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.

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By Masih Alinejad and Roya Hakakian April 7

Masih Alinejad is the author of “The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran” and the founder of the #WhiteWednesdays campaign in Iran. Roya Hakakian is co-founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center and author of the memoir “Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran.”

In an interview for the April issue of Vogue Arabia, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said, “To me, the hijab means power, liberation, beauty and resistance.” As two women who once lived with the mandatory hijab in Iran, we hope to bring another perspective to this complex matter by describing our experiences.

There are two vastly different kinds of hijabs: the democratic hijab, the head covering that a woman chooses to wear, and the tyrannical hijab, the one that a woman is forced to wear.

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As an Iranian woman in exile, I worry about my safety every single day

  • Masih Alinejad
  • Tuesday 9 April 2019

My childhood was spent learning about the exploits of “Shahid Bakeri” and “Shahid Hemmat”, Revolutionary Guard martyrs in the eight-year war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Every year, from primary school onwards, I cried for their heroic and selfless sacrifices.

Looking back, I now realise that I, and millions of children like me, were brainwashed to admire the Sepah — as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is often referred — for their war efforts. 

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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.

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By  Masih Alinejad

With the U.S. pullout from the nuclear deal, Iran will soon face renewed economic sanctions, compounding a crisis that has seen its currency go into freefall. On top of that, the Trump administration has signaled its readiness for political and perhaps even military confrontation with the Islamic Republic. These are very real pressures, but I would argue that they don’t threaten the ruling mullahs nearly as much as a growing domestic development: the prospect of unveiled Iranian women.

The Islamic Republic’s key vulnerability has always been its oppression of women. Since coming to power in 1979, the theocracy has imposed compulsory hijab laws, requiring women to securely wrap their heads in scarves in public. Over the past four years, however, with little help or notice from Western powers pressing the regime on other fronts, Iranian women have countered the most visible symbol of clerical rule. They have begun to remove their headscarves in unprecedented acts of civil disobedience, fostering a crisis of self-confidence for the regime.

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