Shaparak Shajarizadeh, named by the BBC as one of the 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2018, is part of a growing wave of activists pushing back against Iran’s compulsory hijab law and participating in protest campaigns known as #WhiteWednesdays and #TheGirlsofRevolutionStreet.

Shajarizadeh was arrested three times in 2017 for removing her headscarf in public, and jailed in both Shahr-e Rey and Evin prisons. Shajarizadeh fled to Turkey where she was later reunited with her son. While there, she learned she had been sentenced to 20 years in prison (with 18 years of which was suspended but has now been reinstated). She and her son are now living in Toronto. Her lawyer, prominent human rights advocate Nasrin Sotoudeh, was convicted of national security crimes in March 2019 and given lengthy jail sentence for defending women anti-compulsory hijab protesters.

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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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