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Source: DW

Nov 7, 2023

Iran: No headscarf, no job for protesting actresses

Iranian actresses who defy Iran's so-called morality police and go out in public without a headscarf have been banned from working. Many remain defiant, even as locals pay an increasingly high price for protest.

By Shabnam von Hein

In late October, Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance published a list of actresses barred from their profession for appearing in public without a headscarf. Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili said it was not possible to work with those who did not observe the mandatory hijab law.

For now, the list contains some 20 names, including world-famous artists like Taraneh Alidoosti. Now 39, she starred in the internationally acclaimed drama "The Salesman" in 2016. The film won director Asghar Farhadi an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2017.

Actress arrested for social media post

Alidoosti used to wear a headscarf in public even when she was abroad. But that changed in November 2022 as Iran was rocked by protests following the death of Jina Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old was arrested by the so-called morality police for violating the country's Islamic dress code and later died in police custody.

On Instagram, Alidoosti posted a picture of herself without a headscarf. Her account has over 8 million followers. The image shows her holding a slip of paper that reads "women, life, freedom” to show support for the Iranian women's rights movement and anti-government protests.

Shortly after posting the image, Alidoosti was arrested and only released two weeks later after friends and family posted bail. On social media, she responded to her employment ban: "I will not comply with your headscarf that is still dripping with the blood of my sisters."

Failure to cover one's head in public can be deadly for women in Iran as the recent death of 17-year-old Armita Geravand unfortunately proves. In early October, the teenager was on her way to school without a headscarf.

After an alleged assault by the so-called morality police on the Tehran metro, the teenager fell unconscious and was hospitalized with severe head trauma. There she remained in a coma until she was declared brain dead. She was buried October 29.

Young Iranian women outraged

An Iranian student from the capital Tehran told DW, "we risk our lives every day because we are outside without our headscarves. It is sad to see that many actresses still wear one." She pointed to the recent gathering of film industry insiders at the funeral of murdered Iranian director Dariush Mehrjui and his wife, screenwriter Vahideh Mohammadifar, on October 18.

Mona Mehrjui, daughter of two prominent filmmakers, speaking at her parents' burial on October 18Image: Rouzbeh Fouladi/Zumapress/picture alliance

Mid-October, both had been found dead in their home with knife wounds. The movie industry and wider public was shocked to learn of the couple's murder. Authorities spoke of a robbery at the hands of a former gardener. But many remained skeptical.

Like many other filmmakers in Iran, Mehrjui was often at loggerheads with state authorities. In March 2022, when his last film "La Minor" was censored, the 83-year-old posted an angry message to the Iran culture ministry on social media, stating: "Kill me, do whatever you want with me … destroy me, but I want my rights."  

At the burial, many noteworthy actresses wore headscarves. The only woman to defy the obligatory hijab mandate was 16-year-old Mona Mehrjui, the murdered couple's daughter.

'The price of resistance is high'

"I understand that the younger generation is angry with us. My generation is conservative and cautious," Shole Pakravan told DW. The stage actress and author has been living in Germany since 2017.

Three years prior, her daughter Reyhaneh Jabbari was executed in Iran for killing the man who tried to rape her. Pakravan fought long and hard to save her daughter's life but was unsuccessful.

Now she raises her voice for others.

"I know that right now the price of resistance in Iran is very high," she said. "If you don't want to vanish out of sight, you must reluctantly wear a headscarf."

She added that she did not believe that resistance in Iran had ended though. "It has changed and will reappear in new forms. Those in power can never undo what happened last year in Iran.

They are now facing a young and courageous generation of women who know what they want: Freedom and the end of oppression."

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