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Breaking Barriers: The Five Iranian Girls Who Dared to Dance


Breaking Barriers: The Five Iranian Girls Who Dared to Dance

Anastasia Copettari

March 22, 2023


In a recent episode that has garnered international attention, five young Iranian women were arrested for dancing and posting a video of their dance on social media. The women were reportedly arrested on charges of “dancing without a headscarf” and “violating public decency.”


The video was published in Tehran's Ekbatan neighborhood and shows the women as they dance to Selena Gomez and Rema's song "Calm Down", fully clothed, but not wearing any headscarves. The response of security forces was immediate. On March 10, 2023, only two days after the video was released, the "Ekbatan" Twitter account, responsible for covering the events in the neighborhood, warned about the possibility of their detention. Reportedly, the security forces were searching for CCTV footage to identify the girls, interrogating both the guards of the neighborhood and Block 13, the courtyard where the video was shot.


However, this is still only the tip of the iceberg. In January 2021, a video of a woman being arrested by Iranian police for not wearing a hijab while riding a bicycle went viral on social media. In February 2021, an Iranian athlete named Kimia Alizadeh, who had won a bronze medal in Taekwondo at the 2016 Summer Olympics, announced her defection from Iran, citing among her reasons the country's treatment of women and the mandatory hijab law. In March 2021, a video showing a woman being assoulted for not wearing a hijab in public also went viral. On October 10, 2020, in Shahr-e Qods, a city near Tehran, Mahsa Amini, a young woman, died while in police custody for allegedly wearing a headscarf improperly. 


This suggests a gradual regression in Iranian women's rights throughout the years. Safe to say that, if on one hand, the 1989 Constitution expanded some rights for women, including the right to vote and run for political office - although it's worth noting that, in practice, women have faced significant barriers and discrimination in accessing these rights -, on the other hand, definitely more were the rights denied.


Article 30 of the 1906 Constitution mandated that the government provide education to all Iranians, regardless of their gender. Now, although there is no article in the 1989 Constitution that explicitly denies women the right to education, cultural practices have resulted in severe restrictions, particularly in certain areas of study and levels of education. The 1967 Labor Law granted women the right to work, subject to some limitations and conditions. Article 111 of the 1989 Constitution states that "the government is bound to create employment opportunities for all, without any discrimination." However, certain areas of work are restricted for women, such as serving as judges, and women face discrimination and unequal pay in the workplace.


Before 1979, there were no laws or regulations in Iran that required women to wear Islamic dress. Article 638 of the 1989 Constitution states that "the official religion of Iran is Islam and the Twelver Ja'fari school [of Shi'a Islam] shall be the official religion of the country and its followers shall be the majority of the population." Thus, women are required to wear the hijab in public. Before the 1989 Constitution, there were no laws or regulations that explicitly prohibited women from singing or dancing in public, now, there may still be no article that explicitly denies women the right to sing or dance in public, but certain types of performances are prohibited, as the reported case of the Ekbatan girl shows. 


None of the episodes cited were isolated cases. Worldwide, preventing equality inevitably leads to injustice which is not something that has to do strictly with women's rights, but more with human rights as a whole. Never giving up, and kindling hope for a better world, Iranian people are fiercely fighting for their rights, and, men and women alike, have, for months now, been persistently protesting. 


After all, as Roya Kazemi, Senior Gender Advisor for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), stated: "Women's empowerment is not just about achieving gender equality, it's about transforming power structures so that women are able to exercise agency and take control of their own lives. This requires challenging deep-seated beliefs and attitudes about gender roles, and working to create systems and institutions that support women's autonomy and decision-making. It's a long and challenging process, but one that is essential for creating a more just and equitable world". 


Edited by: Sushmita


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