Masih Alinejad, founder of My Stealthy Freedom campaign, answers Euronews' questions on her fight against compulsory hijab in Iran.
You share on your website My Stealthy Freedom, as well as on social media, many videos of Iranian women removing their hijab. The videos you share demonstrate these women are very determined. But what do those videos say about Iranian society as a whole and about the country?
I’ve received videos from all corners of Iran, and one element of our movement against compulsory hijab that worries the Islamic Republic authorities is that we are not a uniquely Tehran-based phenomenon. In fact, I receive photos and videos from some of the most conservative cities (Qom and Mashhad) along with small villages. I have received videos from veiled women themselves together with their unveiled sisters saying they’re opposed to compulsion and respect each other as they are.
Our struggle is not just political but also cultural, we are challenging the male-dominated outlook, the patriarchy in the Iranian society. The underlying facet of all of these videos is the fact that Iranians are in favor of freedom of choice, they are in favor of choice, especially the younger generation.
What is the scale of the movement in Iran that you initiated? Can you estimate the number of women in Iran who do not want to wear the hijab? Is it a majority of Iranian women? Is it probable that many of them do not dare to remove it?
Such numbers are hard to come by in an authoritarian society like Iran where conducting impartial and reliable polls remains a formidable challenge. However, earlier this year, the government published an opinion poll from a few years ago (maybe 2014) in which half the respondents said they were opposed to the existing compulsory dress code for women. However, we believe that if such a poll were to be conducted today, the number of those opposed would be much greater because our campaign has changed the dynamics of the debate. Today, it is only the use of brute force that is keeping compulsory hijab in place.
How about the men in Iran? To your knowledge, how many of them support the women’s struggle against compulsory hijab?
Again, such statistics could still be a challenge to obtain. Yet, we are certain that quite a lot of men ardently support us and tell us, via email or other messaging that they are unhappy with the current state of affairs. We launched the #MenInHijab, a campaign designed to encourage men to show solidarity with women by urging them to send pictures of themselves wearing the veil or a headscarf. The campaign became an instant success with countless men sending us their veiled pictures as a gesture of solidarity with women.
Moreover, when Iran was gripped by the #GirlsOfRevolutionStreet phenomenon --whereby Iranian women would appear unveiled in main thoroughfares in Iran and wave a white shawl as their flag of protest -- we also saw men protecting the women from the grasps of the morality police.
Your movement is often described as a resistance against an oppressive state that forces women to wear the hijab. Is this description not a little too simple? Perhaps it is also Iranian society that is divided in this respect?
The Islamic Republic is a throwback to an era where oppressing women was normal. It goes against Iranian culture and post-World War 2 history. Islamic Republic ideology is designed to keep women hidden, in the background, unseen, under cover. That is why we have no women judges, no women Friday prayer leaders, no woman can be elected as president and women are not allowed into sports stadiums, women singers are banned. Iranian society has a diversity of opinions on the subject of compulsory hijab but the tide of history is against compulsion. Even the government’s own polls show a growing support for freedom of choice over the issue of hijab. Ultimately, this is not about a piece of cloth but about a woman’s worth, her dignity. If a woman cannot determine how to dress, how can she be a responsible person? If she cannot control how to cover her head how can she control what goes on inside her head? Iranian law says that a woman cannot get a job or travel outside the country without the express permission of her husband.
Our fight against compulsory hijab is just the first step. If we win this battle, the rest would be easy.
Your struggle is against compulsory hijab. What about countries where wearing a hijab or a niqab is totally or partially forbidden? Is it not also a violation of women’s freedom?
In the Islamic world and away from the glare of the Western media, both the niqab and the burka are controversial issues because these are seen as not Islamic but cultural impositions. Many Muslims regard these practices as extremes, or even backwards. It’s from what once was the outer fringes of Islamic world that we see these practices
In democratically elected Western countries, you have the freedom to freely debate and argue for your beliefs and vote on the issue. My understanding is that partial bans on niqab or hijab in such countries has been introduced for practical reasons such as public safety or security.
In Iran, such freedoms do not exist.
We remain firmly against government interference when it comes to women’s dress. We also were very vocal in that even during the Burkini ban in France.
However, niqab and burka are forms of male dominance over women, a way of treating women as property of men; a form of mutilation of identity. Personally, I’m against both the niqab and the burka and have received many messages from Afghan women who complain of the imposition of burka in Afghanistan.
_Masih Alinejad is the founder of My Stealthy Freedom campaign against compulsory hijab, a women’s rights activist, author and journalist. She writes and presents the weekly Tablet show on VOA._
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