It is of profound symbolic importance to the ‘Islamic’ identity of the regime, because they show their faith through the social control of women. The veil is the outward symbol of patriarchal control. It is backed up with many discriminatory laws that are enshrined in the constitution.
Many believe that Iranian women started pushing back against it recently. In fact in 1979 when the law was issued, 100,000 women including my mother protested it. At the time the regime backed down for a while and imposed it on young school children. It then imposed it on women with the slogan ‘roosary ya toosary’ meaning headscarf or head beating.
Throughout the 1980s the veil was very strictly imposed and enforced. They had the ‘zainab sisters’ cruising the streets looking for women who were ‘bad-hejab’ – they could be beaten, fined, arrested etc.
But the pushback from women was always evident. Many refused the all black outfits and established their own 1980s fashion of having animal print headscarves and shoulder padded overcoats. Many outright refused the black chadors.
By the 1990s the length of the coats was shorter, the scarves were already being pushed back. and legs including ankles and pedicured feet in sandals were in evidence despite the laws forbidding such displays and the punishments that still took place (tho’ less).
As for make up and lipstick that was also forbidden – some women took to tatooing their lips red and tatooing eyeliner etc so that it was permanent.
In the early 2000s – the coats became even shorter and made with lycra so they clung to women’s bodies – in effect making a mockery of the notion of modest dress. Many light shades appeared and the scarves become more floaty and pushed back so that hair would show at the front.
In my research in 2004, I heard a consistent message from the most erudite political analysts and revolutionaries down to the most observant taxi drivers:
“Women are angry. Women are demanding rights and pushing back. They are like a river – an unstoppable force”.
One leading reformer told me then that they had considered easing the compulsory hejab not by making grand announcements but by just letting the issue go, and not arresting or harassing women.
it took 13 years before the ‘let them be’ approach became the policy of the government when Rouhani in December 2017 announced that women shouldn’t be harassed.
Social media has been an effective tool for conveying images of protestors. But activists in Iran have long used various tactics to push back against the hijab and other laws.
What is most notable is that in the past the crackdowns would be fast, furious and often preemptive (every summer they’d attack a few women to signal to others that being badly veiled was still not tolerated).
But now – the protests resulted in 29 arrests and those arrests have immediately become a matter of high level political debate and another means of fighting back the hardliners. The release of the report /survey that was done in 2014 – is part of this battle between factions… and as usual women are at the center of the fight.