Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is of the opinion that gender equality is a “Zionist plot” to corrupt the role of women in society. At a meeting of religious leaders on Sunday, the Shia leader said Iranians should “resist feminist ideas” and consider Prophet Mohamed’s daughter Fatimah their “model woman”.

“Turning a woman into a commodity and means of pleasure in the Western world is most probably among plots hatched by Zionists to destroy human society. Unfortunately, sometimes [even] inside the country and in some Islamic environments, duties and expectations are brought up for women, which in fact amount to degradation and humiliation of women,” he said, according to a translation from his website.

The religious leader said he hoped “the purpose of those people, who raise such issues [gender equality] inside the country, is not [to promote] the same incorrect Western concept.” The two genders differed in “their duties towards managing life”, he further said, adding that there was no difference between men and women on the basis of their “ascension toward spiritual ranks, power of leadership and the ability to guide humanity”.

Although Iranian women have played an important role in politics in the past – particularly with their participation in mass movements against authoritarian rule before the revolution – present laws have imposed several restrictions on their dressing and movement. In 1979, Iran made it compulsory to wear a hijab at public gatherings and women failing to do so are punishable by law.

Activists have launched movements against the restrictions, including online campaigns like My Stealthy Freedom, which is a protest demanding the right to choose to wear the compulsory hijab.