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For more than 30 years, since the Iranian Revolution, women in Iran have been required to wear a headscarf in public at all times. Those who don't can be detained by the morality police, fined or imprisoned.
In spite of that, thousands of Iranian women are posting photos of themselves in public without a hijab, as part of a campaign called "My Stealthy Freedom." Started last year by Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, the My Stealthy Freedom Facebook page now has over 900,000 followers.
Last week, one of the photos from the site made its way to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. A French journalist showed it to him during an interview, and asked him for his reaction. "What an issue! We have so many issues so we don't have time for these things," Rouhani said. "Everyone in Iran is free in their own private lives to do as they please. But when someone lives in Iran, they should abide by the laws of the country."
Here & Now's Indira Lakshmanan talks with Masih Alinejad, who now lives in New York, about why she started "My Stealthy Freedom," and why she feels this issue is a critical one for women in Iran.
Interview Highlights: Masih Alinejad
Why did you start My Stealthy Freedom?
"I called it 'stealthy freedom,' which means you create your own freedom in secret."
“As an Iranian woman, not wearing headscarf is a punishable crime. So, I’m a woman, I’m living outside Iran and I just publish a picture of myself without headscarf, writing a caption saying that ‘Every time I run in a free country and I feel the wind through my hair, it just reminds me of the time that my hair was like a hostage in the hands of Iranian government.’ And then I received a lot of comments from Iranian women inside Iran. So soon after I published, another picture of myself without headscarf, but the picture was taken inside Iran. So I wrote to Iranian woman ‘See? I was there and we don’t have freedom of choice, but as a woman, we know how to bypass the authority and create the moment of freedom,’ that I called it 'stealthy freedom,' which means you create your own freedom in secret. And I ask women whether they want to share the same pictures because I knew that there were a lot of women who did not believe in hijab, and they take off their scarf in secret. So I [was] bombarded by pictures and I decided to create My Stealthy Freedom because I thought ‘These women need their own platform, because they want to speak out against compulsory hijab.’”
Is it risky for women to send photos of themselves without their hijab?
“It’s difficult because for women inside of Iran, as I said, being a woman is dangerous. From the age of 7, when you go to school, you have to hide your own identity and wear headscarf. Think about it – from the age of 7. So if you say no to compulsory hijab, you won’t get an education. You won’t even, you know, be allowed to live in your own country. So it is risky for them being a woman inside Iran. So when they send their picture, it has got a message to the government of Iran: Whether you put pressure on us or not, we’re going to stand for our right and we’re going to [defend] our own identity. It is dangerous for Iranian women, but when the government of Iran put pressure on them, these women, you know, need their own platform and they get more strong and brave to speak out.”
On the story of a father encouraging his daughter to take a photo without a hijab
"When they send their picture, it has got a message to the government of Iran: Whether you put pressure on us or not, we’re going to stand for our right and we’re going to [defend] our own identity."
“You see, these are the stories that I really wanted to let the world know about it. Because all you see through Western media is just, you know, women are being a victim, or all you see through Iranian state TV is just women in black. But this is the real face of Iran – this is the hidden face of Iran, and this is the face of Iran which the government of my country want to hide it, want to ignore it, want to deny it. But when you go to My Stealthy Freedom, you will see the happy face of Iran, the strong women inside Iran, and their demand is being denied by the government, but they are standing side-by-side. There are even some pictures from women who are wearing headscarf and saying that ‘We believe in hijab, but we hate compulsory hijab.’”
On her dream for Iran as a place where women can choose whether to wear the hijab
“That’s why I ask President Rouhani that when you’re promising Iranians outside Iran and inviting them to come back to Iran, there are a lot of people who went back to Iran, but they were arrested. And I myself, if I want to go back to my own country, I won’t even be allowed to live there with my mother. Why? Because I want to be free, and my mother, you know, wears headscarf – she is free, but we don’t have the same freedom. But Iran should be for both of us – for me and my mother. For me and those people who even believe in hijab, but this is impossible because all the government – whether they’re conservative, whether they’re moderate, whether they’re reformists – they don’t want to talk about a simple demand: freedom of choice.”
On the danger the women in Iran face for sending photos to My Stealthy Freedom
"This is a time that women of Iran know that they put themselves in danger, but they want to talk about their own rights as well.”
“These women who are sending their pictures to My Stealthy Freedom, these are mature enough and they live inside Iran. And as I said before, these women have been suffering for more than 30 years. And whether they send their pictures to me or not, they’re facing troubles in the street. And I have to say that this is a tactic that Iranian government wants to use it ‘Don’t speak out. Why? Because we’re going to put more pressure on you.’ But this is not true. Iranian government are really worried about, you know, pressure – international pressure. That’s why they sit down with their own so-called ‘great fatan’ or enemy to talk about nuclear deal. So this is a time that we have to talk about women deal, about women’s right. And this is a time that women of Iran know that they put themselves in danger, but they want to talk about their own rights as well.”
This segment aired on November 17, 2015.
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