While his comments were vague and did not promise to change existing laws, they were an acknowledgment of the power of the hijab problem, according to Abbas Milani, director of Iran studies at Stanford University.
“I think he knows how widespread the rejection of compulsory hijab wear by women has been,” he said. “He’s trying to convince dwindling diehard fans that the game isn’t over.”
Since September, women across Iran have defied strict hijab rules amid protests — the most serious challenge to the Islamic Republic since its founding in 1979. As the movement morphed into a demand for Widespread change, the hijab, or head covering that women are required by law to wear, remains a powerful symbol and rallying cry. Images of protesting women and girls taking off their blankets, showing their hair and even burning their headscarves became common after the protests began.
Meanwhile, the government violently suppressed protests and arrested protesters. In recent weeks, judges have handed down at least 26 death sentences, according to international rights group Amnesty International.
The US Human Rights Activist News Agency, or HRANA, estimates that more than 18,000 people have been arrested. Iran’s justice spokesman said the number was over 1,000, according to IRNA.
Several celebrities have also been arrested. Taraneh Alidoosti, one of Iran’s most famous actresses, was arrested last month after she posted on her Instagram page a photo of herself without a hijab while holding a banner with what became the uprising’s slogan: “Woman, life, freedom”.
According to ISNA, a semi-official news agency, she was released on Wednesday after friends and family posted bail.
In his speech, Khamenei also criticized the West for its treatment of women. Women in the West are “alienated”, he said, adding that “the Western capitalist system is a patriarchal system”, according to the Mehr news agency.