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Opinion: With or without a hijab, Iran needs a revolution

 DW Autorin Niloofar Gholami
Niloofar Gholami
December 16, 2022

The hijab, or headscarf, is indicative of a misogynistic system of government. It is time for a new revolution to usher in a secular Iran, says Niloofar Gholami.

Students in a girls' high school remove their headscarf in classroom
Girls remove their headscarves in a Tehran classroom as part of nationwide anti-government demonstrations in October.Image: SalamPix/abaca/picture alliance

The hijab for me exemplifies fear and humiliation. It symbolizes a system based on misogynist ideology trying to eliminate women from society. 

As an Iranian woman, I've worn a piece of cloth on my head for years, which served not only to cover my hair and body. I viewed it as a tool to suppress, control and turn women into second class citizens. 

This humiliating second-class treatment and the suffering and silencing of women has been overshadowed by the debate about the alleged abolition of the morality police in Iran. Make no mistake: The regime's insistence on wearing a hijab has existed since the 1979 revolution. 

This violation of women's rights was ignored and many people including the regime's supporters and Western politicians attempted to frame the hijab in Iran as a cultural issue. 

DW editor Niloofar Gholami
Niloofar Gholami works for DW's Farsi deskImage: DW

It is not. I was 13-years old when my father was arrested and taken to Evin prison because of his activities supporting workers' rights. I remember that my mother had to wear mostly loose and dark clothes to at least be allowed to enter the court. 

Escaping the morality police

I recall a humiliating encounter with the morality police in Tehran. I was heading to a cinema with a friend wearing a red coat, a color they hate most. I was summoned by one of the women of the morality police at the entrance to the metro station. My only thought was how to avoid arrest. I remember that I ran as fast as I could and at the same time I was thinking why was I running? What crime did I commit? 

My close brush with the morality police left me feeling uneasy whenever I walked the streets of Tehran. I left the country in 2015 but even during the first few months of my forced exile I couldn't shake that feeling of uneasiness.

I was lucky enough to escape, but Jina Mahsa Amini, who died in custody three months ago on September 16 at the age of 22, was not.

To me the alleged abolition of the morality police in Iran is a phantom debate. The population knows very well that the hijab is compulsory and one of the pillars of the Islamic Republic and a tool to control society. Many find it hard to believe that it's been disbanded.

Is Iran's morality police about to be disbanded?

A new revolution in Iran

Undoubtedly, the Islamic Republic has a plan to replace the morality police with an alternative. It might even be a mechanism to deprive women who do not wear the hijab correctly of certain rights and services. At least, that's what can be gleaned from official statements. 

Even if the morality police were to be disbanded, we should not forget that the problem of the Iranian people is not the hijab but the entire regime which was established in violation of human rights. 

The young generation has a bigger picture in mind: a free, secular, and democratic Iran which can play an important role in the Middle East and the world.  It's time for a new Iranian revolution. And it's time to honor the Iranian women who have kickstarted that process — with and without a hijab! 

Reporting on the Iran protests