On Wednesday, September 20th, Iran’s parliament passed the “Bill to Support the Family by Promoting the Culture of Chastity and Hijab” on a trial basis of 3 years, with the law to become permanent after this period. The legislation, which was approved days after the first anniversary of the start of protests against the Islamic Republic’s hijab laws, sets new punishments for violations of the dress code.
Regional sources report on the bill:
Per the Kuwait Times, “the push to step up penalties comes a year after a wave of protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly breaching the rules. Since then, a growing number of Iranian women have been seen in public without hijab head scarves or observing the rules against clothes that are deemed too tight-fitting or otherwise revealing.”
On the government’s rationale for the new legislation, the Tehran Times shared statements from Ali Nikzad, a member of Iran’s parliament: “We all should note that the issue of hijab as an important religious and cultural factor has been targeted by the enemy, which also seeks to create unity-breaking polarizations in society using this factor.”
In December of last year, there was much speculation that Iran might loosen its enforcement of dress codes, rather than intensify it. At the time, Muscat Daily reported that Iran’s government was “reviewing a decades-old law that requires women to cover their heads.” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was quoted as saying that while Iran’s Islamic foundations were constitutionally entrenched, “there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible.”
Inversely, as reported by The Times of Israel in July, Iranian Police Spokesperson General Saeed Montazerolmahdi said “the morality police would resume notifying and then detaining women not wearing a hijab in public.” Marked morality police vans were thereafter seen patrolling the street in Tehran.
The new bill totals more than 70 articles, and “defines an array of financial penalties for hijab violations, which could be ramped up to prison terms if found to be done in an organized manner and in contact with ‘foreign governments, networks, media, groups or organizations’ or people affiliated with them,” according to Al-Jazeera. Additionally, “businesses and business owners will also be exposed to punishments, including hefty fines, bans on leaving the country, or prison terms if they are found to be propagating ‘nudity, lack of chastity or bad covering’ in any way.”
Anadolu Agency outlines the legislation’s structure, noting that it “comprises five chapters, which deal with general duties of the executive bodies, specific duties of the executive bodies, public duties and social responsibility, and crimes and violations.” Though a three year trial period was agreed upon, a five year trial period was considered.
On the street enforcement of dress codes has already increased. Al Arabiya explains: “Authorities and police patrols have in recent months stepped up measures against women and businesses who fail to observe the dress code. Businesses have been closed over non-compliance and surveillance cameras have been installed in public places to monitor violations.”
Several human rights advocates and international institutions, including the UN, condemned the bill. “The United Nations rights office,” Al-Ahram writes, “said it deeply regretted the passage of the so-called Chastity and Hijab Bill”. The office’s spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, described the bill as “unfortunately worse than what we had before” and reiterated the UN’s position that “women and girls must not be treated as second class citizens.”