Iranian women defy law, shed hijabs in public for 'Stealthy Freedoms' campaign
Published Friday, May 16, 2014 8:22AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 2, 2018 10:04AM EDT
Women in Iran are sharing compelling personal stories and stunning photos of themselves without their headscarves, as they throw their support behind a social media campaign that pushes back against a law that requires Iranian women to cover their hair in public.
The pictures, posted under the hashtag #mystealthyfreedom, feature women of all ages posing with their hair freely showing in different areas of the country.
Journalist Masih Alinejad collects and posts the photos to the "Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women" Facebook page. Since she created the page on May 3, it has garnered more than 223,000 likes as of Friday morning.
Alinejad, a political Iranian journalist now based in London, decided to create the page after she posted two photos of herself without the hijab to her own personal Facebook profile.
In one of the photos, she is running down a London street with her curly brown hair flowing in the wind. She added a comment about how the simple pastime always reminded her that women in her home country weren't free to do the same.
After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, it became illegal for women in Iran to leave the house without wearing a headscarf. The punishment for breaking the law ranges from small fines to detainment.
To accompany the photo, Alinejad wrote a comment that ended up sparking a lot of attention among her friends and fans back home.
'Every time that I run in London, feeling the wind in my hair, I remember that my hair is like a hostage in the hands of the Islamic Republic government,'" she translated the comment to CTVNews.ca in a phone interview from London.
She then posted a second photo of herself, driving down a road without a hijab, noting that as an Iranian woman she could create her own "moment of freedom" in privacy, when no one else is around.
"It's like 'stealthy freedom' … it's like a guilty pleasure," she said. She added that she was certain that there were other women in Iran who similarly enjoyed these private moments, and asked her followers if they also took photos of these secret "freedoms."
Alinjad said she was soon "bombarded" with responses from Iranian women and girls, who sent her pictures of themselves without their headscarves. She decided to collect the photos and give the women a platform to share their stories.
The level of defiance in each photo varies widely, with some women posing facing the camera and others with their backs turned to the lens. However, in each of the photos their hair is visible.
Many of the women share the stories behind the pictures, which Alinejad then translates into English.
In one picture a group of four young girls are seen dipping their feet into the water at the beach with their headscarves loosely hanging around their shoulders or from their necks.
In another photo a woman is seen sitting in the desert, her eyes closed and face tilted to the sun.
"It had been the very first time I had ever seen the desert. As (the) sun was rising in order to respect her beauty, I took my headscarf off so that she could see me beautiful too," explains the woman. "That feeling was great… I was fearless in the desert, with my head uncovered."
One woman submitted a photo of herself from when she was in the sixth grade and had taken off her headscarf to momentarily pose for a picture during a school trip.
"Suddenly our principal came about and I panicked and the photo got ruined," she said.
Alinejad said that while she's happy to have given a platform for Iranian women and girls to share their feelings with others, it saddens her at times to read the comments.
"The people are asking for basic rights… to feel the wind through their hair, walking shoulder-to-shoulder with their brothers without being forced to wear a scarf," she said.
In addition to women, she’s also heard from Iranian men who have written to her telling her that they feel for their wives and daughters who have to wear a headscarf when the weather becomes hot.
But the Facebook page and the photos have also come under heavy criticism. Alinejad said fundamentalists, conservative Iranian news agencies and some reformists who believe it's not yet the time to protest against the headscarf, have all criticized the page.
She has also come under personal attack, with some critics even accusing her in Iranian media of working for a foreign government. Alinejad -- whose past reporting on Iranian politics led to a smear campaign against her and her family and her eventual move to the U.K. -- is undeterred.
She insists she's not trying to start any type of political movement, instead she's simply reporting on the feelings and sentiments already held by many Iranian women.
"I'm a journalist, I'm doing my job," she said. "I'm reporting about what exists in Iran, I'm not creating anything."
She added that she's not against wearing the hijab, but believes that the choice must be left up to each individual woman.
And many of the women who've thrown their support behind the campaign agree.
One of the photos posted to the Facebook page shows a mother and daughter standing side-by-side, one wearing a headscarf and the other not.
"Everyone has the right to have freedom of thought; to choose their own beliefs," writes the daughter in the photo. "My mother is also entitled to choose her own way of clothing; and I want to be free to choose for myself. We must respect each other's opinions."