Enforced hijab in Iran and burkini ban in France are both about one issue only, says My Stealthy Freedom founder

A woman's right to choose sits at the heart of the debate around both, says the leader of the biggest social movement against enforced hijab in Iran 

Heather Saul@heatheranne9
Saturday 20 August 2016 16:32
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Nice is the latest French city to ban the burkini
Nice is the latest French city to ban the burkini

The biggest social movement against enforced hijab in Iran and the banning of burkinis on local French beaches both demonstrate one key issue at the centre of each - the freedom of choice.

In Iran, women have to cover their hair in all public places. In France, women have been effectively prohibited from covering up after the mayor of Cannes banned full body swimsuits from beaches in the city. Nice soon followed suit and other French towns are reportedly considering whether to act too. While the stances in Iran and France present polar opposite positions on Islamic clothing, neither provides the choice to wear it that should be a fundamental right.

Masih Alinejad’s My Stealthy Freedom campaign has showcased women across Iran who share with her pictures of themselves in public, enjoying moments of ‘stealthy’ freedom with their hair uncovered.

The campaign has grown steadily over two years and her page now has one million followers. In July, it attracted international attention once again when men stood in solidarity with their wives, sisters and mothers by sharing pictures of themselves in hijabs under the hashtag #meninhijabs.

Speaking to the Independent during a Facebook Live, Ms Alinejad said the controversy surrounding the ban on burkinis signifies how voiceless women are in Iran, where a child is obliged by law to wear a hijab from the age of seven but this will rarely make a news story.

Ms Alinejad said the key aspect in both cases is that women are not being allowed to dress of their own volition, whether that be by covering up or showing their hair and body.

The issue in France has dominated news internationally. For this reason, she says her campaign focuses specifically on Iran in order to give women there a platform from which to speak.

“I am for freedom of choice,” she said. “I know that these days there is a lot of media coverage about those women who fight to have the choice to wear the hijab in the United States of America and in France, and they are being heard.

“I think their campaign is strong enough, so I am here to talk about those people who do not have any freedom in their homeland. If a seven-year-old girl says no to the hijab, she won’t get an education. You won’t be able to go to school, you won’t be able to get a job. You won’t be able to live in your own country.

“Those people in France have the media here, they have freedom of speech here - they can be heard. A Barbie wearing hijab can make news for CNN. But millions of seven-year-old girls in Iran - they are not news. […] So my focus is about women inside Iran.”

Ms Alinejad, who lives in New York, pointed to growing anti-Muslim rhetoric in the US and how this could affect her mother, who does wear a hijab, if she came to visit her.

“I don’t want to get arrested in my home country [for not wearing a hijab] and I don’t want my mum to get kicked out [in the US] for wearing a hijab.

“I’m a campaigner against compulsory hijab. Our Facebook page has one million followers, which allows Iranian women inside Iran to take off their scarfs and express themselves about how it feels, or why they want to have freedom of choice.”

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