International

Explainer: Iran's New 'Hijab Bill'

The proposed legislation defines unacceptable covering for women as “revealing or tight clothing, or clothing that shows parts of the body lower than the neck or above the ankles or above the forearms”, and for men, it has been defined as “revealing clothing that shows parts of the body lower than the chest or above the ankles, or shoulders”.

Iran hijab protests
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Iran has passed a controversial bill that aims to increase prison terms and fines for women and girls who break the dress code. “Inappropriate” attire will land women in jail for up to 10 years with an agreed three-year “trial”. However the bill is pending approval from the Guardian Council to qualify as a law. 

The bill followed after a year of protests over the death of Mahsa Amini who was held in custody by morality policy for an allegedly improper hijab. Women burnt their headscarves and waved them in the air at the nationwide protests against the clerical authorities. Hundreds of people were also reportedly killed in a crackdown by security forces. 

An increasing number of women have ceased to cover their heads in public at all, despite the resurgence of the morality policy in the streets, since the unrest subsided. The morality police was even insistent on installing surveillance cameras.

The Legislation 

The Iranian Law which has been based on their interpretation of Sharia dictates women and girls who have hit puberty to cover their hair with hijab and always wear long, loose-fitting clothes to obscure their figures for the onlookers. The proposed legislation defines unacceptable covering for women as “revealing or tight clothing, or clothing that shows parts of the body lower than the neck or above the ankles or above the forearms”, and for men, it has been defined as “revealing clothing that shows parts of the body lower than the chest or above the ankles, or shoulders”.

As per the current law, on non compliance the guilty will risk meeting with a prison term of between 10 days and two months or a fine of between 5,000 and 500,000 rials ($0.10-$10.14 at the black market exchange rate). However, on Wednesday, members of the parliament voted by 152 to 34- wherein,152 voted in favour, 34 against and seven abstained from voting, passed the "Hijab and Chastity Bill", which rules that people when caught dressed “inappropriately” in public places will be subjected to a "fourth degree" punishment.

The legislation was implemented not through a parliament vote but by a special committee consisting of 10 lawmakers. The lawmakers invoked an article of the constitution that permits the formation of a committee to approve legislation for “experimental” implementation and Wednesday’s vote in parliament only decided the duration.

A fourth degree punishment according to the penal code means a prison sentence of between five and 10 years and a fine of between 180m and 360m rials ($3,651-$7,302).

The bill also proposes fines for those who are caught “promoting nudity” or “making fun of the hijab” on social media. The fine also extends to owners of vehicles in which a female driver or passenger is not wearing the hijab or appropriate clothing, AFP reported. 

Anyone who is found violating the dress code "in an organised manner" or "in co-operation with foreign or hostile governments, media, groups or organisations" could also be given a term  for between five and 10 years, the bill underlines. 

The bill will be sent to the Guardian Council, a conservative body of clerics and jurists. The council holds the power to veto the bill if they consider it inconsistent with the constitution and Sharia. 

Human Rights Violation

Just last month, a group of United Nations experts termed the hijab bill as a “form of gender apartheid” “The draft law imposes severe punishments on women and girls for noncompliance which may lead to its violent enforcement,” the experts said.“The bill also violates fundamental rights, including the right to take part in cultural life, the prohibition of gender discrimination, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to peaceful protest, and the right to access social, educational, and health services, and freedom of movement” they added. 

Notably, the bill was passed days after the first death anniversary of Mahsa Amini. The establishment has taken a series of steps to counter dissent, including using smart cameras. Forming court cases against celebrities and shutting down businesses that offered services to women who are deemed to be violating the mandatory dress code. 

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