Hijab law could amount to “gender apartheid,” UN experts say
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement today, on September 1, 2023, in which a group of UN Human Rights Council-appointed experts slammed Iran’s draft Hijab law. The experts said the bill could amount to “Gender Apartheid.”
They expressed concern that the new Hijab law in Iran sanctions new punishments for women and girls who fail to wear the headscarf, or hijab, in public.
“The draft law could be described as a form of gender apartheid, as authorities appear to be governing through systemic discrimination with the intention of suppressing women and girls into total submission,” the UN human rights experts said.
They reiterated that the proposed parliamentary Bill to Support the Family by Promoting the Culture of Chastity and Hijab and existing restrictions are inherently discriminatory and may amount to gender persecution.
“The draft law imposes severe punishments on women and girls for non-compliance which may lead to its violent enforcement,” the experts warned and added that the new hijab law would “disproportionately affect economically marginalized women.”
The experts urged the Iranian authorities to “reconsider the compulsory hijab legislation in compliance with international human rights law, and to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights for all women and girls in Iran.”
The experts who wrote the statement are Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; and Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Ivana Radačić, Meskerem Geset Techane and Melissa Upreti, Working group on discrimination against women and girls.
The full text of the statement follows:
Iran’s proposed hijab law could amount to “gender apartheid”: UN experts
GENEVA (1 September 2023) – UN experts today expressed grave concern over a new draft law, currently under review in the Iranian parliament, which imposes a series of new punishments on women and girls who fail to wear the headscarf (hijab).
“The draft law could be described as a form of gender apartheid, as authorities appear to be governing through systemic discrimination with the intention of suppressing women and girls into total submission,” the experts said.
They stressed that the proposed “Bill to Support the Family by Promoting the Culture of Chastity and Hijab” and existing de facto restrictions are inherently discriminatory and may amount to gender persecution.
“The draft law imposes severe punishments on women and girls for non-compliance which may lead to its violent enforcement,” the experts said. “The bill also violates fundamental rights, including the right to take part in cultural life, the prohibition of gender discrimination, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to peaceful protest, and the right to access social, educational, and health services, and freedom of movement.”
The use of culture by the Iranian government as a tool to restrict the rights of women and girls is misplaced, the experts warned. “Culture is formed and evolves with the participation of all,” they said.
By using terms such as “nudity, lack of chastity, lack of hijab, bad dressing and acts against public decency leading to disturbance of peace”, the draft law seeks to authorise public institutions to deny essential services and opportunities to persons who fail to comply with compulsory veiling. Directors and managers of organisations who fail to implement the law could also be punished.
“The weaponisation of “public morals” to deny women and girls their freedom of expression is deeply disempowering and will entrench and expand gender discrimination and marginalisation, with wider negative consequences for children and society as a whole,” the experts said.
The morality police have also been reportedly redeployed in some areas since early July 2023, potentially to enforce compulsory veiling requirements.
“After months of nationwide protests over the death of Jina Mahsa Amini and against restrictive veiling laws, the authorities have introduced a tiered system of punishments targeting women and girls,” the experts said. “The punishments include deprivation of a range of basic freedoms and social and economic rights, which will disproportionately affect economically marginalised women,” they said.
The Chastity and Hijab bill was submitted to parliament by the Government and the judiciary on 21 May 2023. Since then, it was amended several times, with the latest draft significantly increasing the number of punishments for non-compliance. On 13 August 2023, parliament voted in favour of invoking Article 85 of the Constitution which allows a parliamentary committee to review legislation without public debate.
“We urge authorities to reconsider the compulsory hijab legislation in compliance with international human rights law, and to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights for all women and girls in Iran,” the experts said.