw the birth of a new social media campaign called #WhiteWednesdays where women wear a white headscarf or articles of white clothing, and remove their head coverings in their cars, to protest the law.
The movement was started by Masih Alinejad, founder of My Stealthy Freedom.
Social media users posted their support for the movement online:
— My Stealthy Freedom (@masihpooyan) July 12, 2017
— Barbara Disco (@iwanttolearn) July 5, 2017
The Rouhani branch of the Iranian regime and the hardliners have experienced their own divisions. However, the likelihood of actual reform taking place under the auspices of this regime remains to be seen.