For the past six months, Iran has been rocked by protests triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini over alleged violation of the country's hijab rule. Women are required to wear hijab, an Islamic head covering, in public in Iran. In ongoing protests, women have taken off and burnt their hijabs publicly. The hijab rule was introduced after the Islamic Revolution of Iran of 1979. Prior to it, under the liberal monarchy, women were free to dress the way they wished. However, several women wore hijab during the monarchy period as a sign of protest against the regime. Therefore, hijab in Iran has a long history where it was once a symbol of protest but is now a state imposition and a way to control women by the state.
In 1935, King Reza Shah Pehlavi banned the public wearing of hijab in Iran.
In 1941, when Reza Shah's son Mohammed Reza Pehlavi became King, he made the ban on hijab into a choice. Women were free to wear whatever they wanted to.
During 1941-79, women in Iran were free to wear whatever they wanted to. Many women wore hijab and many did not wear it out of personal choice or family culture. Photographs from this period show women in Iran wearing dresses, skirts, and swimsuits without any legal restriction.
During 1935-79, a section of Iran's population and Islamic clergy opposed Shah dynasty. Since they were opposed to Shah, and since the clergy was conservative, they made wearing of hijab a sign of defiance of Shah. This meant that several women during this period wore hijab in protest against the Shah dynasty — which was liberal and pro-West.
In the run-up to 1979, women as part of the Islamic Revolution wore hijab as a symbol of opposition to Shah.
In 1979, the Islamic Revolution of Iran overthrew the monarchy and replaced it with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Soon after the Revolution, the rulers from the clergy made hijab mandatory for women in Iran. This meant that hijab turned into a symbol of clergy's imposition from a symbol of protest within a very short period of time.
In 1979, thousands of Iranian women marched in the street against imposing hijab on them.
Since 1983, the Iranian government has properly implemented the hijab rule. Women have often protested against the move. There have been social media movements, trends, and Facebook pages, where women often posted photos with their uncovered hair. Such photos were often taken from behind to hide the woman's face to prevent authorities from finding her identity.
In 1990s, criminal punishment of imprisonment was introduced for the violation of hijab rules. Fines were also introduced.
In 2018, the hijab rules were relaxed so women violating the rule were not imprisoned but were sent to Islam educational classes.
In 2022, the relaxation was reversed and the hijab rules were hardened more than before. Several women began to be arrested. One of them, Sepideh Rashno, was later brought on television to 'confess' her violation. She was reportedly forced to confess and was also reportely beaten in custody. This happened in August, just one month before Mahsa Amini's death that led to ongoing protests.