Masih Alinejad is well-known in Iran, as well as throughout the world, not only for her writing but also for the people she writes about. Alinejad became popular for her unabashed, campaigning style of journalism. However, it was because of her stance on politics, as well as social issues within the country, that she was eventually forced into exile in 2009. During this time, Alinejad started an online movement titled My Stealthy Freedom.
According to Alinejad, “Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 women in Iran have had to cover their hair in public, but many Iranian women and men feel that wearing a hijab in public should be a personal choice. To address this issue we created a Facebook page where women from inside Iran could share photos of themselves not wearing their hijabs.” My Stealthy Freedom’s website is an archive of the photos and videos shared by these women, as well as the media coverage – both good and bad – that has been received from inside and outside Iran.
“We use our mobile phones as a weapon. We never see our real self in Iranian state media,” she said. “We don’t have a platform to walk about women’s rights issues. We use social media as our weapon.”
Before the 1979 Islamic revolution, many Iranian women wore Western-style outfits, including miniskirts and short-sleeved tops, but this all changed when the late Ayatollah Khomeini came in to power. As a result, women have been required for many years to wear loose-fitting clothing and a headscarf in public. Despite Tehran’s police chief announcing that the so-called morality police who patrol the capital would no longer automatically detain and punish women seen without the proper hijab head-covering in public, however, women are still being punished for improper dress code. Because of this, many women are afraid to walk without a hijab.
Born from My Steathy Freedom, Alinejad’s White Wednesdays movement is a relatively new initiative, starting after the May 2017 reelection of Rouhani when women took to the streets waving white hijabs like flags in protest of the compulsory hijab laws. While pictures posted on My Stealthy Freedom sites are usually taken in secret to avoid being caught by the authorities, #whitewednesdays gives women a platform to demonstrate in public.
On various social media platforms, #whitewednesdays has already attracted a considerable following. More than 200 videos were sent to Alinejad in the first two weeks – some of which already have 500,000 views. “This campaign is addressed to women who willingly wear the veil, but who remain opposed to the idea of imposing it on others… By taking footages of themselves wearing white, these women can also show their disagreement with compulsion,” Alinejad wrote in a post on the My Stealthy Freedom Facebook page.
Scores of both women and men have joined the White Wednesday campaign, posting videos and photos of themselves, explaining their reasons for joining and encouraging others to join in the movement as well.
“I’m so pumped up to be in this campaign,” one contributor says in a video. “I want to talk to you of my imprisonment… they imposed hijab on me since I was seven,” she says, shaking her headscarf loose, “while I never felt committed to it and won’t be.”
Alinejad said she hopes the demonstrations in the United States inspire women in Iran to assert their rights.
“The women of Iran can teach the women of the world what it is to resist,” she said. “We have to stand together, we have to stick together.”
With time, hopefully Alinejad’s efforts and the #WhiteWednesday movement will spark change for women to receive autonomy over their own bodies and hijabs.
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