International Women's Day 2016: How one selfie without a hijab sparked a women's rights movement in Iran

Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad has become a vociferous voice for Iranian women 


Heather Saul
Tuesday 08 March 2016 18:44 GMT
The first picture posted by Masih Alinejad
The first picture posted by Masih Alinejad (Facebook)

Two years ago, Masih Alinejad decided to post a picture of herself without her hijab on as she drove through Iran, a country where hijab is strictly enforced by morality police. In her caption, she wrote about how the morality police and fear of reprisal force women to comply with restrictive laws.

Alinejad had left Iran in 2009, but she wanted to open up a discussion with other women who had also enjoyed “stealthy moments of freedom” in a place where girls have to cover their hair from the age of seven and married women are not allowed to leave the country without their husband’s permission.

The “staggering” response to her post from women keen to share their own moments sparked a Facebook page called My Stealthy Freedom. This page rapidly morphed into an internationally recognised movement, with increasing numbers of women sharing their moments of ‘stealthy freedom’ on her site. Alinejad's page now has almost one million followers and a global audience, something she discussed when she was invited by Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg to speak in front of 3,000 Facebook employees about My Stealthy Freedom.

Now based in New York, she has become a voice for thousands of oppressed women through her movement, sharing the stories of women still living in Iran and the stories of actresses and even a news anchor who have fled after speaking out. Women still living in Iran have also bravely stepped up the campaign by filming themselves walking through the capital of Tehran with their hair uncovered and unveiling on social media.

The Independent has followed the work of My Stealthy Freedom over the past two years. The campaign has enjoyed a number of small victories, not least when the Iranian President was forced to acknowledge it after French journalists thrust a picture of an unveiled Iranian woman taken from it's Facebook page at him during a televised interview. Iranian law enforcers were also reportedly recently infuriated by “a growing trend of female drivers ditching their headscarves while driving”, which was attributed to My Stealthy Freedom.

The ramifications of Alinejad's activism and journalism for her personally have not been small; she says Iranian news outlets launched a smear campaign against her that included fake reports that she had been raped in London, in front of her son. She will not be able to return to see her family.

But while women are still forced to wear their hijab and continue to live under a number of repressive laws placing them in the control of the men in their lives, Alinejad believes there is still much work for to do.

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