For nearly 40 years, women in Iran have had to wear headscarves in public – a strict Islamic dress code that has been in place since the 1979 revolution. Those seen without the proper hijab head-covering have been fined, lashed or imprisoned for leaving part of their hair uncovered.
But, in an unexpected step towards gender equality, police in Iran’s capital announced that women will no longer risk arrest for breaching the country’s conservative interpretation of the Islamic dress code, which includes a ban on loose headscarves, wearing nail polish and heavy make-up.
‘Those who do not observe the Islamic dress code will no longer be taken to detention centres, nor will judicial cases be filed against them,’ said Tehran police chief General Hossein Rahimi, according to local media reports.
Iran’s morality police – similar to Saudi Arabia’s religious police – typically escort violators to a police van, here their families are called to bring a change of clothes. The violator is then required to sign a form saying they will not commit the offence again.
Younger and more liberal-minded women have long pushed the boundaries of the country’s official dress code, wearing loose headscarves that do not fully cover their hair and painting their nails, provoking criticism from conservatives. Iranian millennials have been especially defiant of the policy through social media protests and street marches.
The decision marks another step towards progress under Iran’s relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani, though some Iranians question just how much they should be celebrating.
Masih Alinejad, an Iranian activist, accused the government of ‘avoiding a real solution’ to the country’s strict dress code policy.
‘They should understand that in this day and age, how women dress is none of their business,’ Alinejad wrote on Instagram. ‘This is a small victory but a victory nevertheless. But our true victory is when compulsory hijab is abolished.’