An Iranian woman explains why she cut her hair short to bypass morality police

Some women in Iran are challenging compulsory hijab laws by dressing in a more conventionally masculine way and cutting their hair. The Independent spoke to Kajal, a woman living in the country, about how cutting her hair allows her more freedom 


Heather Saul
Thursday 26 May 2016 15:33 BST
Kajal, 29
Kajal, 29

On Saturday, the Independent reported how a number of women living in Iran chose to cut their hair short and dress as men in a bid to bypass morality police. One of these women has now decided to speak at length about her own reasons for doing so.

Wearing a hijab is a legal requirement for women in all public places in Iran and strictly enforced by 'morality police'.

But in recent weeks, women have started sharing photos of themselves with their hair short in some images and dressed in clothes more typically associated with men in others. Some of their photos have been posted on the My Stealthy Freedom Facebook page, run by Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad, which campaigns against compulsory hijab. Ms Alinejad is now based in New York.

Enforced hijab is just one of a number of laws in Iran which discriminate against women, who need permission from male relatives to study after marrying and leave the country in some cases. Single mothers are left equally disempowered as Iranian law gives all legal rights to the father after children turn seven.

“I really hate it when someone orders me to cover my hair so that men around me will not get aroused,” said one woman who shared an image of her hair cut short. “Since I obtained my driver’s licence, I have been deliberately getting my hair cut short to at least enjoy a whiff of freedom inside my own car. Those who see me are actually under the impression that I am a man driving his car and since they think like that, they do not bother me.”

“As a child I acted like a boy to fill the void of the son my parents never had,” said another. “Outside I had to act like a tomboy to be heard in my society. When I was only 13, I would cut my hair short and dress up like a boy and go on mountaineering trips for years. From the ages of 13 to 15 I made it to the top of Alam-kouh and Damavand many times, side by side with other men.”

One woman has agreed to speak to the Independent about why she shaves her hair and dresses in a more masculine way to bypass morality police.

Kajal is 29 and lives in Iran.

Why did you decide to dress like a man and cut your hair?

There are several reasons why I wanted to cut my hair. Girls all around the world are considered less strong and intelligent and are less free than boys. Since I can remember, I dressed like a boy to feel free and strong. When I grew up I still needed to be considered as a man to maintain my presence in society without having problems.

The first time I cut my hair very short happened after some of my friends and I were arrested for being at a mixed party [of girls and boys], which is forbidden in Iran. After one night sleeping in a detention barrack, they cut my male friend's long hair completely short just to destroy his mood. When we returned home, I shaved my long hair too to show him my sympathy.

It was a good start for me to then be open about my opposition to enforced hijab with my family. I started going to my family members’ houses with very short hair and without a headscarf or covering, and day by day my hair grew and they forgot to tell me to cover my hair. And it’s just routine now, a fact they have become used to over time.

Have morality police noticed you in public dressed like this?

Since I have my own car, I rarely face police notices. Last time a police officer asked me in a very friendly manner on the road to cover my hair, and I said, ‘okay, I will do it for you but I won’t continue when we pass you.’

Do you know any other women doing this?

Not many. But I receive so many messages from different women appreciating my efforts who argue about their bad and hard situations with family, in workplaces and during conflicts with their husband. But most of them just wish to have a free choice about wearing the hijab.

How do women fight back against enforced hijab?

The system has put great fear in women and they often prefer to escape rather than make a change. I saw a woman in Dubai airport who was preparing herself with a scarf even in Dubai.

They often refuse to fight because of different issues like losing their job or their reputation. If they are given enough strength and if they can support themselves financially and become independent they may start fighting this rule.

How do you think the hijab oppresses women?

Hijab tells women you are beautiful and if you show any of your beauty it will be a sexual temptation for men. So to safeguard the moral health of society you have to cover your hair. This complete sexual take on a part of my body that has no sensual temptation is very disturbing to me. In the present state of worldwide communication, we cannot witness the healthy mentality and freedom afforded to other women and still feel happy and liberated. We want our encounters to be free of a filthy sexual gaze. Our society will not accept very revealing clothes either but the law of scarf, shawl, and head covers should be abolished.

What freedoms do you hope to have yourself one day living in Iran?

By law:

No enforced hijab.

Having the freedom to drink alcohol.

Pubs and clubs and discos and related entertainments should be allowed.

Divorce rules should be changed.

Single mothers should receive more support from the Government.

What are your hopes for women in Iran in the future?

To get to know much more about themselves. So many women are just ready to become a mother, or wife, like me.

To stop family members forcing girls to get married.

To have more and equal job opportunities in safe working places.

To have the chance to travel around and camp alone in the jungles and on journeys.

For women to become less religious and more logical.

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