“In the 21st century, in my country Iran, if you remove this hijab and you walk unveiled in public, then you will be a criminal in the eyes of your Union government,” says journalist and activist Masih Alinejad, while calmly uncovering her head in front of a camera.
The founder of the women’s rights anti-hijab movement #WhiteWednesdays, Alinejad, like several people on Twitter, is angry.
On August 27, a 20-year-old Iranian woman, Saba Kord Afshari, was sentenced to 24 years in prison by Tehran’s Revolutionary Court on charges of spreading prostitution, spreading propaganda against the state and propagating dangerous assembly and collusion.
Her crime? She filmed a video of herself walking in public without a hijab.
Afshari and her mother, Raheleh Ahmadi, are prominent members of a movement that protests against the characterisation of a woman keeping her head uncovered as indecent and sinful.
“The government of Iran is scared of its own women who dare to challenge their compulsory hijab because they wrote their ideology on our bodies, on women’s bodies,” says Alinejad, naming ten other #WhiteWednesdays activists who are in prison, calling them the Rosa Parks of Iran.
Launched in 2017, #WhiteWednesdays encourages women to post videos of themselves walking without the hijab in public. In two years, Alinejad has received over 500 videos, even from women in Saudi Arabia, where, too, the hijab is compulsory.
The movement, however, has proved costly for the journalist – she has been unable to visit her home in Iran since 2009 for fear of arrest.
Once a progressive country where educated women wore Western-style outfits and mingled freely with men, Iran changed after the 1979 revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini. A revival of extremist Islamic laws put clerics in the government and took the country back by decades in terms of personal freedoms.
Still, despite brutal punishment, there have been consistent voices against the government.