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  • Cagla Bulut

#whitewednesdays – Iran’s different #metoo

Updated: Jun 9, 2019


While the mainstream media has reported frequently about the #metoo-movement, it seems like Iran’s #whitewednesdays-movement has never had its place in the news coverage.


The social media campaign #whitewednesdays was started by Brooklyn-based Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, who filmed herself unveiled on the streets of Iran and shared the content on her social media channels. Even if this act doesn't seem to be spectacular or shocking in the Western world, the journalist could have been arrested for it in Iran. Because the compulsory wear of headscarves is a law in the Islamic Republic.


White Wednesdays founder Masih Alinejad. Source: https://www.theguardian.com/global/2018/jun/03/the-wind-in-my-hair-one-womans-struggle-against-being-forced-to-wear-hijab

Since the beginning of the campaign, thousands of videos have been shared on social media channels. The recordings show women walking unveiled in parks, on streets, and at metro stations. Some of them demonstrate alone and film themselves, others have a friend or a family member filming them while they walk and protest.


The videos also show the reactions of other citizens. Most of them warn these women and order them to wear their hijab. Often these orders lead to threats to call the police, which would lead to an arrest.


An accompanying hashtag to the campaign is #mycameraismyweapon.

Filming their protests don't only help these women to share their protests online, but is also protecting them from physical abuse.


Even though the social media movement is "new" (since 2014), the opposition against the mandatory wear of headscarves has always existed.

Until 1979, before the Islamic Revolution women didn't have any restrictions concerning their clothing. But after the Revolution, Iran mandated that women must wear modest “Islamic attire”, which forces them to wear a headscarf.


Since the law had taken effect, citizens went on the streets and raised their voice against the dress code. But the situation hasn’t changed yet.


Tehran, 1979: 100,000 Iranian women protesting compulsory wear of headscarves by photojournalist Hengameh Golestan.

Quite the contrary, many women who got encouraged by Alinejad have gotten arrested, for going on the streets unveiled, filming themselves and sharing the videos on the internet.


Recently, two women, mum and daughter, Monireh Arabshahi and Yasaman Aryani have been imprisoned for handing out flowers unveiled on a metro, a women-only carriage, on the 8th of March 2019 (International Women’s Day) in Tehran.



Monireh Arabshahi and Yasaman Aryani. Source: https://eaworldview.com/2019/04/iran-daily-the-mother-daughter-arrested-handing-out-flowers/


Two other women, who got arrested in Iran are human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and British charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Their arrest gained the media’s attention, compared to many other arrests.


Sotoudeh represented Iranian opposition activists, amongst them women prosecuted for protesting against the country’s mandatory dress-code. She was arrested with spreading propaganda and insulting Iran’s supreme leader. Iran charged Sotoudeh of 38 years in prison and 148 lashes.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been accused of seeking to overthrow the government and has been sentenced to 5 years in prison.


What's next?


Even though a considerable number of Iran's population has always opposed the law and new movements have been emerging, a political change never happened. The regime has never softened the law and keeps on prosecuting its opposers.


International support for regime opposers in jail has taken place regularly. Last week, for example, IOHR, International Observatory of Human Rights, held a demonstration in front of the Iranian Embassy in London to support the #whitewednesday movement and to ask for the release of those imprisoned for opposing the regime.



IOHR director Valerie Peay and protesters at the #whitewednesdays demonstration in front of the Iranian Embassy in London. Peay holding cutouts of imprisoned Sotoudeh and Zaghari-Ratcliffe. © Cagla Bulut


Valerie Peay, director of IOHR, emphasized in an interview that the changes in Iran have not been of positive nature so far:


"What’s changed in Iran is that more and more people that have been incarcerated for the hijab. So there’s been a huge shift, even last year 119 women were taken, some have been released subsequently, some have not. But there’s been a huge crackdown."


Peay added, "And it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop and that’s why we thought that it’s really important to come out today and to show the women of Iran that

#whitewednesdays, wherever it’s Wednesday, we’re all standing up for them and remembering we should be standing up for women all over the world."


One hope-giving circumstance for future changes is the fact that on many shared #whitewednesdays videos men were walking with women and protesting against the oppression of women.

A male protester at the #whitewednesdays demonstration in London, Seth Farsides, said: "I've always believed in equality. I don't see it as a kind of man and female issue. I just think we should all look after each other."


So, maybe if this issue won't remain a female issue, but becomes an issue for everyone, a change will happen in Iran.

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