After the 1979 revolution in Iran, women have been forced to wear the hijab in public. Back then, more than 100,000 women and men took to the streets to protest against the law and opposition to it has never gone away. In 2018, 112 women were arrested in Iran for defending women’s rights, many for peacefully protesting against Iran’s mandatory hijab law.
On 8 March 1979, more than 100,000 women gathered on the streets of the Iranian capital to protest against the new Islamic government’s compulsory hijab ruling, which meant that women would henceforth be required to wear a headscarf when away from home. The protest was held on International Women’s Day, and the images show women from all walks of life — nurses, students, mothers — marching, smiling, arms raised in protest.
While Western activists defend the right of Muslims to wear the veil, Iranian women are fighting for a bigger cause: choice.
The revolution that swept through Iran 40 years ago ruptured all diplomatic ties between Iran and the United States. This we know all too well. But another bond, one between Iranian feminists and their American counterparts, was also ruptured, which, unlike the other, occurred in virtual anonymity.
In March 1979, days after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini rose to power, the American feminist icon Kate Millett traveled to Tehran. On March 8, Millett looped arms with fellow women demonstrators to protest against Khomeini’s proposal to reinstitute a mandatory dress code for women, the hijab. If there were a moment that could stand for a perfect microcosm of all that was right about Iran then—and for all that was about to go wrong—it was that moment in March. Veiled women, alongside unveiled women, were throwing their fists into the air, demanding gender equality. When reporters asked the veiled women what they were protesting, since they themselves wore the veil, they unanimously said they objected to the eradication of choice.
Masih Alinejad is the founder of the My Stealthy Freedom movement. At Chicago Ideas Week, she shared the story of how she was banned from her home country of Iran for simply being and celebrating herself, and how she was able to overcome to stand in strength—instead of fear—today.