Tag Archives: protests

All Women are Iranian: On Agency and Mental Health

The protests in Iran are not about the Hijab. They are about institutionalized misogyny in the laws of the Iranian regime. The Hijab has become a national symbol of a much larger problem: women’s rights over their own bodies, agency, and autonomy, problems that may sound familiar to women in many countries. In the summer of 2021, the Taliban closed the majority of girls’ schools in Afghanistan. I work with several who escaped in order to continue their education. I had a personal terrifying experience in Tehran, as an adventurous teenager exploring on my own, when I was detained by the morality police for my apparel a few blocks away from my parents’ hotel.

Earlier this year (3/22), the High Court in a large state in South India banned female students from wearing hijab to classrooms. Turkey, in 1997, promoted a constitutional principle of official secularism, by banning women who wore head scarves from working in any public sector, including teachers, lawyers, doctors, politicians, state employees, and many more. If you didn’t comply, you were terminated.

What matters to the Iranian protesters beyond the right to dress freely varies by life stage and what discriminatory law or state-enabled patriarchal norm they’re up against. The list of injustices is long: unequal marriage, forced arranged marriages, divorce rights, child custody and inheritance laws; the lack of important protections under new domestic and gender-based violence statutes; unequal access to sports and sports stadiums; financial inequities. Under the Iranian constitution of 1979, women were described poetically as the mothers of the country. However, legal custody of children belongs to the father, followed by grandfathers, and then the mother. If a husband decides that his wife should not work in a certain profession or even work at all, he is at liberty to forbid it.

Before we start thinking how barbaric these events seem, please note that in the United States a woman could not legally open a bank account until the late 1960s. However, banks and financial institutions continued to prohibit women from opening accounts, illegally, until the equal credit opportunity act of 1974. That wasn’t that long ago. Body autonomy decisions by women are increasingly difficult in many parts of the United States, and can be criminalized.

At times, well-meaning people have confused patriarchal law with Islam. They are certainly not the same. I have clients, friends, and family members who choose hijab as a personal decision. My aunt, who is one of the top neurologists in the world and perfected prenatal pediatric ultrasound wears hijab. She is a powerhouse. My childhood best friend is an award-winning writer and tenured professor at a major university. She wears hijab by personal choice.

Iran is not a protest against the religion at large. It is a protest against the enforcement, the compulsory hijab. It is against unfair and unjust rules largely written by men (3% of the Iranian parliament are women). It is about harsh punishment if you don’t comply. This is no dystopian show or book.

Notably, if you go to the affluent North Tehran neighborhoods or some of the wealthy suburbs outside the city, you rarely see hijabs. Nor do you see the morality police. Being told what to wear, what not to wear, who to be, how to be. The need for agency/autonomy/safety are foundations for mental health.

We are all Iranian.

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