Meet Masih Alinejad, promoter of white Wednesday in Iran (pics)

By Muyiwa Olayinka

The power of social media to make a change

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Masih Alinejad

Iran was a secular state just like Turkey that maintained its secularity presently. Many Iranian women wore Western-style outfits, including miniskirts and short-sleeved tops.

It was possible during the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Shah of Iran from 1941 to 1979, who maintained a pro-Western foreign policy and fostered economic development in Iran.

But the 1979 revolution by the spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini put a stop to the pro western life styles.

The Islamic Republic of Iran was declared after the successfull revolution of 1979.

Women were not only forced to cover their hair in line with a strict interpretation of Islamic law on modesty, but also to stop using make-up and to start wearing knee-length manteaus. More than 100,000 women and men took to the streets to protest against the law in 1979, and opposition to it has never gone away.

A female journalist Masih Alinejad has been resisting this law through her Facebook community, My Stealthy Freedom, Alinejad has been encouraging Iranian women to post photos of themselves without the mandatory hijab, or veil, to protest the restrictive policies of the Islamic government.

Since she started the page in May 2014, it has garnered over 897,000 likes.

She’s been admiringly profiled in Vogue and fêted by the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. But at the same time, she’s been slandered by Iranian domestic media, leaving her in the unique bind of being a powerful voice for Iranian women while being unable to set foot on Iranian soil.

Alinejad grew up in Iran — not in Tehran, but in a small village called Ghomikola, and was forced to wear a veil from the day of her birth. She was imprisoned at 19 for student activism protesting the regime’s human rights record, was released early to give birth to her son, and moved to the U.K. in 2009 to study journalism at Oxford Brookes University.

She now lives in Brooklyn and works at Voice of America, the official broadcast institution of the U.S. government, alongside Iranian-American satirist and journalist Saman Arbabi. Arbabi’s news show “Parazit,” is helping Alinejad create a 15-minute weekly video series called “Tablet” based on the My Stealthy Freedom community.

It is common on Wednesdays to see Iranain women wearing white as a symbol of protest, discarding their hijabs.

Using the hashtag #whitewednesday, citizens have been posting pictures and videos of themselves wearing white headscarves or pieces of white clothing as symbols of protests.

In the three years that it has been running, My Stealthy Freedom has received more than 3,000 photos and videos showing women without their heads covered.

While pictures posted on My Stealthy Freedom sites are usually taken in secret to avoid being caught by the anti Democratic in Iran, #whitewednesday gives women a platform to demonstrate in public.

Ms Alinejad says she is amazed by the demonstrations of courage – some women have sent in videos of themselves walking the streets without headscarves altogether.

“When I expressed my concern about [one contributor’s] safety, she replied that she would rather jeopardise her job than continue living under this oppression that the Iranian women have endured for the last 38 years.”

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The campaign has cut across generational boundaries

For Ms Alinejad, the project is a labour of love. She runs the campaign herself, with occasional help from a small number of volunteers, and sometimes stays up all night getting the videos up online.

Most of the pictures and videos come from inside Iran, but Ms Alinejad has also had contributions from Saudi Arabia (where the headscarf is also compulsory) and further afield, including Europe and the US.

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Women around the world, including non-Muslims, have shown their support

One woman in Afghanistan wrote about her admiration for the campaign and its participants, even though she herself was too frightened to post a photo without a hijab.

Headscarves are not mandatory by law in Afghanistan, but many girls and women are forced by their families to wear them.

So if you visit Islamic Republic of Iran or an Arab woman wearing whites on Wednesday, don’t look any further, it is a subtle protest against compulsory and oppressive law of wearing head scarves or hijabs.

Contributions from BBC and Huffpost

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