One chilly evening in February, I was walking down the street in Tehran with my sister when I suddenly realised it was Wednesday. I was wearing a hijab – the compulsory dress code imposed by Ayatollah Khomeini on Iranian women. It happened to be white.
Impulsively, I took it off and stood there while my sister took a picture. I was careful to keep my face turned away – for I can be arrested if I am identified. Passers-by mostly ignored me but many smiled, and some said, “bravo,” quietly.
#WhiteWednesdays is a cultural girl code that was launched last year by my icon, the feminist journalist Masih Alinejad, who founded the online movement ‘My Stealthy Freedom’ to protest the mandatory dress code for women in Iran. I sent Masih my photo and she posted it on her Instagram page with her watermark (facing page), where I am proud to see it among several other such photos of rebellion against the government’s sexist policies.
Iran was once one of the most progressive societies in the world renowned for its intellectual and cultural prowess. The Persian civilization is one of the oldest in the world, and has contributed immensely to human knowledge in science and arts. Our mothers were brought up in a time when women had equal personal freedoms: they could wear anything they wanted, marry whoever they wanted, and live the life of their own choice.
But, since 1979, the Islamic government has stripped us of our freedoms and made us prisoners of its own agenda. Women have to keep themselves covered head to toe, and wear a hijab and coat at all times in public. We aren’t allowed into football stadiums, or to ride motorcycles. Though women contribute as much to the system as men – my mother is a professor, I am a hospitality professional and my sisters are equally qualified – we are considered second-class citizens of our own country.
Our men support us – they are also aggrieved to see their friends, mothers and sisters struggling with insane rules every day. We resent the Islamic dress code. We resent that we are forced to learn Arabic because it is the language of the Quran. We resent Arabs for their influence in our lives and the way the conflicts in Palestine and Syria drain Iran’s resources. We resent Islam itself – we are Muslim by force, not by choice.
I believe religion is the biggest problem for women, and I refuse to pray. Iranians are an inherently kind, intelligent and self-aware people – but anything that is forced on us only makes us hate it. Just like the hijab.
Until I was 17, I dressed up like a boy and kept my hair short to avoid wearing the hijab. Now, at 24, I am forced to. But I take it off when I travel abroad. I have been to Turkey, Azerbaijan and India, and I dress up in the most modern clothes there, my hijab tucked in my bag, to be taken out only when I return home.
But the resistance has begun. Another Iranian revolution is taking place. “They buried us, but they didn’t know that we were seeds.”
First Published: IST