Iranian Women Express Freedom In A Highly Controversial Way

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In Iran, women are required by law to wear the hijab in public, a mandate since the country’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. However, there are many women in the country who are clearly desiring freedom from that law as evidenced by a controversial new crowd-sourced photography project.

London-based Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad set up a public Facebook page, and called it ‘Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women‘. The words “stealth” and “freedom” almost seem like an oxymoron put together. The page was created in May 2014, and as of may 14th had nearly 200,000 likes.

The mandate was clear: Masih asked Iranian women to submit photos of themselves without their hijab and share their story of how they like to express their freedom. She had an overwhelming response in just the first few weeks.

Alinejad says she is not anti-hijab (her mother wears one and Alinejad did for 30 years until she left her Iranian village in 2009) but it took time to summon the courage to tell people that she prefers to go without it. Now, she wants other women to feel comfortable making their own decisions about the religious headpiece.

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The common thread in all of these pictures is the women smiling and enjoying their right to show of their head sans hijab on a public forum.

“I have no intention whatsoever to encourage people to defy the forced hijab or stand up against it,” said Masih, who doesn’t print full names, and makes sure she has permission before uploading the photos with accompanying stories. “I just want to give voice to thousands and thousands of Iranian women who think they have no platform to have their say.”

“For 30 years I wore hijab in front of my dad. It took time for me to be able to come out and tell people I prefer to have no hijab, that I want to be myself,” she said.

“Iran’s state television is only showing one side of society, only the people with hijab. It gives no airtime to people who have a different voice, who have a different lifestyle.”

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Some are saying this controversial project, while empowering, could also be potentially dangerous. According to Iran law, police have the right to arrest a woman if she is not properly attired in public. Apparently they see this as a subjugation of virtue, and feel it needs to be punished. However this sentiment is not echoed by the country’s president Hassan Rouhani.

After being elected in June 2013, Hassan said in a statement that he is opposed to segregation of sexes in society, would work to minimize censorship and believes internet filtering is futile. He said he was against the crackdown against women with loose clothing – but hasn’t yet publicly declared it should be voluntary, instead saying that whether a woman wears a hijab or not should not be tied to their virtue.

“If a women or a man does not comply with our rules for clothing, his or her virtue should not come under question … In my view, many women in our society who do not respect our hijab laws are virtuous. Our emphasis should be on the virtue.”

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Rouhani said he opposed segregation of men and women, including at universities, and criticised the politicians who are against allowing women to enter stadiums to watch football matches along with men. Could this be the first progressive, and feminist president of Iran?

Sadly, his government has little control over these forces, who operate under other Iranian political institutes such as the revolutionary guards. But if change is happening slowly, and a Muslim man is publicly declaring more liberal views like this, perhaps this is only the beginning.

A photography project like this, while stirring the pot and angering some, is serving to inspire and empower many others who for far too long have been afraid of using their own voice.

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“No words to say. Just that freedom is wonderfully enjoyable; even a brief moment of it,” says one woman who submitted her photo to the “Stealth” project.

“I want to live in a country where both me, who doesn’t have hijab, and my sister, who prefers hijab, can live alongside each other,” says Masih Alinejad.

We hope a story like this will encourage all of us not to take our freedoms for granted. Our sisters around the world are still oppressed and living in ways where they are not equal. It’s up to us to raise our voices and not be afraid of being different. You never know how you might possibly change the world.

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8 Comments

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