(AFP) – A spate of unprecedented protests against Iran’s mandatory headscarves for women have been tiny in number, but have still reignited a debate that has preoccupied the Islamic republic since its founding.
Walking through central Tehran with a loose scarf tossed lightly over her head, Samar, a dentist, is typical of the relaxed approach to headgear many Iranian women have adopted since the 1990s.
“Everyone should be able to decide for themselves what to wear. I don’t think a few loose hairs can provoke anyone to anything,” she said.
She was referring to the conservative claim that men are unable to stop themselves assaulting women if they can see their hair.
A typical sign – at a hammam in Kashan, south of Tehran – compares the veil to a pearl’s oyster: “The oyster keeps the pearl safe from the hazards.”
“In our country, men are raised with the idea that women must be seen with a headscarf. I will never remove my headscarf in my country for as long as I live,” said Hanieh, a journalist, wearing a much tighter scarf around her head.
The issue has returned to the fore in recent weeks after several women took the unprecedented step of protesting in public without their headscarves. Police say 29 people have been arrested.
Iran is the only country in the world to impose a mandatory headscarf on both Muslim and non-Muslim women as part of its ill-defined “hijab” rules that require modest clothing, including a ban on shorts for men.
In practice the rules have been steadily eroding for years.
Particularly in wealthier areas, the all-body black “chador” robes have been increasingly replaced by jeans, make-up and loose, colourful scarves which many let drop around their shoulders entirely.