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The black chador, the Baluch woman, and media representation

Tanide’s introduction: The following piece is a translation of one of the statements of Dasgoharan, the Voices of Baluch Women, which was formed in October 2022 during the Jina revolts in Iran. Dasgoharan refers to a longstanding social and convivial tradition among Baluch women in Iran that connotes empathy, solidarity, and sisterhood. 

The quote below is the English description that Dasgoharan published soon after their launch on Instagram on October 7, 2022:

We, the Baluch women living in Iran have suffered under intersectional discrimination and oppression day and night. The oppression, poverty, discrimination, unemployment, insecurity and exploitation of Baluchs’ labor and resources have become normalized. We, Baluch women, along with our brothers have been suffering under national/ethnic and classicist/religious oppression. On top of that, as women, we were considered as “namus” [honor], not only by our fathers, brothers and husbands, but also by our tribes as well as by the religious system and the state. For years, sometimes passionate and openly and sometimes at home and in small groups, we, along with our sisters and brothers, have been sisterly resisting patriarchy, religious fundamentalism (Talibanism), ethnic and class discrimination, and the ruling shiite regressiveness. But we were under the impression that the guideline of the fight for a better life has already been written down for us in the form of democratization, progress and development programs, and that we needed to follow up our demands parallel to these programs. However, with Mahsa’s tragic death and the wave that rose in whole Iran, we found ourselves in the forefront of the struggle. “Woman, Life, freedom” gave us a new life. Suddenly, this slogan, word by word, filled us with passion; we said: We want to live! Women seek to liberate their lives, and their liberation is the liberation of us all. Before this we were subjects trying to improve a few paragraphs of the law regarding marriage/separation, we demanded less discrimination for Baluchs regarding employment, we asked the clergies not to prevent girls’ education, we asked fathers and brothers not to force child marriage upon their daughters and sisters, we documented and publicized femicides, we tolerated the tribe and its laws of conduct, we tried to have an impact on the rigid patriarchal structures, we asked the state for permission to establish safe houses for protecting women against violence, and to provide birth control measures so that unwanted pregnancy could be avoided. These were all no small efforts in their own right, but in the face of the feminist uprising that has spread all over Iran seems insignificant, if not trivial. All of a sudden with indescribable passion and energy, along with our sisters all over Iran, we, Baluch women, started to demand life and freedom, not only for us, but also for all people in Iran; a life free of all chains, of all forms of oppression; we said NO to the fathers’ brothers’, tribes’ and the state’s authority and control over our body, life and freedom. “Woman, Life, Freedom” denounces all forms of oppression imposed on us. How wonderful it is that in the course of past weeks we learned this through our sisterhood with women of other nationalities in Iran: kurdish, lur, arab fars, and so on. There is still a lot to learn on this path.

The intersectionality of the Baluch women’s struggle is undoubtedly invaluable and historically significant. Dasgoharan’s statements, of which English translations will gradually be published by Tanide, are so historically unique because these women have been gathering and voicing their demands during a feminist revolution-in-the-making in Iran. Alongside numerous other collectives and groups in the country, they are reclaiming their indigenous, resistant subjectivities and making their epistemic, material, and bodily struggles visible to everyone. This, in and of itself, is a revolutionary act that highlights the revolutionary momentum of Zan, Zendegi, Azadi or Janin, Zand, Ajoyi in Iran. 


Wearing the black chador has only been common amongst Baluch women for less than four decades. According to the oral history and memories of our mothers and sisters, Baluch women were mostly unfamiliar with the black chador attire prior to the 1979 revolution and even until the late 1980s. In those days, society was not open to or welcoming towards the black chador and even considered it ominous. After the revolution, the Baluch women’s hijab – which, not so long before, consisted of colourful thin chadors in line with the traditional Baluchi dress – was somehow replaced by the black chador. Thus, the same traditional rural society that had associated this garment with ominous, supernatural powers suddenly required a black chador as part of the traditional dress.

To understand the black chador’s dominance in Baluch women’s lives and lived experiences, we must inevitably trace the history of these women’s marginalisation and further exclusion from social life as well as the supremacy of religion and its unholy alliance with the tribal/sectarian patriarchy in the region.

The issue of hijab in the region of Sistan and Baluchistan underwent fundamental changes during the 1970s and the so-called Saudization of Pakistani society. In fact, after Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq assumed power in Pakistan in the 1970s, the government became focused on the Islamization of Pakistan to such an extent that feminist women in the nation burnt their hijabs in 1983 to protest the fundamentalist attack on all aspects of their lives. Still, women in Pakistan could not stop this process, which gained momentum with the help of Western powers and the massive budget devoted to religious schools in Pakistan. In addition, the growth of Deobandi rituals, which marked the beginning of the religious shift in the Baluchistan region in Iran, the abdication of tribal chiefs due to the Islamic Revolution, and the increasing influence of graduates of Deobandi schools fostered fundamentalist Islamism amongst the Sunni Muslims in Sistan and Baluchistan. In other words, the Islamic Revolution was a ‘golden opportunity’ to cement religious sects in the region, where the existing power gap after the revolution enabled reactionary forces to promote their misogynist religious laws. These forces dictated that women are fundamentally evil creatures and repeatedly proclaimed to both men and women that hell is mostly comprised of women. The patriarchy was substantially strengthened in the region by tribes, governments, religion, and the strict religious rules that supplanted the previous practice of religious tolerance. 

Yet, the oppression of women in Baluchistan cannot be fully grasped solely on the basis of the growth of religious fundamentalism, as the dominant political economy in the region of Sistan and Baluchistan also contributed to the marginalisation of Baluch women’s roles in the economy. Specifically, the informal economy gained precedence through the smuggling of various goods and drugs, and male-centred ways of earning income were emphasised. Women were consequently excluded from the economic sector, thus reinforcing their oppression. With the burgeoning capitalist relations and factory productions, women’s communities and household labour lost their economic value. Previously, women had been part of the cycle of production and the family economy. Their communities, such as rural women who gathered for embroidery or to grind wheat to make bread, achieved economic and income-earning outcomes. As the economic labour cycle became more male-dominated, women were gradually removed from the public sphere and, in the eyes of the patriarchy, viewed only as consumers who must have a convincing reason to socialise outside of the private sphere of the home. In addition, the growth of fundamentalism and religious circles justifying the omission of women from the public sphere effectively intensified the marginalisation and separation of women from society. Because of this process and their lack of a role in the family economy, women progressively lost their social and intelligent independence, which in turn forced them into obedience on issues of forced marriage, child marriage, compulsory veiling, lifestyle, polygamy, and other forms of oppression. 

Notably, the central government was amongst those prominent forces that capitalised on such processes of subjugating women. By enforcing discriminatory and predatory policies in Sistan and Baluchistan, the state benefitted greatly from the marginalisation of women in the region. In collaboration with mullahs and the patriarchal traditions of the tribes as well as with other cultural and traditional excuses, the state excluded women from educational, welfare, and health services. The state’s actions towards the exclusion of women even escalated to its removal of the citizenship status of women who married Afghan men, though there are unfortunately no clear statistics on this matter. Nonetheless, it is no exaggeration to state that poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment in the Sistan and Baluchistan Province are definitively feminine problems. Indeed, the combination of the above issues with the suppression and omission of any freethinking radical movement in post-revolutionary Iran led to a fixation on the dress code for Baluch women, which culminated in the black chador. 

In the aftermath of the national resistance to racial apartheid in Pakistan, our sisters in eastern Baluchistan (Pakistan) were able to reduce the influence of fundamentalism there, which explains why the dress code for women in eastern Baluchistan is different and less strict (than ours). Nevertheless, despite the actions of fundamentalist forces against women in Sistan and Baluchistan, everyday forms of resistance by women have always existed. Baluch women, like their sisters in this geographical region (Iran), have never been mere observers or passive recipients of oppression or the imposition of extremist views on their lifestyles. Many girls have resisted their families’ and tribes’ requests to wear the chador. Given that a woman’s refusal to wear the chador can subject her family to significant pressure from religious leaders, such resistance is often a psychologically exhausting effort. In many villages, girls must wear the chador from the age of eight. Even careful replacements, such as the manteau, are not accepted without consequences for the family and the girl, including humiliation, mockery, threats, harassment, and possibly physical violence. 

Even amidst the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement, Baluch men are expressing criticism of Baluch women on social media who are demanding to dress how they wish as part of their equality and freedom. In fact, Baluch women are currently facing an avalanche of accusations on social media: many Tehran-centric/centralist individuals have mediatised Baluch women’s presence and way of dress and looked upon them with insult and shame. In our view, the adoption of such a perspective amidst a movement revolving around the emancipation of women in society is the result of a highly disappointing lack of awareness of everyday lived experiences and the history of our region. 

Over the past two months, Baluch cities have been periodically full of protestors. However, the absence of Baluch women at some of these protests has also been challenged on social media platforms. Dasgoharan has attempted to address these challenges and answer the questions they raise, while we have endeavoured to dissect the society we live in and share its historical, political, and religious background, which is mainly oral. In a situation where women in Baluchistan are seizing any opportunity to participate in the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement, and women in Zahedan and Chabahar have taken to the streets, we are constantly confronted by a repetitive question: ‘where are the Baluch women?’ It is as if a centralist, homogenising gaze is chasing us; while we are creating our own innovative means and strategies of civil participation, analysts are not changing their old, entrenched frameworks. Faezeh Barahoui, a Baluch woman who sought justice for an assaulted sister living miles away from her, is being criticised for her way of veiling in her social media content even though she has long been under arrest and deprived of a lawyer or other legal options. Meanwhile, Somayeh Mahmoudi Nejhad, a Baluch woman from Ghale Ganj in Kerman, was killed by six bullets in front of her child. A report published by BBC Farsi television stated that Somayeh resigned from her job at the morality police centre because of its violent practices. She received death threats every day and was shot dead a month later. 

Faezeh and Somayeh are only two cases of Baluch women who have resisted but been constantly omitted from the centralist discourse. If a Baluch woman does not serve the reductionist representational understanding of herself, her agency is completely denied. The centre has already dehumanised her, and she is obliged to constantly respond to questions of, for example, where she is, why she is not present [in a public sphere or a debate], and when and where she will come to the fore. These questions are familiar to us – it is as if our brothers and fathers are everywhere! Is it not true then that, by asking these questions, the centre is trying to claim a superior identity and position? Such attention to the Baluch woman does not seek to understand the complications of her life or the challenges of her struggles. Rather, the centre treats her as a mirror to look into to understand itself. The Baluch woman is ‘that Other’ which the centre should not become; on the contrary, she should – while keeping her distance – become like the centre. 

Today, new forms of resistance are being cultivated amongst Baluch women and girls. They are creating graffiti, circulating protest videos, and slowly joining the protests. Nevertheless, a phenomenon that may not be particularly visible on social media platforms is the real resistance of Baluch women to the traditions of their patriarchal society. They are discarding the black chador, which has itself played a major role in invisiblising Baluch women’s existence in the previous decades. Their micro-resistances are ongoing, even in the most remote villages with no access to media. Baluch women, like women in other parts of the country, are struggling to reclaim the streets and their right to choose how to dress. The suppressive forces that have been reinforcing each other for years and fortifying undemocratic structures in society are being challenged by these women, which is a huge achievement. 

At the same time, the Baluch woman is reclaiming another site. She wants to speak up, but, in the representation of her image, she becomes the reflection which is directed at her. Any action or text from her side can be used against her. She must be constantly careful that talking about inequalities, challenges, and depredation does not cause them to be considered essential cultural features of the Sistan and Baluchistani society. Moreover, she must always reiterate that her omission from historical and political discourses does not indicate that she has remained silent. Although she has suddenly become the centre of attention, she was not born in the past two months; she has existed and resisted for years. 

The vast Sistan and Baluchistan Province is home to diverse ecosystems, cultures, and religions. Accordingly, there is a range of models of political resistance amongst its women (Baluch or otherwise). Failing to heed such multiplicity and history silences the voices of Baluch women and their lives and struggles. Enforcement of the black chador – and the complicated resistance to it – is only one of the many issues that affect the Baluch woman, which should be understood in direct relation to her life in that particular local geography.

The black chador, the Baluch woman, and media representation

Authors: @thevoicesofbaluchwomen, Dasgoharan

Translated into English by: Tanide