In April, 2015, our Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Julie Bishop, was criticized online by Iranian and other women for wearing a headscarf, and on occasion a hat, during her official visit to Iran; they deplored her decision to not take a stronger stance on the issue of headscarves — voluntary for her but compulsory for women in Iran. Iranian political journalist Masih Alinejad who now lives in the US, is founder of My Stealthy Freedom page and lobbies for freedom for women from wearing the hijab in public. She says that freedom to dress as you choose is also a free speech issue.
Julie Bishop always looks very fetching in photographs, and she looked even more so in her glamourous headscarf which revealed most of her hair, whereas Iranian women are punished if their headscarf does not completely cover their hair. I should mention that women who are privileged to have a personal audience with a Pope in the Vatican, traditionally wear a hat or mantilla, but it is not compulsory, does not conceal their hair, and is a mark of respect to a religious leader, whereas Julie Bishop was meeting with her political counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian Minister for Foreign Affairs, and not a leading cleric.
So I have much sympathy for Masih Alienjad who wrote an open letter on line to Julie Bishop saying, “You were not brave enough to challenge the compulsory hijab rules yet. We hope you will soon. You may say you were respecting Iran’s culture but compulsory hijab is not part of our culture”. Alinejad had previously challenged Ms Bishop to eschew wearing the headscarf in the country, calling it an insult to “human dignity”.
News Corp journalist Victoria Craw further reports that “other women joined in the criticism, with Australian-Iranian woman Moji Joon saying she was ‘quite disappointed Ms Bishop did not use her political position to take a stance for her fellow females.’ Another woman, Jeanie Mac, wrote: ‘The moral support this would have given the women in Iran who are protesting the wearing of compulsory hijab could have been huge. Instead it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth that she cares so little for women’s liberation and human rights.’ Others commented that they were ‘disappointed’ or ‘disgusted’, with some adding they were ashamed the foreign minister did not have the courage to challenge the rule.
Bishop’s visit marked the first official talks between Australia and Iran in 12 years and covered asylum seekers, intelligence and ISIS. She achieved some kind of deal on intelligence-0sharing to help track ISIS fighters, but Iran rejected her request to accept its nationals who have been deported from Australia. Iranians make up about a quarter of the people held in immigration detention centres.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has urged Bishop to press Iran on its human rights violations. Among those violations are bizarre restrictions imposed on Iranian women by the misogynistic mullahs’ regime. These edicts change from time to time, but never become less oppressive.
- Cycling is prohibited for women.
- Women may not take “selfies” with footballers.
- Women are not allowed to work in some fields. The latest prohibited occupation, as announced by police: “Women’s employment in coffee shops (cafés) and coffeehouses is prohibited.” The police also have a thing about dressing for winter comfort, ordering that women may not wear “boots on pants”. Further, “Those women who use hats [as veils], instead of head scarves, and wear tight and short winter coats will be dealt with.”
- Women may not swim in front of “stranger men.” (My view is that the mullahs who devise these restrictions are among the strangest of men…)
- Women are barred from going on stage. According to Sharq newspaper, “Women musicians and performers in 13 provinces in Iran are not allowed to go on the stage for musical performance.”
- Women are not allowed to enter sport stadiums when men are playing.
- Women are not allowed to go to men’s sections of buses A small section of the buses and subways in Iran is allocated to women and they are not allowed to sit in the men’s section which is much bigger even if women’s section is full and men’s section is empty.
- Women may not wear leggings.
- Women are not allowed to let their hair be seen beneath their scarves or veils. The Iranian regime’s police and security forces have announced:
“In the discussion on scarf and veil there is a point. Some women think that if their hair is not shown from both sides of scarf but let their hair come out (and be seen) from one side of the scarf, this is not an instance of mal-veiling (sic). In response, they should be told that changing the type of hairdressing is not applicable (the same) as fixed veiling (i.e. is not acceptable as proper veiling).
I suppose we have to be grateful for the Iranian contribution of a new word to the language, “mal-veiling”. Now back to the restrictions …
- Female students are prohibited to go camping with men.
- Women may not smoke hookahs.
- Divorce at the request of women is not allowed. In Iran under the rule of mullahs, only men have the right to divorce, except in exceptional cases.
- Iranian women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslim men. However, Iranian men are allowed to marry non-Muslim “People of the Books” such as Christians and Jews.
- Women are not allowed to obtain passports or travel abroad without the permission of their husbands or legal male guardians.
- Wearing coats with writing on the back is prohibited for women. After the media affiliated with the Iranian regime’s hardline faction criticized such manteaus , Iranian police has announced plans to deal sternly with the importers.
- Women may not wear conventional athletic attire, including shorts and short-sleeved T-shirts.
- Iranian women are banned from education in some academic fields In recent years, Iranian regime’s oil minister announced:
“Education of women in the field of operations such as drilling and processing and so on that require (physical) activities in operational areas and sites is useless, these are masculine jobs.”
- Women are not allowed to work in any occupation if their husband disagrees with it. Article 1105 of the Civil Code states, “In relations between husband and wife, the position of the head of the family exclusively belongs to the husband.” In addition, when it comes to employment laws, Article 1117 of the Civil Code indicates, “The husband can prevent his wife from an occupation or technical profession which is incompatible with the family’s interests or the dignity of him or his wife.”
- Women are banned from receiving the same amount of inheritance as their male relatives.
- Women are forbidden from shaking hands with men.
- Girls, as young as nine years old, are not allowed to object to their parents’ decision to marry them off.
- Women are not allowed to object to their husband’s requests for sex. The Law of Tamkin demands women’s submission, obedience, full accessibility and unhampered sexual availability to her husband. Sexual availability is considered a woman’s duty and a man’s right.
- Women are not allowed to bring lawsuits if they are raped, unless they have four witnesses.
- Women are banned from attracting attention in public through “flamboyant behavior” such as laughing loudly. [What on earth would they have to laugh about?]
- Women are not allowed to show any part of their skin except the face. It is encouraged to cover the face as well.
- Women are not allowed to dance.
- Women are forbidden from being lesbian. Sex between two women is adultery and the punishments including stoning and other forms of execution.
- Women are not allowed to have pets.
- Women are prohibited from gambling in any kind of event.
- Women are prohibited from having tattoos.
- Women are not allowed to have premarital relationships with men.
- Women are banned from being judges.
- Women may not strike their husband, but men are allowed to strike their wives in some circumstances.
- Women are not allowed to show their jewelry in public.
Masih Alinejad sums it up in a few words:
“Some women continue to defy these rules, but many face severe punishment and discrimination for performing some of these normal day-to-day activities. We need to raise our voice in helping Muslim women in Iran and other Muslim countries who desire to experience freedom, social justice, and equality, and do not want to be subjugated, dehumanized, treated as second class citizens, or regarded solely as sexual toys for men.”
I have written to Foreign Minister Bishop about the dreadful violations of human rights in Iran — not just discrimination against women but the epidemic of hangings and executions of men, women and teens. Iran executes more people than any country but China. Her department has replied, stating the Australian government is also deeply concerned and has raised the issue with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif in March this year.
Perhaps it is time for Julie Bishop to visit Iran again, this time minus the headscarf but wearing leggings, boots and a short coat with a message on the back. I am confident she would look as glamourous as ever, and who knows, even the mullahs might be charmed.
Babette Francis is the National & Overseas Co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc., a women’s NGO having special consultative status with the Economic & Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations