(CNSNews.com) – International Women’s Day in Tehran saw reports of police breaking up a protest by a group of women, on the same day as supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei extolled the virtues of covered-up Muslim women in contrast to those in the West, where “the female role model is her nudity.”
A group of women holding placards calling for “equal and fair wages for women” and saying “no to gender-based discrimination” gathered outside the Labor Ministry, according to the exiled opposition group, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
“Security forces, plainclothes security agents, and female agents of the regime had been stationed in the area, on alert before the gathering started,” it said. “To prevent the formation of the gathering and disperse the crowd, they viciously attacked the participants and brutalized them with batons and shockers. At least 20 women were arrested.”
Elsewhere, Khamenei was meeting with an audience of eulogists from the AhlulBayt University, and referred – for the first time in public – to a recent series of demonstrations by women who have removed their hijabs on the streets to protest the forced wearing of the Islamic head covering.
In his speech, excerpts of which were also posted on Twitter, he blamed the demonstrations on Western media outlets and think tanks which, he charged, “spend a lot of money” in a campaign aimed at influencing Iranian women’s attitudes towards the hijab.
“All that propaganda and spending resulted in the insignificant result of a few girls being deceived, and taking off their headscarves for one or other motivation.”
On the issue of hijab wearing being compulsory, Khamenei said the regime has never threatened to prosecute women who uncover their hair at home in the presence of men. A sin in private is between a person and Allah.
When hijabs are removed in public, however, the Islamic government has the responsibility of “preventing the promotion of sin in society.”
Khamenei characterized the wearing of the hijab as a way of safeguarding the faith, chastity and “feminine virtues” of Muslim women, which he said included “softness” and “tender-heartedness.”
“In contrast, there have always existed deviant role models throughout history. Today, that misleading role model can be found among Western females who are expected – in contrast with all qualities we’ve mentioned for the Islamic women – to physically appeal to males and appease them.”
“Thus, a major feature promoted of the Western female role model is her nudity,” he said. “You can see, in their gatherings, men are well covered; however, women are uncovered as much as possible.”
“By promoting modest dress, Islam blocked the path which would lead women to such a deviant lifestyle. Hijab is a means of immunity not restriction.”
Khamenei also referred to the recent disclosures of sexual misconduct by men in the entertainment, media, government and other settings.
“You have heard that a significant number of prominent women in the West declared one after the other over the past few months that while on their job, they have been violently and forcefully abused,” he said.
By contrast, “Iranian women today, declare their cultural and identity independence and export it to the world while preserving their hijab.”
At least 29 Iranian women are known to have been arrested since late December for removing their hijabs in public – often waving them on sticks alongside busy roads. The arrests brought protests from, among others, the U.S. State Department and leading international human rights groups.
It was reported this week that the first woman to have been arrested, Vida Movahed, has been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.
Movahed, a mother in her early 30s, stood on a utility box on Tehran’s Revolution (Enghelab) Street and waved her headscarf, an act that drew widespread attention on social media, where she was nicknamed the “Girl of Revolution Street.”
State media quoted a Tehran public prosecutor as saying she had removed her “shari’a-obligated” headscarf in public to “encourage corruption.”
Despite Khamenei’s portrayal of morals in Iran versus the West, according to Radio Farda, a U.S.-funded Farsi-language broadcaster, “billboards disdaining sexual harassment in Tehran and other major Iranian cities indicate that despite four decades of forceful enforcement of compulsory hijab the issue of sexual harassment is still a major social problem in Iran.”
A 2017 U.N. report on human rights in Iran highlighted areas of official discrimination against women including underage marriage, the underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions and the labor force (just 17 per cent of women were in the labor force in 2016), and harassment of women’s rights campaigners.
Women and girls also face discrimination with regard to divorce, child custody and freedom of movement and dress, it said.
Previous U.N. reports have noted that under Iran’s Islamic penal code, “a woman’s testimony in a court of law is regarded as half that of a man’s” and that abuses of women in Iranian prisons including the rape of virgins before execution, forced marriages and other forms of sexual violence and torture.
Iran is near the bottom of the World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap” rankings for 2017, in 140th place out of 144.
The annual survey measures gaps between women and men in four key areas: political empowerment, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, and health and survival.
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