It’s International Women’s Day — a day commemorating the struggle for women’s rights. And who better to weigh in than … Iran’s supreme leader?
In a Twitter thread Thursday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Islam for keeping women “modest” and in their “defined roles” such as educators and mothers. He also lashed out at the West for, in his view, leading its own women astray.
“The features of today’s Iranian woman include modesty, chastity, eminence, protecting herself from abuse by men,” said an English-language tweet posted on Khamenei's verified account. (He left out, however, the fact that women have been at the forefront of reformist activism in Iran, including luminaries such as rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.)
In the West, however, “the most sought after characteristics of a #woman involve her ability to attract men,” another post said. “The western model for women is symbolic of consumerism, cosmetics, showing off for men as a tool of male sexual arousal.”
While it’s not unusual for the ayatollah — who holds the ultimate authority in Iran — to publish screeds against the West, his comments come at a particularly sensitive time domestically.
In recent months, dozens of Iranian women have staged protests against the mandatory head covering, or hijab. Some have publicly removed their headscarves in defiance of the law. Many of those women have been arrested, and one — Narges Hosseini — was sentenced to two years in prison this week.
The protests have triggered debate over the strict religious codes that underpin Iran’s Islamic system. The country’s younger generation — plugged into the wider world through the Internet — is much more eager for change.
But in case there was any confusion about where the 78-year-old Khamenei stood, he cleared that up in his latest tweets. From his Farsi-language account, he blamed the demonstrations on “ignorant” elites.
“Iranian women today declare their . . . independence and export it to the world while preserving the #hijab,” he wrote.
Some Iranian women had other ideas.
Many Twitter accounts and other online posts from Iran included images of women without headscarves, including a now famous photo from a protest last year showing a young woman holding a white headscarf on a pole while her dark hair spilled free.
In the days before this year's women's day, authorities broke up several demonstrations in Tehran calling for greater rights for women, the BBC reported.
“On this one day, out of an entire year, we as women of this country should be able to make these cities our own, stay in the streets, and return to our homes at days’ end, without having our bones crushed,” said a statement from an activist group posted earlier this week on activist sites.