In Iran, women and girls in recent weeks have been removing their veils, waving them in the air like flags of freedom. With this gesture, they’re staging a nonviolent protest against the mullahs’ regime and the law, imposed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, that requires women to wear the hijab.
The campaign started just before the New Year, as part of a larger anti-government protest, after a photo of a young woman, dressed in black and silently waving her white hijab on the end of a stick, went viral. That young woman was Vida Movahed, a 31-year-old mother of one, and the image of her bravery inspired many of Iran’s women to join her in solidarity and protest.
Vida Movahed took off her headscarf on Enghelab Street in Tehran. “Enghelab” is the Farsi word for revolution, so the movement she inspired was soon dubbed “The Girls of Revolution Street.” Day by day, with the help of social media, the movement has grown. There had been seeds of protest before, most notably in the online social movement My Stealthy Freedom, in which Iranian women shared images of themselves without the compulsory hijab. And online activist and exiled Iranian Masih Alinejad had started the hashtag #WhiteWednesdays to protest the forced hijab. But the hijab-waving of Vida Movahed brought that movement from the Internet to the streets, at great personal risk for those who dare to participate.
Despite being jailed and tortured, and having members of their families intimidated and persecuted, these women are persisting in their battle against a totalitarian regime.
It has been the quietest uprising Iran has probably ever seen, and it may end up being the most effective. More than two months into the revolt, the anti-hijab protests are still spreading, from Tehran to Mashhad, Esfahan and Shiraz. Every day on social media, more pictures are emerging of courageous women across the country, waving their veils in the air. Despite being jailed and tortured, and having members of their families intimidated and persecuted, these women are persisting in their battle against a totalitarian regime; they continue to remove the most visible symbol of their oppression.
I follow these protests on Twitter, almost obsessively, tweeting images I receive on the messaging service Telegram, retweeting stories and calls for support. I do this not only because I am inspired by the courage these women are exhibiting but also because they are doing what I was unable to do on my own.
Two years ago, I spent almost a month in Iran, covering the parliamentary elections and reporting from a country that I’d heard so much about but never seen. I immediately fell in love with the place. I felt at home there, culturally, and the soul of the Iranian people touched my own. As my project drew to a close, I found myself hesitant to leave. Iran is under sharia law, so while visiting there, I wore the compulsory hijab wherever I went. As a Western woman, I felt uncomfortable and out of place in the veil. It’s not that I oppose religious head coverings — I am an observant Jew and would cover my hair if I were to get married. I was uneasy because I knew I would be severely punished if I removed the veil. So I didn’t remove it. Even though I may’ve had a privileged position as a foreign journalist from a country with diplomatic ties to Iran, I did nothing to help a cause I truly believe in, I did not risk my own safety in any way. I wore the compulsory hijab because I was told to wear it, and I didn’t say a word.
I think about that today, watching the images and videos of Iranian women waving their veils in the wind. They do not have a Swedish passport or a ticket out, they know they are risking incarceration or worse, and still, they are standing up and speaking up for what they know to be true. It is the most astounding act of bravery and feminism I have ever seen. I stand in awe of each and every one of them, and if I know anything for sure, it is that anyone who calls herself a feminist needs to speak up for these women and stand by their side as they rise up against tyranny.
Today is March 8, International Women’s Day, and the Girls of Revolution Street have pledged to take to the streets of Iran in a nonviolent protest. Using the hashtags #GirlsOfRevolutionStreet and #WhiteWednesdays, they’ve asked people around the world to support their cause. Their goal is to gain the freedom to choose — it’s really is as simple as that.
Women’s Day is meant as an occasion to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women all over the world, and there is no greater achievement than the one taking place in the Islamic Republic of Iran at this very movement. We owe these women our support and our outrage. We owe it to them to remember their names, and the names of those who turn their backs on their struggle, and we owe it to ourselves to remember what Women’s Day and feminism are all about.
Please speak up for the Girls of Revolution Street today, in any way you can. Do it for Vida Movahed; do it because you share the basic human yearning for freedom.
As Western feminists, we cannot be blinded by the comfort of our own circumstances; we cannot ignore the heroic women of Iran who are fighting for basic rights and freedoms that we too often take for granted. They are risking their lives, and their fight is ours, as ours is theirs — that is the very definition of sisterhood.
So please speak up for the Girls of Revolution Street today, in any way you can. Do it for Vida Movahed; do it because you share the basic human yearning for freedom; do it for all those whose names we will never know.