Sweden's feminist Trade Minister Ann Linde has come under sharp criticism from some Iranian women's rights activists, not to mention Swedish centrist and left wing lawmakers, after she and her colleagues wore hijab and long coats in their meetings with the Iranian president and other delegations in Tehran.
Later Linde maintained she did not want to violate the law in Iran where it has been mandatory for women to wear headdress since 1979.
This flies in the face of the Swedish government's position on women's rights. Previously Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lövin, in an opinion piece published in the Guardian, contrasted Swedish policy with that of President Donald Trump, saying the world 'needs strong leadership for women's rights', that 'Sweden will have an increasingly important role to play in this', and that 'many countries could learn an important lesson from this'.
The way these women acted in Iran contradicts this message. If these Swedish women are concerned about Donald Trump's cabinet and his views toward women, surely it follows that they have to consider women's rights in Iran by choosing to not wear the hijab.
Visiting female politicians could, for example, choose to attend meetings in a third country and announce that they are doing so because they don't want to wear the hijab. This would demonstrate clear solidarity with women's rights activists in Iran who say wearing the veil means legitimising discriminatory laws against women.
In recent years campaigns such as My Stealthy Freedom have increasingly amplified the voices of Iranian women's rights activists and emboldened them in their demands. The page allows women inside Iran to post photos of themselves not wearing the hijab. Their message is clear: Compulsory veiling is not about culture. It is a form of female oppression.
It is a law that allows the state to have control over females' bodies within a variety of patriarchal social structures. Many women inside Iran have been arrested and harassed in the streets because of the form of their clothes.
Some Iranian women show their objection to compulsory veiling by not following Islamic dress codes. They have shifted in color, version and forms of their clothing to show that they do not like the state's control over their bodies.
"It is important for foreign politicians, especially women who claim to be supporters of women's rights, to show their solidarity with the women of Iran who are oppressed by these laws."
Visiting female politicians such as the delegation from Sweden should understand therefore that when they accept the wearing of the hijab, they are not merely respecting the culture, they are legitimising this discriminatory practice and contradicting progressive movements like My Stealthy Freedom. It is important for foreign politicians, especially women who claim to be supporters of women's rights, to show their solidarity with the women of Iran who are oppressed by these laws.
For this reason some Iranian feminists ask female politicians not to wear the hijab during their visits, and to stand their ground on this issue. This might raise objections from Iranian conservatives and hardliners, and could conceivably in the short-term marginalise more Iranian women from the country's political and social institutions. Nonetheless I believe it would ultimately be a powerful emancipative and supportive gesture for the women of Iran.
Azadeh Davachi is an Iranian academic, feminist and writer, currently living in Australia and working as a research assistant at Deakin university.