The reasons the International Community Should Classify the Islamic Republic of Iran as a Gender Apartheid Regime

In this discourse, Hengaw endeavors to elucidate why the global community should ca

06 March 2024 13:12

In this discourse, Hengaw endeavors to elucidate why the global community should categorize the Islamic Republic as a gender apartheid regime by referring to its legal provisions and the legal system concerning the issue of sexual and gender norms in Iranian society.


The Implementation of Compulsory Hijab in Iran after the 1979 Revolution

Just days after Ruhollah Khomeini's arrival in Iran following the 1979 revolution, the first whispers of compulsory hijab surfaced through his speeches and his supporters. On March 6, 1979, a few weeks after Khomeini's arrival, the "Ettela'at" newspaper published excerpts from his speech at the Fayzieh school in Qom, stating: "Islamic women must appear with hijab and not reveal themselves. Women are not prohibited from working in public, but they must be in Islamic attire with hijab." Although Ettela'at titled the short article "Women in Islam have the right to divorce," the content revealed Khomeini's call for compulsory hijab.

Khomeini further declared in similar speeches that the presence of unveiled women in the workplace "promotes sin." These proclamations, more authoritative than mere opinions, aligned with another decree from him urging the cancellation of the Family Protection Law. Just two weeks after the victory of the 1979 revolution, Khomeini instructed the Ministry of Justice to prioritize the annulment of the "Family Protection Law" and remove clauses that are contrary to “Sharia law” from it. These two decrees paved the way for the imposition of compulsory hijab, depriving women of their basic rights, sometimes conditionally referred to in family protection laws.

Just one day after International Women's Day and while women were still protesting against compulsory hijab in the streets, the “Kayhan” newspaper headlined on March 7, 1979: "Women must go to offices with hijab." Quoting Khomeini, it stated, "Islamic ministries should not become sinful places. In Islamic ministries, women should not come naked. Women can go to work, but they must have Islamic hijab."

Despite women being among the first societal groups to organize protests against Khomeini's abuse of human rights, particularly women's rights, and despite the topic's initial withdrawal from public discourse due to the political climate, Islamic political dominance ultimately steered legislation in the Islamic Republic towards enforcing compulsory hijab. After women's protests in March 1979 and around International Women's Day, especially with significant international media coverage, Khomeini officially addressed the matter in July 1980, severely criticizing the government for not eliminating the "symbols of monarchy" in state offices. He gave Prime Minister Bani-Sadr a 10-day ultimatum to Islamize the ministries. Consequently, on July 3, 1980, unveiled women were officially prohibited from entering government offices in Iran. The mandatory hijab trend continued, leading to the adoption of the Islamic Penal Code in 1984. Under this law, anyone officially identified as female violating the hijab in public spaces was sentenced to flogging for 72 lashes. Since then, this law has been the foundation for what is perceived as gender apartheid in Iran.

The enforcement of compulsory hijab, legalized gender-based oppression, and criminalization of civil resistance against this coercion within the legal framework of Iran are intricate components of the Islamic Republic's legal doctrine.

Under Article 141 of the Islamic Penal Code within the structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran, "Anyone who overtly commits an act of hooliganism in public places and thoroughfares, in addition to the punishment for the act, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for 10 days to two months or receive 74 lashes. If the committed act lacks a specific penalty but violates public chastity, the offender is solely sentenced to imprisonment for 10 days to two months or 74 lashes." The initial legal formulation of the compulsory hijab issue was outlined in Article 102 of the Penal Code, later incorporated as an addendum to Article 141 of the Islamic Penal Code, adopted in 1978.

In recent years, the Islamic Republic persistently aimed to criminalize not only the issue of compulsory hijab but also civil disobedience against it, often referring to Article 508 of the Islamic Penal Code. Women and individuals within the LGBTQ community, advocating against hijab coercion through social media activism, were accused of "collaboration with Western hostile governments (adversaries)" under Article 508, facing potential sentences of up to ten years. Moreover, relying on Articles 500, 610, and 513 of the Islamic Penal Code, the Islamic Republic has repeatedly charged those engaging in civil resistance against compulsory hijab with offenses such as anti-government propaganda, conspiracy, and insulting Islamic sanctities, resulting in severe, long-term sentences for figures like Yasaman Aryani, Monireh Arabshahi, Mojgan Keshavarz, Nasrin Sotoudeh, and Sepideh Gholian.

The Chief of Revolutionary Courts in Tehran announced in 2019 that sharing any video related to "unveiling" with Masih Alinejad, a prominent Iranian political activist and journalist, could be prosecuted under Article 508, accusing them of collaborating with adversary countries. Simultaneously, sharing videos related to unveiling for Masih Alinejad could lead to a ten-year prison sentence.

This implies that the Islamic Republic not only violates hijab coercion but also criminalizes any civil activity in this context, not solely based on the relevant hijab law but by combining it with other provisions of the Islamic Penal Code, which systematically violate human rights, particularly in terms of political and social freedoms.

In its latest endeavors, the Islamic Republic, through the introduction of the "Hijab and Chastity" bill in the current year, seeks to specifically criminalize any opposition or defiance of compulsory hijab in public spaces, whether on social media or in urban and street public spaces. This recent legislative move has been categorized as sexual apartheid by Javid Rahman, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran at the United Nations.


Structured Gender Segregation through the Compulsory Hijab Issue in the Islamic Republic

Based on the educational policies of the Islamic Republic, after the legal gender system is established regarding compulsory hijab, female children at the age of seven are mandated to wear compulsory hijab in schools. Likewise, under the same legal policy, male and female children are separated in the country's educational structure from the age of seven. This artificial separation disregards the entire transgender community in Iran, categorizing individuals solely based on their biological sex, leading to various violations of children's rights. This gender segregation, shaped by the static definitions of "woman" and "man" according to the Islamic Republic's ideology, is implemented through the criminalization of life, expression, and sexuality in the LGBTQ community in Iran. This approach not only criminalizes homosexual acts but also punishes free gender expression through the imposition of a binary gender system, hindering the entire LGBTQ community from societal, human, social, and political participation.

This issue represents a form of systematic destruction of the life of the LGBTQ community in Iran through references to laws related to compulsory hijab, gender segregation, and the religious definitions of "manners." Any behavior that challenges the legal gender and sexuality framework of the Islamic Republic is severely punished, ranging from flogging to execution. For instance, homosexual acts in Iran can lead to the death penalty, and expressing gender identity freely, even after undergoing complex legal processes, is entirely criminalized, especially before obtaining the so-called "attire certificate" following stringent legal procedures, which themselves constitute a violation of transgender individuals' rights. Some of these criminalizations are executed by referring to Articles 136, 236, 237, 238, and 638 of the Islamic Republic Penal Code.

Ultimately, with references to laws like compulsory hijab, public chastity, sodomy, and other legal and religious regulations governing the legal system of the Islamic Republic, which shape its sexual and gender norms, a space for gender segregation is created. This segregation is discriminatory and systematically imposed on women and the LGBTQ community in Iran, leading to their marginalization through state-sanctioned violence and preventing any form of their social, human, or political presence.

The wave of honor killings concerning women and the LGBTQ community in Iran has been normalized under these unequal laws. Examples such as Romina Ashrafi and Alireza Mofarrad, murdered by their family members, illustrate the societal acceptance of such crimes under the legal framework of the Islamic Republic. Notable cases like Jina Amini and Armita Ghorbani, though only two known instances among several, further showcase state-sanctioned violence based on the unequal gender and sexuality system.


Gender Inequality Index in Iran Compared to Other Countries

The World Economic Forum, in 2023, assessed the Gender Inequality Index in various countries, ranking Iran at 143 out of 146 countries, placing it at the bottom of the list concerning gender equality indicators. This Index evaluates the level of equality and fairness in access to education, public health, economic, and political participation for women. Based on different reports from this forum in previous years, Iran has consistently held one of the worst ranks among countries. According to the official statistics of the Islamic Republic in 2023, women's participation in employment and income generation in Iran was measured at 14.6%. These statistics, given the legal gender and sexuality norms governing Iranian society, signal economic exclusion and societal marginalization of women, exacerbated by widespread violations of their fundamental rights and the criminalization of significant aspects of their social life. The situation is even graver for the transgender community in Iran, considering that the legal system of the Islamic Republic categorically criminalizes the entire sexual and gender life of the LGBTQ community.



In conclusion, Hengaw evaluates the current situation in Iran beyond a discriminatory political and social system against women and the LGBTQ community, categorizing it as a level of gender apartheid. Hengaw calls on international human rights organizations and democratic countries to categorize the Islamic Republic within the international community as a gender apartheid regime.


Read more on this context