Protesting Iran’s headscarf rule

Ever since the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran’s women are required to wear at least a headscarf when out in public and this rule apparently applies even to visitors to that country. Now an Indian woman chess grandmaster has withdrawn from the Asian chess championship to be held in that country because she refuses to follow the rule.

Indian chess champion Soumya Swaminathan has pulled out of an Asian tournament in Iran over the country’s compulsory headscarf rule.

The 29-year-old Woman Grandmaster said the rule was a violation of her personal rights.

When asked if the All India Chess Federation (AICF) should have protested against the decision to shift location, she told the Times of India: “I can’t expect everyone to be of the same opinion as me. It’s a subjective issue.”

But in her Facebook post, Ms Swaminathan said she was “disappointed to see that player’s rights and welfare are given such less importance while allotting and/or organising official championships”.

She wrote that athletes often made adjustments for the sake of sport, but “enforceable religious dress” should not be one of them, adding that “some things simply cannot be compromised”.

This is not the first time an Indian athlete has withdrawn from a tournament over the same issue. Heena Sidhu, a top shooter, pulled out from the Asian Airgun meet in Iran in 2016 for the same reason.

American chess player Nazi Paikidze also drew international attention when she refused to attend the Women’s World Championship in Iran in 2016. In an Instagram post, she wrote that it was “unacceptable” to host the tournament in a place “where women do not have basic fundamental rights”.

An international chess tournament hosted in Saudi Arabia last year also prompted controversy when a double world champion said that she would boycott the event. Ukrainian chess player Anna Muzychuk said that she did not want to wear an abaya, the full-length, loose-fitting robes women are required to wear in public in Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s headscarf rule was always ridiculous. The rule in places like Saudi Arabia where women have to be completely covered up is far more oppressive but has its own perverse logic, to make women pretty much indistinguishable, like penguins. Covering with a headscarf serves no functional purpose at all and Iran is coming under increased pressure to have the rule eliminated, with some Iranian women openly defying it in public, risking rebukes from the ubiquitous religious police and even jail time, as this report from VICE News shows.


  1. says


    Dress codes imposed upon adults—children/students are in a different class—are always problematic and occur in almost every society.

    I see personal dress as akin to free speech. The individual adult must be allowed the right to express themselves, but those who object have an equal right to express themselves, but only to the extent that they do not impinge upon the freedom of expression of another.

    Having said that, what ought to be the response to an eating establishment that requires “shirts and shoes” or “jacket and tie” for patrons?.

    Jeff Hess

  2. Quirky says

    Simple Jeff/Hyphenman,
    All we need is for the Democracy/majority via their so-called Representatives to pass another law. Create another Bureaucracy. Call it the Restaurant Police. Pay them with money borrowed into existence. Convince everyone our children will repay the debt and kick that financial can down the road. If the cost of administering the program becomes too costly just install cameras at the doors and send citations in the mail.
    Should be simple to do all this. Most people have already succumbed to the idea that proprietors who accommodate the public have relinquished their individual private property rights.
    What ever we do, it can not include allowing the proprietor to make the final call. His rights are insignificant when compared to the rights of all those who want to express themselves in different fashions.

  3. Mano Singham says

    Jeff @#1,

    There are always lines that are difficult to draw and must be done on a case-by-case basis. But some rules are fairly easy to dismiss as ridiculous, especially when it comes to public spaces, and demanding that women wear headscarves seems like one of the easy ones, as is the law requiring them to wear full body coverings.

  4. says

    @Quirky, No. 2

    The easier response is a.) don’t patronize the establishment, b.) make the owner aware of why you’re not patronizing the establishment, c.) patronize other, similar establishments that don’t have such rules—and make the owner aware of why you are doing so, and d.) encourage others to follow your example.

    More serious problems arise making broader measures necessary when the offensive establishment is the only game in town.

    That should be sufficient troll kibble for the day.


  5. says

    @Mano, No. 3,

    Yes, the law is ridiculous. Full stop.

    I’ve struggled for about an hour here trying to find a way into a broader discussion of peer/societal/state/religious-enforced dress codes with no success.

    Maybe I’ll have better luck in the future and write an op-ed on the topic.


  6. Quirky says

    @ Hyphenman #4, I agree with the suggestions you propose.
    Then you assert, “More serious problems arise making broader measures necessary when the offensive establishment is the only game in town.”
    Before that establishment existed there was no “game” in town. People went somewhere else. Did the absence of a game either authorize or empower you with the authority to use violence to compel someone to start a game? Hardly!
    Furthermore the fact that someone started a game where there was no game, making it the only game in town doesn’t authorize you to initiate violence against them to make their game meet your perceived social requirements.

    If you claim otherwise then provide evidence of your authority to compel another person to fulfill your will.

    It is noteworthy that you confess @ #5 that you “struggled for about an hour here trying to find a way into a broader discussion of peer/societal/state/religious-enforced dress codes with no success.”
    Maybe that’s because such violent enforcement is both irrational and immoral and you unconsciously recognize that you have no right to use violence to impose your moral perceptions on others..
    The only logically consistent position after taking into consideration both the principles of human autonomy and the 1st principle of ‘initiate no aggression against another’ is that you as an individual, along with all other individuals, who comprise society lack the authority to utilize violence in order to mandate “peer/societal/state/religious-enforced dress codes”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *