On September 16, 2022, an Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini died in police custody after being arrested for violating Iran’s veiling laws. These laws came into place after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and instructed that all women were legally required to wear a hijab and loose-fitting clothing. Since Amini’s death, women-led protests have become widespread throughout Iran, and the rest of the world, standing in solidarity with one another to defend women’s freedom of choice to wear what they want. This has involved the burning of hijabs and women cutting their hair.
Enforcing specific clothing onto women is an explicit form of gender inequality, disproportionately impacting women more than men. This has not only affected women in Iran but across the world. Women are restricted in what they are, and are not, allowed to wear. In Indonesia, the hijab is also a mandatory item of clothing, tied with Muslim beliefs of covering the head, neck, and chest. However, non-Muslim and Christian women are also expected to follow these clothing rules. Girls who have not conformed to this dress code have been forced to leave school, and female civil servants have lost their jobs. No girl or woman should have to miss out on their education or lose their financial stability as a result of their clothing choices.
It must be addressed that the issue is not anti-hijab, though, but is rather a need for respect for every woman’s clothing decisions. In 2010, a ban on face coverings, including burqas, an Islamic traditional clothing that covers the body and the face, was enforced in France. This was imposed to encourage citizens to “live together,” despite the fact that it impeded Muslim women’s freedom of religion and confined them to their homes due to an inability to wear their clothes in public. Statistics show that between 2013 and 2018, 20 more countries enforced laws or policies that were able to regulate women’s religious clothing, and an increase in the number of countries where women were harassed for their religious clothing was also seen.
Though regulations on women’s clothing can be enforced on a country-wide, legal level, it can also be observed within smaller capacities, irrespective of religion, such as in the workplace. The #KuToo movement in Japan began in 2019 when women in the workplace began to speak up about their discomfort with wearing high heels every day. Many Japanese businesses at the time required women to wear 1.9-2.75inch high heels. The discomfort and impracticality of high heels impacted their ease of work, yet took precedence over the fact that both men and women were carrying out the same roles in the workplace. Since the movement started, change has been observed, such as two major Japanese airlines eradicating their heels rule.
Everybody, regardless of their gender, should be able to wear what they choose. Although this is easier said than done, as a result of legal restrictions, the protests in Iran at the moment and the #KuToo movement in Japan demonstrate that it is possible to evoke change, despite decades of discrimination against women’s clothing choices. Standing up for women’s rights is one of the first steps to attaining gender equality. This will lead to significant effects on education for girls and equal job opportunities for women, ultimately striving for a world where everybody can live in equality.
– Cheryl Li
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