Asia-Pacific, Iran, Human Rights

Headscarves on Sticks: Iranian Women Fight for Their Rights

Iranian women have been fighting for their rights for more than one hundred years. A century of protests, movements, and revolutions, and women still need to prove to their oppressive, male-dominated regime that when it comes to their rights, women won’t give up the good fight. True to form, in the first week of February in 2018, the fight continued when 29 women were arrested for removing their compulsory hijab and waving it on sticks in public in protest. 29 women were arrested, simply for freeing themselves from their burdensome wraps and demonstrating their wish to be individuals once more.

They were arrested because they were “weak-minded” enough to be “deceived” into removing their hijabs, according to the police. Even after bravely and peacefully protesting the compulsory hijab as a unified, powerful force against oppression, they are still insulted and belittled by Iranian men for being merely childish, misled, and emotional.

A century – one hundred years – of fighting back against oppression and still women are painted as foolish, silly, uneducated girls.

What will it take to prove that they are serious?

The Girl of Enghelab Street

Vida Movahed, a 31-year-old Iranian woman found instant fame when, on December 27, 2017, she climbed atop a utility box in Tehran and held her hijab out before her on a stick. The box she stood so brazenly upon, bare-headed, was on Enghelab Street – otherwise known as Revolution Street – and she thus became an icon for women’s rights. She became, fittingly, “The Girl of Enghelab Street.” Women have been following her lead ever since.

But, you may be wondering, why is a scarf on a stick making headlines?

Hijab: What’s the Big Deal?

A hijab is no mere article of ordinary clothing. A hijab can mean many things to many different people – to some, it is a symbol of their religion or culture, and it’s something that they wear proudly. But to others, it is a symbol of oppression. And in Iran, its modest cover is mandatory. It is certainly not a simple piece of cloth.

In Iran, removing a hijab publically is a crime, one that held Ms. Movahed in custody for weeks. But she didn’t serve her time alone. Dozens of women have publicly declared their freedom from their hijabs as well, and even some men have stepped up to join women in their fight.

The police have an answer for this act of bravery of course, and it’s not very flattering. The culprit behind all of this brazen scarf-waving? Social Media.

#WhiteWednesdays

The Authorities were right about one thing – Iranian women have fought against the mandatory use of headscarves for more than 40 years, and in the absence of real freedom, they absolutely did turn to social media for some relief.

In May of 2017, a special campaign emerged. Women (and men) were encouraged to wear white scarves as a protest against the compulsory hijab in public places on Wednesdays as a protest. The campaign was inspired by a Facebook page owned by Iranian based Journalist Masih Alinejad, called “My Stealthy Freedom“, which was created in 2014. Through My Stealthy Freedom, Alinejad asked women to join her in posting pictures of themselves in public places sans-hijab. In 2017, she introduced the White Wednesday campaign, and it gained so much popularity that it became quite clear that there was no stopping these brave Iranian women from protesting their compulsory, oppressive coverings, regardless of the cost.

A Powerful Ally

Even women who wear hijabs intentionally are on the growing movement’s side now, and a more powerful ally could not be desired. If devoted hijab wearers can appreciate the rights of women despite wearing the garments themselves, it proves the injustice of such an antiquated law: and as Alinejad says, “we are not fighting against a piece of cloth.” Their enemy is the oppressive regime that enforces the hijab, and thanks to social media, they don’t stand alone.

The protests in Iran continue, and women are picking their moment carefully – there’s no better time to start a revolution than when the country is suffering from political unrest, as it happens to be now. The impressive momentum of the #whitewednesdays movement is inspiring even to its creator:

“I get goosebumps,” Alinejad says.

Since 1979, when Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini seized power, women have been forced to cover themselves with the hijab while not sharing the same rights as men in the Islamic Republic. A woman’s rights regarding her children or work, among other freedoms, are not her own, at least, not without her husband’s permission. But thanks to My Stealthy Freedom, more women and men are standing up and fighting to take back their rights.

As more women unveil themselves from their oppressive headscarves, the message seems clear: they will not stand for oppression any longer. As Alinejad says, thanks to social media, “women realized they are not alone.” Having strong and faithful allies is a powerful incentive in any battle.

And so the women in Iran will continue to remove their hijabs in protest, regardless of the cost. They may be arrested. They may be belittled and mocked. But they will never, ever stop fighting.

About Lauren Hall

Lauren is a Canadian Writer and Blogger, based in Calgary. In addition to her freelance work, she is an Human Resources professional by trade. Lauren is always hungry for information, and has developed many hobbies in her pursuit for knowledge: she is an amateur archer, avid goldfish enthusiast, zombie aficionado, proud dog owner, and a casual gamer.

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