Iranian woman beaten for wearing loose hijab, fights back and goes viral

Wearing the veil is compulsory in Iran, and activists who dare to speak up face long prison sentences

Iranian women walk past electoral posters and fliers during the last day of election campaign in Tehran on February 19, 2020. Iran's electoral watchdog today defended its decision to disqualify thousands of candidates for a crucial parliamentary election in two days, as a lacklustre campaign neared its end. Conservatives are expected to make an overwhelming resurgence in Friday's election, which comes after months of steeply escalating tensions between Iran and its decades-old arch foe the United States. / AFP / ATTA KENARE
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A video of an unknown Iranian woman defending herself against a man who attacked her on the streets has gone viral. She has allegedly been assaulted by a vigilante for wearing a loose hijab.

The footage shows a woman crossing path with a man, who then follows her down the street and appears to threaten her. He then grabs her by the arm and kicks her in the stomach twice, propelling her onto the road.

During the remaining minute and a half of the video, the woman fights back against her assailant, throwing punches and kicks his way, before walkers-by intervene.

The footage has garnered 2.6 million views in less than 24 hours.

US-based Iranian journalist and political activist Masih Alinejad tweeted that she has been in touch with the 42-year-old woman in the video. Alinejad, who last month wrote a column in The National about a boycott movement in Iran ahead of the parliamentary elections, says the police refused to arrest the attacker as he claimed to be "voluntarily enforcing morality codes".

Wearing a hijab in public is mandatory in Iran. Women who fail to cover their hair can face up to 10 years in prison, on charges of “inciting corruption and prostitution".

The country's dresscode law has been decried by women's rights activists for providing legal justification to take away the rights of women, and subjecting them to constant harassment. Yet authorities have maintained that the hijab should be compulsory, even for non-Muslim and non-practising women. Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has even insisted that the hijab is the answer to end sexual violence against women.

Masih Alinejad
Masih Alinejad is an Iranian activist based in the US.

In January, Iranian chess referee Shohreh Bayat faced an intimidation campaign after photographs of her taken at the Women's World Chess Championship in China appeared to show her without a veil. The 32-year-old decided to flee her home country and seek asylum in London.

Ms Bayat is not the only woman whose life and career were on the line because of clothing preferences.

Kimia Alizadeh, Iran's only female Olympic medallist, defected from her country in January. In an Instagram post, she criticised prevalent sexism in Iran and spoke out against compulsory hijab. The 22-year-old said she was "one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran".

MAIDENHEAD, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 8: Iranian chess arbiter Shohreh Bayat competes in a Four Nations Chess League tournament at a Holiday Inn on February 07, 2020 in Maidenhead, England.  Ms. Bayat, an arbiter with the chess governing body FIDE, was presiding over a tournament in China in January when a picture of her appearing not to wear a hijab circulated in Iranian media. Commentary in the press and online accused her of flouting Iranian law, which requires women to wear a headscarf when appearing in public. Seeing this response, Ms. Bayat quickly grew afraid of returning to her country, worried she would be arrested. She is now staying with friends in the United Kingdom, where she says she is considering her options, unsure of what the future holds. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)
In January, chess referee Shohreh Bayat faced an intimidation campaign after pictures of her taken in a tournament appeared to show her without a veil. Getty Images

In the summer of 2017, Ms Alinejad launched the White Wednesday Campaign to protest against compulsory hijab. Iranian women posted pictures of themselves wearing white headscarves or pieces of white clothing online under the hashtag #WhiteWednesday to make their voices heard. But instead of engaging with them, authorities clamped down on the peaceful activists.

According to Human Rights’ Watch, Iranian courts have given harsh sentences to dozens of women who peacefully demonstrated for their right to take off the veil.

In August, 22-year-old Saba Kordafshari was sentenced to 15 years in prison for removing her scarf in public. The following month, 29-year old Sahar Khodayari, who came to be known as Iran’s “Blue Girl", set herself on fire in court, where she faced imprisonment for trying to attend a football match in March. Her death triggered international outcry.

“Next time they tell you compulsory hijab is a small issue, show them this video,” Ms Alinejad tweeted. “Many Iranian women face this.”

Aya Iskandarani is a staff Comment writer at The National