World #1 – Iranian mother and daughter jailed for not wearing headscarves

Yasaman Aryani (left) and her mother Monireh Arabshahi

(Compiled from AP and AFP) — Activists laid flowers near the Iranian Embassy in Paris on Monday to show support for women’s rights campaigners sentenced to prison after handing out flowers to women on the Tehran metro while not wearing headscarves [on a women-only subway car. In Iran, women and men travel in separate train cars. Women are not permitted to enter the men’s cars].

Monday’s protest on a square near the embassy, organized by Amnesty International, was timed to mark International Women’s Day (March 8). It was also meant to show support for other activists fighting for human rights in Iran.

On International Women’s Day in 2019, Yasaman Aryani, her mother Monireh Arabshahi and Mojgan Keshavarz handed out flowers to female passengers on the Tehran metro and spoke of a day when women have the freedom to choose what they wear [as they did before the Islamic Revolution in 1979]. The activists were not wearing headscarves and posted a video showing the action that drew widespread attention.

Yasaman Aryani, her mother Monireh Arabshahi and fellow activist Mojgan Keshavarz (left to right) were imprisoned by the Iranian regime for the “crime” of not wearing headscarves on a women-only subway car on International Women’s Day while handing out flowers.

Iran’s official Fars news agency in July 2019 cited the head of the Tehran Revolutionary Court as saying that “those who film themselves or others while removing the hijab and send photos to this woman … will be sentenced to between one and 10 years in prison,” the AP reported.

In August 2019, UN ‘experts’ on human rights in Iran released a statement saying the women “peacefully protested against Iran’s compulsory veiling laws and advocated for a woman’s right to choose whether or not to wear the hijab.”

According to the experts, who are independent and do not speak for the world body, the women were detained in April 2019, “forcibly disappeared” for up to two weeks, and denied access to a lawyer through the initial investigation.

“Their legal representatives were also reportedly prohibited from representing them at their trial,” the UN statement said.

Ms. Keshavarz has been sentenced to 23 and a half years in prison while Aryani and Arabshahi were both given 16-year terms.

All were convicted of national security violations, spreading anti-state propaganda and “encouraging and providing for [moral] corruption and prostitution,” the UN experts said.

Keshavarz was convicted of the additional crime of “insulting the sacred.”

Over recent years, dozens of Iranian women have been detained for protesting the mandatory wearing of the hijab. Several women’s rights activists also remain in prison, such as prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. She became known for defending activists, opposition politicians and women prosecuted for removing their headscarves.

From the Amnesty International website:

“Twenty-four- year-old Yasaman Aryani is serving a lengthy prison sentence for campaigning against forced veiling. Her punishment is part of a wider crackdown in Iran on women who have stood up against discriminatory and degrading forced veiling laws.

Yasaman is among hundreds of prisoners of conscience jailed in Iran. Her sentence was recently reduced from 16 years to nine years and seven months’ imprisonment on appeal. But no one should spend a single day in prison for peacefully exercising their rights.”

Compiled from articles published by Agence FrancePresse at YahooNews on Aug. 16, 2019 and by Associated Press at YahooNews on March 8, 2021. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission.


NOTE: Before answering the following questions, read the “Background” and watch the videos under “Resources” below.

1. List the who, what, where and when of the news item.

2. What was the purpose of Amnesty International’s ‘protest’?

3. What did Yasaman Aryani, her mother Monireh Arabshahi and Mojgan Keshavarz do on International Women’s Day in 2019?

4. a) What prison sentence did each woman receive?
b) For what reason(s) were the women imprisoned by the Islamic government?

5. What 2-3 adjectives would you use to describe these three women, and the many others in Iran who risk such punishment?

6. In Western countries, some feminists fight for a woman’s “right” to be covered. What do you think women living under repressive regimes would tell/ask women living in democratic countries to do for them and their rights?

7. It was difficult to find any photos/video of the Paris protest – or about the 3 women. Why do you think this wasn’t a bigger news story?


Women in Iran:

Under the Pahlavi Dynasty:  The Pahlavi Shahs were the rulers of Iran between 1925 and 1979 and they introduced many reforms concerning women’s rights.

  • An example of an early reform introduced by Reza Shah was the ‘forced unveiling of women by a special decree on January 8, 1936’
  • Under Reza Shah, women’s involvement in society in general increased. Iranian women increasingly participated in the economy, the educations sector and in the workforce. Levels of literacy were also improved.
  • Examples of women’s involvement: women acquired high official positions, such as ministers, artists, judges, scientists, athletes, etc.
  • Under Reza Shah’s successor, his son Mohammad Reza Shah, many more significant reforms were introduced. For example, in 1963, the Shah granted female suffrage and soon after women were elected to the Majlis (the parliament) and the upper house, and appointed as judges and ministers in the cabinet.’.
  • In 1967 Iranian family law was also reformed which improved the position of women in Iranian society. It was included in the civil code and was designed to protect wives, children and female divorcees. The general thrust of the reforms were to promote equality between men and women in society.
  • The Family Protection Laws of 1967 and 1973 required a husband to go to court to divorce rather than simply proclaim the triple talaq of “I divorce thee” three times, as stipulated by traditional sharia law. It allowed a wife to initiate divorce and required the first wife’s permission for a husband to take a second wife.
  • Child custody was left to new family protection courts rather than automatically granted to the father.
  • The minimum age at which a female could marry was raised from 13 to 15 in 1967 and to 18 in 1975.

Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution in which the Shah was overthrown, Iran became an Islamic Republic. An Islamic republic is the name given to several states that are officially ruled by Islamic laws (Sharia Law), including the Islamic Republics of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and Mauritania. (from wikipedia)

The following is from an Oct. 2016 article by Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist published at Front Page Mag: The following are some of the rules for women which are derived from Iran’s Islamic constitution and moral police codes:

  • Women are prohibited from showing strands of their hair on any side. Article 683 states: “Those women that appear in the streets and public places without the Islamic hijab, shall be sentenced from ten days to two months’ imprisonment or fined from fifty thousand to five hundred thousand Rials.”
  • Women are not allowed to wear hats instead of veils to cover their hair.
  • Iranian women are prohibited from riding bicycles. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, recently issued an Islamic fatwa regarding officially banning women from riding bicycles. He argued that “riding bicycles often attracts the attention of men and exposes the society to corruption, and thus contravenes women’s chastity, and it must be abandoned,” according to Iran’s state-run media.
  • Women are not allowed to initiate divorce. Men have the right to do so.
  • Iranian Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslim men. But Iranian Muslim men can marry non-Muslim women.
  • According to Iran’s family code, women cannot travel abroad except with the permission of their custodian or natural guardian (husband, father, etc.). They also cannot obtain a passport without the consent of their husbands.
  • Women are banned from receiving the same amount of inheritance as their male relatives. Even if a husband dies, the wife will receive only one-eighth of the inheritance if she has a child.
  • Women are forbidden from having any physical contact with men, including shaking hands.
  • Women are not allowed to have any kind of alcoholic drinks.
  • Women are not allowed to dance.
  • In many of Iran’s provinces, women are banned from performing music on stage.
  • Women are prohibited from entering sport stadiums and watching men’s sports.
  • In Iran, buses and subways are divided in two sections. The larger front section is for men, the smaller back section is for women. Women are prohibited from entering the men’s section even if there are no seats left in the back and there are plenty of empty seats in front of the bus.


On March 5, 2021, Masih Alinejad, @AlinejadMasih, tweeted:
Women of #WhiteWednesdays in Iran are still in prison. By removing their compulsory hijab, they had produced this awe-inspiring video on women’s day on Tehran’s metro. They were calling their sisters to band together, regardless of whether they wear hijab or not:


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