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While U.S. Feminists Tout The Hijab As A Symbol Of Freedom, Iranian Women Are Jailed For Not Wearing It


While anti-government protests in Iran quickly died down, a quiet movement for women’s rights appears to be gaining steam in that country. It started when Vida Movahedi, a 31-year-old mother, peacefully removed her hijab on a busy Tehran street. Her photos went viral and re-opened the conversation over women’s rights and mandatory hijabs in Iran.

Since then, others have followed in Movahedi’s footsteps, publicly ditching their veils and posting photos of it online. Some of these women have been arrested and are facing up to ten years in prison simply for removing their hijabs.

These small acts of civil disobedience have resulted in the arrest of nearly 30 women, and Movahedi’s exact whereabouts are still unknown. Last week, President Hassan Rouhani appeared to respond, publishing a three-year-old study suggesting that nearly half of Iranian women opposed the country’s mandatory hijab law.

Rouhani’s motives for releasing the study are unclear. In light of mass demonstrations against the status quo, it’s convenient for him to portray himself as a reformist. But Rouhani hasn’t called for any changes to Iran’s mandatory hijab law, nor does he have the power to do so, given the country’s clerical rulers hold most of the power. Whatever his intentions, however, one thing is clear: Iranian women are demanding dignity and basic human rights. Women in the United States should lend their support.

The Role of the Hijab

In the era of Donald Trump, women in the United States have made wearing the hijab a symbol of resistance, feminism, and freedom. At the Women’s March, it’s become an icon of the movement.

In Iran, however, the hijab is quite the opposite. It’s required by law and a physical representation of the many ways women are discriminated against and oppressed. Women in Iran are banned from sports stadiums. They can’t marry or travel abroad without their male guardian’s permission.

They face widespread legal discrimination, and their testimony in court is worth only half of a man’s. When they find themselves victims of domestic violence, they’re advised on state TV to give their husbands a “foot massage” and to “kiss his feet.” Activists, the world has now seen, are treated as enemies of the state.

The irony of hijab in Iran versus in the United States is both strange and sad. A hijab can only be a symbol of freedom if women have the freedom to choose whether to wear it. Iranian women know this—it’s why so many are embracing a movement to have the option to take it off. But for some bizarre reason, feminists and the founders of the Women’s March don’t see their plight as worthy of their support.

Compared to in the United States, the situation for Iranian women is dire. As important as the #MeToo movement is, true feminists would look beyond themselves and ask which women are most in need of justice and how they can help.

Or in the least, they wouldn’t ignore an important movement like what’s happening in Iran, where by using the hashtags #GirlsOfRevolutionStreet and #WhiteWednesdays, more and more women are risking fines and jail to go without the veil. One of them, according to a video circulating on social media, is a mother who can hardly walk.

The Women’s March Is Silent—Again

Instead of expressing support, the Women’s March last week tweeted about lady Doritos, the Trump administration, and Macy’s decision to sell hijabs in the United States.

For starters, it’s unclear who is drawing fire at Macy’s for selling an item of clothing in a country where women get to choose what they wear (that detail was left out of The Huffington Post article they linked to in their tweet). But the fact that the Women’s March decided to wade into the topic of hijabs without mentioning what’s happening in Iran is a perfect example of how tone-deaf they are to the serious injustices women face across the world.

This is something Women’s March skeptics have come to know and expect. When Women’s March organizers hijacked International Women’s Day for an anti-Trump “Women’s Strike,” it was clear they’re more concerned about First World problems than human rights abuses against women internationally. Then, when Iranian women led the way in December’s anti-government protests, again, the Women’s March and their allies were silent.

We would be lucky to live in a world where the hijab is a true expression of freedom, despite a woman’s religious beliefs or country of origin. Until that happens, however, it would make sense to help Iranian women in their struggle to make it one.

As women in a First World country, we have privilege, we have knowledge, and we have power. There’s no excuse for refusing to use our voice. The Women’s March knows this, but instead, they choose silence.