Despite the fact that going out in public without a hijab can get women imprisoned for 60 days and 70 lashes, a surprising number of brave hearts in Iran are ditching their headscarves on Facebook.
Reportedly, the vigilantes in Iran have become less stringent over the last few decades, allowing unmarried men and women to date, and sometimes even live together! While social networking websites like Facebook continue to be illegal, the government mostly ignores the 4 million Iranians who use it on a daily basis.
The one aspect that the government does not seem to ignore is the way in which women dress. Iranian women are required to dress “modestly” which implies that they have to always wear a headscarf. Stepping out in public without a headscarf can get a woman imprisoned for 60 days and 70 lashes. However, a group of Iran’s brave women started challenging this rule by posting photographs of themselves without headscarves on Facebook. Most women are opting to wrap the scarves around the necks or hold them up over their heads like a ceremonial flag instead of wearing it around their heads.
In early May, liberal Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, put up a post on Facebook that led to this unique movement, growing increasingly popular under the #آزادییواشکی that translates as #stealthfreedom. The movement has spawned a Facebook page of its own, receiving more than 30,000 likes in the first five days itself.
Currently, Alinejad lives in exile in the United Kingdom, where she works for a satirical news show called OnTen that is broadcast into Iran by Voice of America’s Persian Service.
“I just asked women to send selfies of their private moments of freedom… When I was in Iran, I would take my headscarf off when I was out in a field or some place private, and I wondered how many Iranian women did the same. Apparently a lot,” she said.
Many women have posted poignant messages alongside their photographs.
“I always take off the hijab whenever I can because it was never my choice to put it on,” said one Iranian woman for instance.
This is not the first time that women in Iran have protested against the headscarf or veil in public or on social media. Since the election of reformist former president Mohammad Khatami in 1997, women have been defying the veil mandate subtly by loosely placing it over their buns and exposing the hair near their faces. Today, most liberal women wear the veil just like that, with designers dressing their models the same way.
Since the movement gained momentum, Alinejad has been criticized severely by the rightwing in Iran. They even launched a protest in favour of the veil on May 7. Alinejad says that she has been attacked by hard-line conservative news agencies with the Iranian government-affiliated Fars News calling her “anti-revolutionary.” She also regrets not having received any political support from the left.
“No political figure inside Iran has called for any reform of the hijab laws. Ironically, Iranian women have overwhelmingly voted for the most liberal candidates who promise less restrictions, but in reality the restrictions are rarely eased,” she said.
by DEBAPRIYA CHATTERJEE