Sunday, March 8th, marks the international women’s day, and so it is a very good time to take a look on the status of women in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Last month, the 7th Geneva summit for Human Rights and Democracy, an event sponsored by a coalition of 20 NGOs chose Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and activist as the recipient of the women’s rights award.
Ms. Alinejad received this award because of her online movement and community, called my stealthy freedom. It all really is a very simple matter to the Western onlooker – the freedom in question is for women to choose whether they want to wear the Hijab, the traditional headscarf, or not – so it gather and publishes photos of Iranian women brave enough to break the Hijab laws in Iran.
It might seem trivial to some, but it is not. In a profile made on her, Alinejad explains that “Starting from age 7, women in Iran who choose not to wear the traditional Hijab face punishment like beatings, as well as ostracization. Posting the stories of those women presenting themselves uncovered in moments of quiet independence — thus the page’s reference to “stealthy freedom” — also serves the dual purpose of striking back against the broader unevenness of the playing field for Iran’s women, of which the Hijab represents but one piece.”
Women, Hijabs, Song and Sex
It depends of course on who you ask – because the Iranian regime often states that there aren’t any abuses of human rights in Iran, and since women’s rights are human rights, that answer is highly unacceptable.
It is possible to try to understand the woman experience of living in Iran. Sure, women can rise to high positions in the government, and can be found in universities and hospitals, but what about their basic freedoms?
Take for example the right to express themselves freely. If Iranian men are subject to limitations on their expression, the women have it harder – for example, they are currently in the middle of a debate between hardliners and moderates, on whether they can sing or not.
Other forms of expression include physical ones. Yes, Iran is a conservative country to say the least, but in that aspect, one that cherishes family life, for example. But a recent study done by universities in both Iran and the US, found that Iranian women cannot talk about their sexual life, even with their husbands: in fact, the study suggests – “overarching strategies women shared for managing their sex lives: complete silence, negotiation, asking for help, and sexual sacrifice”.
Still Not “Free At Last”
It is believed usually, that there is a great difference between attitudes in big cities such as Tehran, and small, more traditional places. But the acid attacks against women only 4 months ago, were carried at Isfahan, Iran’s 3rd largest city. If you remember, the Iranian regime declared that those attacks had nothing to do with the stricter Hijab enforcement laws that were being voted on in the Majlis, the Iranian parliament.
Let’s face it, Iranian women are being suppressed and persecuted in Iran. This is not a question or an opinion – it is a fact. Legally, women are not equal to men in an Iranian court nor are they equal in the eyes of such a patriarchal society led by a regime of male clerics. Perhaps that’s why Alinejad’s fan-page is so attractive to so many Iranian women. Uploading a picture without a Hijab is a “safe” way of protesting the oppressive nature of fundamental Islam.
But Ms. Alinejad is not against Islam, nor even against the Hijab itself – far from it. “My stealthy freedom” is about expressing frustration at the lack of freedom of choice, a freedom that is so easy to uphold in the West but that is nearly non-existent in Iran. Perhaps, one day, Iranian women will be able to achieve such a freedom: not a “stealthy” one but a freedom that will allow them to proudly choose how they want to live their lives in an Islamic country.