Women across Iran challenged the government by refusing to wear the mandatory headscarf during the year after nationwide protests erupted in September 2022. For months, women and girls removed and burned their headscarves in outrage over Mahsa Amini’s death in detention for “improper hijab.” The regime violently suppressed the demonstrations, but it still faced festering social challenges.
By the end of 2022, the morality police—responsible for enforcing the mandatory dress code—had largely receded from view. Even as protests died down, women continued to forego the hijab in a symbolic act of resistance that became increasingly common, particularly in cities. Women went about their daily lives – in markets, restaurants, the metro, museums, and other public places – unveiled.
In March 2023, judiciary chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei reaffirmed the regime’s position on the dress code. “Removing one’s hijab is equivalent to showing enmity to the Islamic Republic and its values,” he said. People who defy the government and “commit this sin that harms public order” would be punished, Ejei warned. Thousands of women across Iran reportedly walked around in public without a hijab each day by April.
During the spring and summer of 2023, the government attempted to enforce the hijab through less confrontational means, including utilizing cameras for public surveillance and sending text warnings to violators. It shut down businesses for serving unveiled women, for example. In July, the government doubled down and redeployed the morality police, which sparked renewed resistance against the mandatory hijab.
Tensions festered ahead of the mid-September anniversary of Amini’s death. Women continued to appear in public without headscarves. And Parliament was considering new legislation that would impose harsher restrictions on women who violated the dress code.
After the 1979 revolution, the new theocracy required females to cover their hair with a hijab and dress modestly from the age of puberty. Violators could face prison sentences, fines or lashes. But enforcement has varied widely since then. In practice, many women, especially in cities, started wearing scarves that barely covered their hair. But President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner, has pushed for stringent enforcement of the Islamic dress code since he took office in 2021. The following are pictures and videos of Iranian women in public without the compulsory hijab.
Many Iranian women are sending @IranIntl videos of themselves taking off their headscarves and compulsory hijab while playing the song "Roosarito" (Take Off Your Headscarf) to support its singer @yarrahimehdi who's been arrested over the song ahead of the protests' anniversary. pic.twitter.com/1NCQRejUVK— Iran International English (@IranIntl_En) September 3, 2023
Despite all the threats, humiliations, and arrests of Iranian women for not wearing the hijab by the Islamic Republic, the streets of Iran are like this these days. The old clerics are witnessing the defeat of their ideology on the streets of Iran. #WomanLifeFreedom pic.twitter.com/8qZTcamiu3— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) August 21, 2023
Iran's morality police is intensifying its crackdown on women not wearing the hijab, as the one-year anniversary of Jina Mahsa Amini’s death approaches: pic.twitter.com/54Iy7H3Ogq— DW News (@dwnews) August 1, 2023
Witness the intriguing scene in Tehran, Iran's subway! The regime uses religious songs to lure people towards Islamic ideology, but the youth boldly challenge their authority by defying the mandatory hijab. These are the girls of #WomanLifeFreedom revolution. pic.twitter.com/yfNkb2reyI— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) July 26, 2023
Pic of the Day: A woman sits in the dining area of a cafe in northern Tehran's Tajrish commercial district w/o wearing her mandatory headscarf. April 29, 2023. More women are choosing not to wear hijab in #Iran. The gov. continues to push back. 📷 AP/Vahid Salemi. pic.twitter.com/P0ZJb6aYwa— Reza H. Akbari (@rezahakbari) May 10, 2023
Actress Pantea Bahram posed for photos without a headscarf at the screening of the last episode of the dramatic series, “The Lion’s Skin,” in Tehran.— IranHumanRights.org (@ICHRI) April 20, 2023
More and more women in Iran are peacefully defying the state's forced-hijab rule.#پانتهآ_بهرام#بیحجابی_سراسری pic.twitter.com/H16JEr99PE
It took me a minute to realise this is a shopping mall in Tehran. This is what everyday protest in Iran looks like - and what no turning back looks like. Extraordinary. (A friend sent me this video). pic.twitter.com/aBDZO2d5Z4— Ramita Navai (@ramitanavai) January 6, 2023
VIDEO: High school students in Tehran hold pictures of Mahsa Amini and chant: "We Have to Unite One by One, Otherwise, We’ll be Finished"#IranProtests #iranianwomenrevolution #iranianwomen #IranProtests #Tehran pic.twitter.com/SSzgqTr5Ai— IranWire (@IranWireEnglish) October 8, 2022
A pair of women walk through a busy street in the Grand Bazaar of central Tehran without their hijabs in an effort to normalize the site of unveiled women. Only a couple men fleetingly stare, and no one intervenes, in a sign that it has already become normalized pic.twitter.com/JRTOyQJJTt— Borzou Daragahi 🖊🗒 (@borzou) October 2, 2022
In Valiasr Street, central Tehran, a group of women without hijabs walks in the middle of the street as drivers sound horns in support on day 16 of protests in Iran over the death of #MahsaAmini in morality police custody for "improper hijab".#مهسا_امینیpic.twitter.com/fgrmGu4RPA— Shayan Sardarizadeh (@Shayan86) October 1, 2022