Journalist Masih Alinejad has always been vocal against Iran’s compulsory hijab law despite not being able to visit the Islamic Republic for over a decade.
It was a picture of her thick, curly hair in the wind that propelled Iranian women to let their hair down years ago.
Even though she is not among these women participating in the anti-hijab protests in Iran, she is doing her bit by making their voices heard through her social media.
The recent protests against Iran’s strict hijab law come in the aftermath of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained for wearing tight trousers and a loose headscarf (hijab) by Iran’s morality police in Tehran. She fell into a coma and died last week in police custody.
Amini’s death has put pressure on Iran amid widespread protests and global condemnation. At least seven people have been killed since protests broke out in Iran following Amini’s death, reports BBC.
Iranian women are defying the hijab mandate by chopping off their hair and burning their headscarves in public.
Alinejad is using her reach to spread the protest videos and highlight the alleged police brutality against the citizens in Iran.
Who is Iranian-American journalist and activist Masih Alinejad? How did she encourage women to resist compulsory hijab?
Let’s take a closer look:
Who is Masih Alinejad?
Born in Ghomikola village in northern Iran’s Mazandaran province in a poor, deeply conservative family, Masih Alinejad was only two at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
A few years after the revolution, the hijab was made compulsory in Iran.
Alinejad, who has been in exile for over a decade now, has always been an advocate for the rights of Iranian women.
She has been a rebel even in Iran. When Alinejad was an 18-year-old college student, she was arrested for printing political pamphlets critical of the Iranian government.
She underwent harsh police interrogation for weeks and somehow escaped a five-year prison sentence, as per Scroll.
Married and divorced in her early 20s, she lost custody of her son due to Iran’s laws.
She worked as a political reporter at a liberal Persian newspaper and exposed several corruption scandals in Iran, reports Foreign Policy.
In 2003, Alinejad questioned then president Mohammad Khatami on why he did not congratulate Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
A cornered Khatami responded by downplaying Ebadi’s achievements and Alinejad emerged as the woman who embarrassed the president on a global stage, as per Scroll.
“As a woman journalist, if you ask any questions they don’t like, they attack you not because of your opinions, but because of your sexuality,” Alinejad told Scroll.
“I have been named a prostitute, a whore; I have been accused of having sexual relations with members of parliament. They say these things every time you are successful, critical or brave,” she added.
The fight against compulsory hijab
It was accidental.
Her fight against the mandatory hijab began when in 2014 Alinejad posted a picture on Facebook showing her joyfully running in London with the wind in her hair.
The women in Iran praised her image, saying how they were envious of her freedom.
Alinejad then posted more pictures of her bare hair but these were taken in Iran stealthily. She asked women to do the same and share their unveiled pictures and thus began the campaign ‘My Stealthy Freedom’.
Alinejad has been behind several anti-hijab campaigns much to the ire of the Iranian dispensation.
Alinejad’s ‘White Wednesdays’ campaign urges women to wear white headscarves or white clothes as a symbol of protest against Iran’s mandatory hijab law. The hashtag White Wednesdays has been used by several women to express their dissent against the hijab rule.
Alinejad who shares these videos on her social media platforms, says Iranian women, “are taking the lead themselves, they don’t need me, they just needed a platform… and I provided them with that,” BBC reported.
Even though people inside Iran can face strict consequences for communicating with Alinejad, she says they continue to do so, Jewish Insider reported.
In a video shared by the journalist, a woman can be seen baring her hair and swirling her headscarf.
“I received this video from Saghez the city that Mahsa Amini was born. The woman says: I am also 22 years old, like (Jina) Mahsa. The government filtered Instagram, restricting internet & killing people in the streets but they cannot kill our hope and our dreams,” she captioned the video.
Women are fighting back through these acts of civil disobedience. They are challenging the regime by sharing their pictures and videos without hijab, of them dancing and singing in public.
Alinejad also runs ‘Let Us Talk’ social media campaign to spread awareness about women forced to wear hijabs in Iran and Afghanistan.
“Iranian women have always been brainwashed,” Alinejad told The Hindu.
“Their hair and their identity have been taken hostage because this is how the government controls society,” she elaborated.
With inputs from agencies