This is the reason why so many Iranian women are taking off their hijabs

This is the reason why so many Iranian women are taking off their hijabs

In the 1930s, the hijab was banned in Iran. Under the rule of the autocrat, Reza Shah, the conservative Islamic country banned the headscarf in a nod towards modernisation. However, a revolution in 1979 made the hijab compulsory as a law, and bare-headed women have been penalised ever since by "morality police". It is said that they roam the streets shouting "Ya rusari ya tusari" ("Either cover or suffer").

For decades, the people of Iran have been protesting against the law, but the past few months have really brought the issue to the forefront. A new movement has bubbled to the surface seeing women taking off their hijabs, and proudly waving them above their heads on sticks. While this bold gesture was noted by officials, the consequences have proved both opportunistic, and problematic.

The protests have been going on for a while, according to Soheila Jolodarzadeh, a female member of the Iranian parliament. "They’re happening because of our wrong approach," she said. "We imposed restrictions on women and put them under unnecessary restraints. This is why... girls of Enghelab Street are putting their headscarves on a stick."

An opinion poll in 2014 showed half of Iranians said that the hijab should only be worn by those who wish to as a personal choice. Since then, there has been an increasing sentiment to abolish the law. In December, reports came through that women in Tehran (Iran's capital) would no longer be arrested for not wearing a hijab. It was a move that potentially tried to suppress the public demonstrations, but seemed to have the opposite effect.

"Those who do not observe the Islamic dress code will no longer be taken to detention centres, nor will judicial cases be filed against them," said Tehran police chief General Hossein Rahimi at the time. Instead, they would be forced to attend re-educational classes about Islam.

However, the new policy seemed only to make things worse. Women chose to celebrate this nod towards progress by removing their veils to quite literally "stick it" to the long-standing legislation, which only made police take harsher control over unveiled women.

In February, 29 women were arrested for protesting against the law that makes wearing the hijab compulsory. They were accused of being "deceived" into joining the hijab-wielding protest. Two women – both university students – were later sentenced to serve between one to two years in prison.

The "Girls of Revolution Street" protest was believed by Tehran police to be a campaign organised through illegal satellite channels outside Iran. "Following calls by satellite channels under a campaign called White Wednesdays, 29 of those who had been deceived to remove their hijab have been arrested by the police," the semi-official Tasnim news reported.

The White Wednesdays campaign was started by Masih Alinejad, a US-based journalist and activist. It encourages women to wear white headscarves or take them off in protest, with images and videos of demonstrations posted to social media.

Since 2014, Iranian police have warned, arrested, or sent to court nearly 3.6 million women for hijab-related "offences". It shows that the arrests are nothing new, but that the protests of recent months are a response to official interest in the matter – which only increase the pressure further.

While Iran's supreme leader blames an "American plot", other government officials understand that women are not opposed to the hijab because of a loss of faith, but because the law suppresses their rights and stands as a symbol of male domination.

Will we see a legislative change in the future? Well, it's a complex political-religious situation, very much dependent on the influence of elite individuals. But to quote Alinejad: 'They should understand that in this day and age, how women dress is none of their business."