On International Women’s Day Canada should Support Iranian Women’s Fight against Mandatory Hijab

Regrettably, the rights I enjoy (and never take for granted) in Canada are not readily enjoyed by millions of women worldwide.  In my country of birth Iran, women do not have freedom of choice.  Women as a group are systematically discriminated against and persecuted by the Islamic Regime on a daily basis.


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Every year on International Women’s Day we commemorate and celebrate women’s rights movement which has paved the way for women to enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as men in many countries around the world.

As an Iranian born Canadian I am privileged to live in a country where I have freedom of choice, I choose what to wear on a daily basis, I chose to go to law school and become a lawyer, I chose to practice criminal law because of my strong interest and passion for civil liberties.  I can move, travel, change jobs or careers, without having to answer to anyone and without being persecuted for my choices.

I am also lucky to be living in a country where I am equal under the law to any man; I am not treated differently because of my gender, and my testimony in court is equal to a man’s testimony, whereas in many countries the testimony of two women is equal to one man’s.

Regrettably, the rights I enjoy (and never take for granted) in Canada are not readily enjoyed by millions of women worldwide.  In my country of birth Iran, women do not have freedom of choice.  Women as a group are systematically discriminated against and persecuted by the Islamic Regime on a daily basis.

Women cannot choose something as basic as their own dress code and are forced into wearing the mandatory hijab or face persecution which includes arrest and beatings.  Women are not free to live as they wish or travel freely, the laws in the country are set up in a way to control women and keep them out of the society.

Fortunately, the government has not been successful in keeping Iranian women at home and behind closed doors.  Iranian women have fought back for over 40 years; they are some of the most educated women in the Middle East, and many of them work outside of the home and have successful careers, despite the discrimination they face as a result of Islamic laws in Iran.  

Most recently Iranian women have started to systematically fight back against the “Mandatory Hijab” policy, by taking off their hijab in public places and holding white shawls on “White Wednesday’s” to show their support for the fight against mandatory hijab.  Even Iranian women who voluntarily wear the hijab have joined this fight for freedom of choice! Many women involved in this campaign have been beaten on the streets by security agents, arrested and beaten and tortured in prison.

While women in many other countries have been supportive of Iranian women’s freedom to choose, Canada has been utterly silent despite the Liberal Government’s “Feminist Foreign Policy” which boasts an action plan focused on addressing sexual and gender-based violence and supporting local women’s organizations and movements that advance women’s rights.

For the Liberal Government supporting Iranian women and their fight against mandatory hijab should be a natural choice, yet Chrystia Freeland has remained silent on that issue and generally on the systematic human rights violations by the Islamic Regime in Iran. 

If the Liberal Government is serious about their “Feminist Foreign Policy” supporting millions of women who are risking everything to fight against tyranny and gender-based violence is a great way to do it. 

Why not support many of the local Iranian women’s organizations? 

Why not publicly address the violence Iranian women face at the hands of their government because of their gender? Why not hold the Islamic Regime accountable for its discrimination against and persecution of Iranian women? What better way to implement this “feminist foreign policy” and make a difference in the lives of millions of women?

Unfortunately, the Liberal Government seems to be all about paying lip service to the concept of women’s rights and equality rather than supporting women and organizations that are in the trenches and fighting for equality and women’s rights.

Happy International Women’s Day to all the brave women in the world who try to make a difference in their own way, and all of the wonderful men who support them.


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Sayeh Hassan

Sayeh Hassan is a Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer, blogger, and an advocate for human rights and democracy in Iran.

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