A sign outside a hospital in Iran says no medical care for women with "bad hijab", July 2023

Directive Linking Medical Care To Hijab Sparks Backlash In Iran

Saturday, 07/29/2023

The circulation of a letter to hospitals requiring strict hijab for medical services in northern Iran has sparked strong public reactions.

The letter, signed by Mohammad Taqi Najafzadeh, Director of the health and treatment network in Lahijan city to the heads of local hospitals, has ignited a significant reaction on social media platforms.

In the directive, Najafzadeh unequivocally states that medical centers and health workers must abide by the hijab regulations set forth by the authorities. The letter, however, leaves the crucial question unanswered regarding the medical service protocol in emergency situations, where immediate care may be required irrespective of the patient's observance of hijab.

The publication of this directive has garnered diverse reactions, with notable figures and netizens expressing their concerns. Abbas Abdi, a political activist closely associated with the reformist movement, held both the government and the Ministry of Health accountable for endorsing such a measure. In a tweet, he remarked, "That doctor, being a government administrator, and the ministry, endorsing such an anti-human violation, amid the government's silence, should be held accountable."

Drawing historical analogies, another user likened the directive to the "darkest days of church supremacy" during the Middle Ages when religious decrees were imposed on societal matters.

Critics on Twitter also viewed this directive as a breach of the “medical oath," emphasizing the importance of providing medical services without discrimination or coercion.

Saeed Maliki, a journalist, went a step further and compared the authorities' action to that of ISIS, drawing parallels between the enforcement of hijab observance and the tactics used by the extremist group to force people to abide by its strict interpretation of Sharia law.

It is important to note that this is not the first instance where the issue of observing the hijab has affected medical services in Iran. Following the Women, Life, Freedom protests and the advent of women's movements, reports have emerged of medical centers and hospitals postponing care unless hijab regulations are strictly adhered to.

Earlier this month, an Iranian female medical staff member was subjected to a series of punishments, including performing "cleaning services," for not complying with the mandatory hijab. The US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported on July 14 that the judicial authority of the Islamic Republic sentenced her to a ban on employment and cleaning services due to her alleged failure to observe hijab while driving.

Amidst the challenges, a segment of the medical community sought to voice civil protests against these governmental pressures. In March, following an institution's order for compulsory black veiling for women in pharmacies, some pharmacist doctors and male technicians showed their anger by wearing black veils.

The Iranian government employs such punishments with the aim of suppressing opponents of the mandatory hijab. However, reports suggest that these punitive measures have not succeeded in quelling protests, and studies indicate an increase in the emigration of Iranian doctors and nurses in recent months.

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