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April 24, 2023 10:53 am

Iran’s State-Sponsored Misogyny: A Regime Built on Brutal Violence Against Women

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avatar by Farhad Rezaei


Pro-government peoples rally against the recent protest gatherings in Iran, after the Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran, Iran September 23, 2022. Iranians have staged mass protests over the case of Mahsa Amini, 22, who died last week after being arrested by the morality police for wearing “unsuitable attire”. Photo: WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

The Islamic regime in Iran is notorious not only for its systematic discrimination against women and other gender minorities, but also for using brutal violence to subjugate and exclude them from society. Iran’s ruling regime inflicts a wide range of cruelties on gender minorities, including murder, imprisonment, torture, rape, enforced disappearance, and other forms of sexual violence. This persecution, based solely on gender, is a flagrant violation of international law. Additionally, the regime is responsible for the use of chemical agents against schoolgirls in Iran, and perpetrates other heinous acts that cause immense suffering and severe physical and mental harm.

The conduct of the Islamic Republic reveals that since the regime’s establishment in 1979, it has been imposing a brutal system on Iranian women and girls by implementing laws, policies, and practices that perpetuate their prolonged and harsh discriminatory treatment.

Right after the revolution, Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini issued a decree to enforce a dress code for women known as “appropriate” clothing. A group called “Zainab’s Sisters” was created to monitor and regulate the appearance of women in public and some private spaces, further restricting their freedom.

The Islamic Majlis passed a law mandating a penalty of 74 lashes for women who refuse to comply with the mandatory dress code. Female students were prohibited from studying certain subjects in university. They were also prohibited from attending sports matches and generally disallowed from participating in certain forms of entertainment like music groups.

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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khomeini’s successor, also urged enforcement of the dress code in its totality, even by using force. In October 2014, Ayatollah Yousef Tabatabai Nejad, the representative of Khamenei in Isfahan, ordered Ansar Hezbollah to “use coercive force and make society unsafe for those women who do not comply with the hijab law.” Acting on this order, Ansar Hezbollah carried out a series of at least 25 acid attacks, targeting women who were unveiled. Several women suffered severe burns to their faces and hands, with one woman dying in the attacks.

Ayatollah Khamenei himself authorized Ansar Hezbollah forces to “Fire at Will” (Atash be Ekhtyar) when they observed a woman taking off her headscarf in public, without waiting for orders from authorities. Ansar Hezbollah and the law enforcement’s “chastity police” (Gasht-e Ershad) were instructed to use force, arresting and torturing women who did not comply with the dress code. In September 2022, they arrested Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish girl, and beat her in custody, ultimately leading to her death, which sparked a nationwide uprising. To suppress the unrest, the regime has killed more than 500 young people, most of them girls and women, according to reports.

In the realm of education, Iran’s Student Union Council reported that 435 female students have been suspended or expelled from universities, and 637 students from 144 institutions have been arrested. The Ministry of Higher Education announced that institutions under its jurisdiction will no longer offer educational and other services to students who do not abide by hijab rules. The University of Tehran’s clinic refused to accept students who do not wear the mandatory hijab and threatened unveiled students by handing over their student numbers to the disciplinary committee. Security officers of Allameh University prevented unveiled female students from entering “the Bagh Melli” campus in the faculty of Arts and locked the student in a room.

Expanding beyond the educational sector, hijab enforcement groups have been established at Tehran metro stations, refusing entry to women not wearing the hijab. Unveiled female drivers face fines and vehicle impoundment, and they are not allowed to buy and sell vehicles in the future. The regime authorities announced that unveiled women will no longer be allowed to travel by plane.

In addition to these measures, the Islamic Republic’s authorities have further tightened their grip on hijab enforcement through technological advancements and stricter regulations. The Police Force uses facial recognition technology in public places to identify and penalize women who refuse to comply with the Islamic dress code. Once they are identified, their ID cards will be confiscated, and they will be deprived of social services such as using the banking system, cellphone line,s and mobile internet access, and face the possibility of having their bank accounts blocked. Moreover, unveiled women will be under surveillance for six months, banned foreign travel for up to one year, and disqualified from government positions.

Additionally, in the private sector, owners of restaurants and shopping centers are required by the government to deny services to unveiled women. Law enforcement agents were forced to close 137 stores and 18 restaurants and garden halls, and file lawsuits against their owners because they ignored earlier notifications and served women who were not wearing the hijab.

As further evidence of the regime’s oppressive tactics, 328 chemical attacks were carried out against schoolgirls, resulting in the poisoning of more than 7,000 female students. Consequently, hundreds of schoolgirls have been hospitalized. Observers noted that these assaults could not occur without the regime’s acknowledgment or approval, and are part of a systematic and coordinated campaign aimed at suppressing teenage girls involvement in protests.

More than 1,000 schoolgirls at more than 26 schools in 25 of Iran’s 31 provinces have now been hit by the poison gas since the first attacks in the city of Qom in November, when 15 schools were targeted. A religious group from Qom — which opposes female education — calls itself Fadayeen-e Velayat (a name that alludes to followers of Ayatollah Khamenei) and claimed responsibility. The group said that allowing girls to receive an education was a violation of Islam, and threatened to step up the attacks if female students continue to attend school.

In conclusion, the Islamic Republic’s systematic discrimination and brutal violence against Iranian women and girls constitutes state-sponsored misogyny. The regime’s policies and actions, which affects various aspects of women’s daily life, from education to transportation and private sector services, are in direct violation of international law. The heinous acts of chemical attacks against schoolgirls further demonstrate the regime’s ruthless determination to suppress and control women’s rights and freedoms. It is crucial for the international community to recognize the Islamic Republic as a regime that attacks women, condemn its actions, and actively support the rights of Iranian women and girls.

Farhad Rezaei is a senior fellow at Philos Project.

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