Magazine article New Internationalist

Masih Alinejad

Magazine article New Internationalist

Masih Alinejad

Article excerpt

It has taken just one year for the Facebook-fuelled 'My Stealthy Freedom' campaign, spearheaded by exiled Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, to attract nearly a million likes and the international recognition of a human rights award from the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy.

Aimed at reversing the compulsory hijab law in Iran which forces women to wear headscarves, it began with the simple act of Alinejad posting on her Facebook page a bare-headed picture of herself in the streets of London, with the comment: 'Every time I run and feel the wind in my hair it reminds me of the time when my hair was a hostage in the hands of the Iranian government.'

The response was massive: an outpouring from women in Iran lamenting the freedom Alinejad now enjoyed. So she posted another picture of herself, this time inside Iran without a headscarf, and has since been 'bombarded' with pictures and videos from Iranian women following suit.

So far, the women have not faced any serious repercussions. The government has attacked Alinejad on state TV - saying that she was raped because she wasn't wearing a headscarf, that she is not a good person, she's anti-revolutionary, she is supported by Western governments - and attempted sabotage by hacking Facebook accounts to post fake pro-hijab photos and comments. But they have not been able to arrest her and halt the campaign.

As Iranian gender equality activist Soudeh Rad commented: '[this] brave act, generated from the grassroots, is the persistence of people to gather around one specific demand.'

In fact, the momentum continues to build, as women are now sharing in more detail how the compulsory hijab affects their daily lives. Last year, 3.6 million women were warned in the streets about their hair and clothing by the morality police. One woman recounts how her daughter jumped into the road when she had to let go of her hand to fix her headscarf in the wind; another explains her dilemma at having to remove her clothes and headscarf when faced with jumping into a river to save her daughter.

Alinejad can relate to these stories. Coming from a religious and traditional rural family, she was forced to wear the veil at all times from childhood. In fact, she is the first woman in several generations of her family to expose her hair in public. …

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