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Iran’s ‘Girls of Revolution Street’ risk imprisonment to protest mandatory hijab

A new spate of Iranian anti-hijab protests picked up steam after this image of protester Vida Movahed, taken Dec. 27, 2017, went viral.
A new spate of Iranian anti-hijab protests picked up steam after this image of protester Vida Movahed, taken Dec. 27, 2017, went viral. Salampix/ABACAPRESS.COM

Every Wednesday, images of Iranian women, hair uncovered and hijabs held aloft, pop up on social media.

They’re the result of a social media campaign, led by New York-based journalist and activist Masih Alinejad, that aims to end Iran’s mandatory hijab dress code, imposed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The movement was initially called “My Stealthy Freedom,” named for the website and social media accounts used to publish photos and videos of defiant protesters.

Last year, however, Alinejad began encouraging women to share photos and videos of themselves holding up their hijabs using the hashtag #whitewednesdays.

“We are fighting against the most visible symbol of oppression,” Alinejad told Reuters earlier this month. “These women are saying, ‘It is enough — it is the 21st century and we want to be our true selves.’

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“These people are not fighting against a piece of cloth. They are fighting against the ideology behind a compulsory hijab,” she said, calling the movement the “true face of feminism.”

The campaign picked up steam just before the New Year, after a photo of one particular woman, dressed in black and silently waving her white hijab on the end of a stick, went viral.

The protester in the now-iconic photo was later identified as Vida Movahed, 31, a mother of one. Her public protest took place on Dec. 27, a day before broader anti-government protests erupted across Iran.

In the meantime, the anti-mandatory-hijab protest movement was quickly given a catchy, new name — “Girls of Revolution Street.”

WATCH: At least 21 killed in Iran’s anti-government protests

At least 21 killed in Iran’s anti-government protests
At least 21 killed in Iran’s anti-government protests

Movahed was arrested before being released in late January, according to Tehran-based human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Sotoudeh, 54, knows a thing or two about taking on the Iranian orthodoxy herself. Her work representing activists, dissidents and journalists has attracted the ire of Iranian authorities for years.

In 2010, she was jailed after being accused of spreading propaganda and threatening national security. She then angered authorities further by refusing to wear a hijab while in prison.

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Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh photographed in the garden of her office on Dec. 9, 2014 in Tehran, Iran.
Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh photographed in the garden of her office on Dec. 9, 2014 in Tehran, Iran. Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images

Sotoudeh told Global News that she isn’t opposed to women wearing the hijab, but believes it should be up to them to choose.

“These women who take to the street and remove their head coverings are women who, above all else, want to be able to choose what they wear,” Sotoudeh said in a written response in Farsi. “They are tired of being forced to cover their heads.”

The punishments for these protests range from fines to imprisonment. One of Sotoudeh’s clients, a 32 year old named Narges Hosseini, is facing up to 10 years imprisonment. Authorities accused her of abetting prostitution and immoral behaviour.

Sotoudeh says her client has repeatedly turned down the chance to apologize in court in exchange for possible leniency because she feels she isn’t guilty of anything.

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Protester Narges Hosseini holds up her white headscarf to protest Iran’s mandatory hijab laws, in this undated photo.
Protester Narges Hosseini holds up her white headscarf to protest Iran’s mandatory hijab laws, in this undated photo. Center for Human Rights in Iran

There have been some suggestions that the Iranian government might be prepared to listen to women’s concerns.

Earlier this month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s office released a survey, compiled three years ago, which showed that nearly half of respondents — who included both men and women — were in favour of giving women the right to choose.

READ MORE: Here’s why Iranian men are taking photos wearing hijabs

So is it possible that Rouhani might be sympathetic to the women’s cause?

“I really do not know. If he wants to treat women more fairly, he should pay more urgent attention to this matter,” Sotoudeh said.

While it remains to be seen whether Rouhani’s move to publicly acknowledge the issue leads to anything more concrete, Sotoudeh is in no doubt that the protesters’ bravery will eventually bear fruit.

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“All over the world, change has come from the efforts of protest, and lives have been transformed,” she said. “There is no reason why our lives cannot be changed by the force of our will.”