On September 10, 2000, I woke up with my heart racing and my mind running a million miles a minute, or so it felt that way (don’t question my memory, it’s freakishly that good). I spent the first half of the summer in Syria with my dad’s family and returned with a sinking feeling after what I had experienced. I knew I wasn’t going to be the same again. The little girl I saw in the mirror wasn’t so little anymore and more confused as the rose-coloured glasses I wore for so long started to darken into a black I didn’t know existed in this world. What happened that summer isn’t essential; what’s important is that I chose to cover my hair with a headscarf (aka hijab) as a result.

My choice was based on all the wrong reasons, starting with how society convinced me it would be my fault a man had zero self-control. It didn’t matter that I was still a child. The second reason was being told repeatedly that God only loved girls who wore a hijab, and I would be condemned forever to hell if I didn’t cover my hair. I held out for as long as I could, but the fear and anxiety in me were growing, and the little voice in my head kept repeating the word hell, hell, hell. I just wanted it to stop. It saddened me thinking at the time, believing even that my mom was going to hell because she didn’t wear a hijab. In 1994, I remember my cousin cried when her mom took it off for all five minutes when they visited us in Canada. Her mother ended up putting it back on for her daughter to stop crying about how she was going to hell. Regardless of my reasons, it was still my choice. Life is full of influences, and it would be naive to assume that your choices are without prejudice or influence.

Choice. It is a simple six-letter word yet so complex in the way it’s applied in theory and practice. It holds so much power when you own your choices and is weaponized when it is taken away from you. I’m privileged to have the right to make my own choices in life. I’ve made bad, good, wrong, and correct decisions, which privileged me because they were still my choices. I own these choices and the path I carve for myself in this life. Although, “choice” should be a right, not a privilege, and the only reason it’s a privilege today is that many people in this world still can’t make choices. Women make up most people who have had their voices and choices taken away. Some don’t even know what it feels like to make a choice. Let’s talk about the choice of hijab, but first, a disclaimer.

Islamophobes eat hijab for dinner

This post is not a space for the racist Islamophobes to spread their venomous hate toward the religion – Islam – and its people. Like all Abrahamic religions, Islam is beautiful and genuinely liberating if one follows it correctly. Again, the word “choice” is essential here. One of the main reasons Islam came to fruition was to free and protect the women from the sexism and patriarchy that led to their death – most times at birth – in the region we call Saudi Arabia today. If you have never read the Quran or had the pleasure of learning from knowledgeable Muslims, then I suggest you keep an open mind and keep your ill-formed opinions of Islam to yourself. You might feel tempted to say, “But Bin Laden…” and then I’ll say, “But mother-f*cking George Bush, Clinton, Obama, Derek Chauvin, Hitler, the Crusades, the UK, France, (OMG France, don’t even get me started), and the obliteration of Indigenous people in Canada and the US in the name of God…” We can go back and forth about whose devil is worse; however, that won’t get us anywhere. So, keep it down, you folks in the back.

A word to the champagne socialists: this isn’t your movement, so don’t hijack it and speak on our behalf. The perverse politics around women’s rights in the Middle East, specifically in Iran, have been going on for longer than you were conceived, let alone thought of. We have a voice; we can speak for ourselves. If you genuinely want to help:

  • Listen to the women (and men) suffering under their government’s regime.
  •  Give them space on your platform to tell their story in their words instead of telling it on their behalf.
  •  Share their art, voice, and posts without inserting your opinion.
  •  Join support groups, get involved in credible charities that directly support the victims
  •  Donate if you can
  •  Understand the difference between Islam and corrupt politicians. The latter exploit their people in the name of religion. There’s a difference as you, too, have those types of politicians in your backyard – need I remind anyone about the abortion laws in the US?

The hijab movement is not about hijab. The hijab is symbolic in this movement. It represents all women, their right to have full body autonomy and choose whether to wear a hijab, a hat, a headband, a dress, etc. If you had been paying attention, you’d have seen that there are women in other parts of the world fighting to wear a hijab. Unfortunately, the women fighting to take it off seems more fitting to the Islamophobic agenda, and so why would anyone notice the women dying to wear one? The fight is the same; power-hungry, sexist, misogynistic men deny women the right to choose what they wear or do with their bodies.

The purpose of the Hijab Movement
Instragram: follow @golfarahani

The revolution made her ugly

There’s nothing ironic about political leaders in Islamic countries controlling women’s rights. As I previously stated, Islam emerged to liberate women, but politics and religion are mutually exclusive. They cannot happen simultaneously without invoking havoc on its people and corruption on the politicians who attempt to mix the two. Take the US, for example, and the politicians who continue to deny women the right to choose by limiting – or even banning – their access to safe abortion and birth assistance. Recently, the US even banned books about women learning to code. All in the name of God, b!tch, please. To understand the Feminist Movement in the Middle East, specifically Iran, and the symbolic Hijab, we have to understand its history and where it all began.

Thus the regime has deprived Iranian women not just their present rights, but also of their history and their past

Azar Nafisi

In 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran emerged, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, an exile who returned and overthrew the Shah and his family when he became the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. There are many Islamic states and countries worldwide, and understandably, wanting to remove white colonialism and ideologies and reclaim independence is not an unreasonable ask. Take it from me, a fellow Algerian who bleeds independence and has strong words about the 135 years of torture, rape, and murders inflicted on Algerians. What’s unreasonable is letting the power get to your head and finding ways to manipulate and mutate religion to fit your disgusting agenda

The Pre-Islamic Republic of Iran was a progressive time for Iranian women. First, I want to stress that Islam and Sharia laws have existed in Iran since the 1500s. So when I say the pre-Islamic Republic of Iran, I’m referring to the creation of the political party, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Women were allowed post-secondary education after The University of Tehran opened in 1936, and they were finally granted the right to vote – in 1963 (The Iran Primer, 2016). The hijab law, however, has been teeter-tottering between do they have to wear it and do we give them a choice since before the 1900s (Mahmoudi, 2019). One minute they’re confined to segregated corners and mandated to cover up; the next, they’re allowed to go unveiled with their father’s permission (or any male representing their family if no father is present). Women in Iran and their rights have been victims of patriarchy since the dawn of time, whether objectified for the pleasure of the Persian-Era Royal family or repressed in their father’s homes with only a whisper to keep them company.

She did not want to be a revolutionary

She just did not want to be a revolutionary. The revolution made her ugly. It covered her. She had pretty hair that she had to hide. She had pretty legs that she had to cover up.

Moniro Ravanipour, These Crazy Nights
As of 2004, women like these earned almost 50% of Bachelors’ degrees awarded in Iran each year.
Julia Maudlin, Flickr CC (Mahmoudi, 2019)

Iranian women gained some traction in the political realm in 1989 under Rafsanjani’s Administration, giving them hope that they may bridge the equality gap after all. Women were granted the right to compete in international sports, and Rafsanjani’s ease of women’s mobility and control meant less harassment (The Iran Primer, 2016). Feminism and gender equality were gaining momentum, and freedom of choice and independence seemed to be right around the corner at the turn of the century. Following Rafsanjani and during President Khatami’s administration, women in politics went from being a mere dream to a reality, with 13 women elected to parliament (The Isan Primer, 2016)! Things were looking up until they weren’t…

The growing conservative majority in Iran’s parliament quashed any chance for women to continue the fight for equality and human rights. With each passing president following President Khatami, more and more women were being axed from political and social conversations. The ones who made it to parliament at one time were voted out, and the ones who ran for office were disqualified by the Guardian Council (The Iran Primer, 2016). Law enforcement officers and the morality police once again regained the confidence to crack down on disobedient women or protest the dress code, among other social controls. Iranian women today still need permission to travel or get a passport from their fathers or husbands. Their right to run for office is nothing but a smokescreen since they get disqualified almost immediately and face constant abuse and torture for protesting that flies under the global radar due to media censorship in Iran. Despite all these roadblocks, Iranian women are fierce, courageous, and some of the strongest women fighting the patriarchy. They continue to find ways to amplify their whispers for freedom of choice and independence.

Mahsa Amini

OZAN KOSE, GETTY IMAGES

On September 16, 2022, Mahsa Amini died in police custody after allegedly being brutally beaten (to death) by police. She was arrested and detained on September 13, 2022, by the morality police, The Guidance Patrol, for disobeying the dress code and not wearing a hijab properly According to Iran’s government’s current standards. Her death resulted in mass protests in Iran and worldwide against the systemic abuse women face in Iran. With the straw that broke the camel’s back, Iranians are rising louder than ever, calling for a change in regime and an end to the dictatorship that’s poisoned the people with its corruption and perverse views on religion. Mahsa Amini’s death is a tragedy that should have never happened and one of many daily tragedies in Iran. Her death should not be in vain, and the fight for freedom and human rights must go on stronger today than in the past.

TickTock goes the clock

My hopes for Iran’s future lies with women first and foremost. Iran’s feminist movement is very strong. This movement has no leader or headquarters. Its place is the home of every Iranian who believs in equal rights. This is currently the strongest women’s movement in the Middle East.

Shirin Ebadi

Women’s rights and freedom of choice have been controversial and scrutinized since the beginning. Men have obsessed over women’s bodies, minds and souls and what they should do with them for centuries. Need I remind everyone that France once debated whether to consider women as human beings because Eve was in cahoots with Lucifer to manipulate Adam to eat the forbidden fruit, and it’s her fault we were all condemned to this planet? The bottom line is that men – and women – have no business telling a woman what to wear and what to do with her body. For the love of God, WHO CARES? This article aims to give you a snippet of what is happening – and has been happening – in Iran, so you’re in a better position to support Iranian women. Iranian women may be fighting for their rights back home. Still, they are the pioneers of feminism, and their strength gives tomorrow’s women hope for a world where gender equality is no longer a controversy but a norm! We all band together and recognize that choice is a HUMAN RIGHT, not a privilege. 

How you can help

To my friends in Canada, please consider writing to your officials to help support the freedom movement. No show of support is too little or insignificant. A letter can go a long way when put together with hundreds and thousands more.

References

Image by Ozan Kose, Getty Image. Retrieved from https://www.harpersbazaar.com/uk/culture/culture-news/a41294323/what-happened-to-mahsa-amini/

Image by Persepolis, 2007. Retrieved from https://film-cred.com/persepolis-marjane-satrapi-iranian-diaspora/

Mahmoudi, H. (2019). Freedom and the Iranian Women’s Movement. Sage Journals. Retrieved September 25, 2022, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1536504219864953

The women’s movement. The Iran Primer. (2016, March 17). Retrieved September 25, 2022, from https://iranprimer.usip.org/resource/womens-movement

Check out the movie Persepolis, 2007, a powerful film on the shift of regime and power in Iran.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s