TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian women are risking punishment by taking pictures without their hijabs as part of a growing online campaign against the “oppressive law” and in show of solidarity with Western tourists who are required to follow the same laws while visiting Iran.
“The Islamic Republic demands even non-Muslims visiting Iran to wear the hijab. When compulsory hijab affects all women, then all women should raise their voice,” Masih Alinejad, the founder of the campaign, My Stealthy Freedom said.
Many international carriers have resumed flights to Iran after the UK, US and other nations lifted sanctions and declared the country as safe for travel, which has led to an influx of Western tourists to Iran.
Earlier this month, Air France cabin crew was asked to follow the strict rules of the Islamic Republic on hijabs on their flights to Tehran, which was met with great criticism. As a result, the airline has provided its staff with the option of opting out of flights to the Iranian capital if they do not wish to follow the rule.
Iran’s “morality police” patrol the streets to ensure women are dressed according to the dress code of the country. If women’s hair and bodies are not adequately covered, they could get arrested or fined.
The Iranian journalist who is now working in New York noted that “After decades of isolation, Iran after the nuclear deal is seen as a cool place to visit,” but even though “Iran is a beautiful country, it’s not heaven for women. As more people visit Iran, the women in particular will gain a sense of the issue.”
Ms Alinejad said she had received emails from female tourists from the UK, Belgium, Sweden and other countries saying they had felt uncomfortable being forced to wear the hijab on their holidays.
“I thought it would be easy (to wear the headscarf) but after two weeks, my opinion really changed,” a Belgian woman wrote. “I hated it every minute of the day.”
Another tourist said the restrictions made her “feel like a slaves”, while another woman wrote that she felt unable to express herself.
In response to these concerns, Alinejad urged Western tourists to share photos of themselves with the hashtag, #SeeYouInIranWithoutHijab. Iranian woman were soon to follow in their footsteps.
In two years, My Stealthy Freedom’s Facebook page has managed to attract almost a million followers. All the women whose pictures have been published have since left Iran.
According to Alinejad, Western women are at a lower risk of receiving punishment than Iranian women for joining her campaign. She said this is because “Iran wants to attract tourists” and so, “will turn a blind eye to discretions by them.”
She added that these restrictions imposed on women’s dress are a key part of the government’s “discriminatory laws” and should be opposed by Western politicians and diplomats visiting the country.
Despite the Iranian authorities labeling her as a heretic, whore and CIA operative for her activism, Alinejad continues to fight for women’s rights.
“I feel that we are raising awareness every day,” Alinejad said.
“Our campaign is having an impact inside Iran and even some politicians, including elected officials, agree with us that hijab should be a choice.”