By Madison Kemp
Labeled as the quietest protest in Iran, Vida Movahed, a thirty-one year-old mother, stood on a large utility box on Tehran’s Enghelab Street and removed her hijab that, by Iranian law, all women are required to wear. She waved it around alone, for an hour, as passerbys walked beneath her.
There is a movement growing amongst the women of Iran to defy authorities by removing their head scarves. Women have been removing their hijabs in the street, attaching them to poles, and waving them like flags. Some even post their deficiency on social media. The protests, going head to head with Iran’s strict hijab laws, sparked a social media movement around the hashtag, “Girls of Enghelab Street,” inspiring other women to commit similar acts. “Enghelab” means revolution and it is also the name of the street where Movahed’s silent protest occurred.
More than 30 women have been arrested for these types of objections since December. Though many have been released, unfortunately, sentences for dress code violations tend to involve a few hundred dollars in fines or a couple months in jail, and oftentimes, even beatings. The laws requiring the head covering went into effect in 1978-79, amidst the Iranian Revolution, when leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini mandated a dress code for all women after starting puberty. The laws, which had previously required women to wear loose clothing down to their legs, were supported by the new regime’s desire to control the populace.
While protesters grow by the dozens, Iran’s government has taken notice of their tireless persistence. On Thursday, March 8, the planned protests to go along with International Women’s Day were shut down by heavy police presence on the streets of Tehran. In fact, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (and dictator) recently said in a tweet, “By promoting modest dress (#hijab), #Islam has blocked the path which would lead women to such a deviant lifestyle.” By definition, deviant: “departing from usual or accepted standards, especially in social or sexual behavior…” He then finished his tweet with, “Hijab is a means of immunity not restriction.”
The night before International Women’s Day, Iranian women started the “We Are Equal” hashtag, sharing their accounts of harassment and discrimination. “When I was in high school, a man tried to harass me in the street. I started shouting and two women approached me telling me to keep silent for the sake of my reputation,” Iranian journalist Nahid Molavi posted on Twitter.
The hijab has been one of the most visible symbols of the Islamic republic. For many, in an opinionated, evolving generation that is more educated and accepting, such restrictions are oppressive and have proven to not be tolerated. “I feel optimistic about this moment,” Molavi said. “There are people like me who won’t turn back.”