For the past week, women from all over Iran have been posting Facebook pictures of themselves with bare heads and flowing hair. Though social media posts like these are standard practice in many other countries, the Iranian government has mandated women to wear the hijab following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and morality police enforce these rules.
However, the hijab was not ubiquitous in urban areas of Iran prior to the Revolution, and not all Muslim women consider it a religious obligation. Nonetheless, punishment for going out in public bare-headed includes imprisonment or even lashing, though these are rarely imposed.
Now, journalist Masih Alinejad has provided a place for the women of Iran to declare their own personal choices about the veil with the Facebook page, "My Stealthy Freedom."
Since setting it up on May 5, Alinejad has been inundated with submissions from women demonstrating their secret freedom to unveil.
Alinejad started the phenomenon when she posted a picture of herself in 2009, driving in northern Iran, captioning it, "I bet a lot of women have such photos of their secret freedom- this is me on the way North." She was correct. She told the BBC, "These are not women activists, but just ordinary women talking from their hearts."
The page is apolitical and is a space for Iranian women to come together in solidarity. A post explains:
This page does not belong to any political group and the initiative reflects the concerns of Iranian women, who face legal and social restrictions.
All of the photos and captions posted have been sent by women from all over Iran and this is a site dedicated to Iranian women inside the country who want to share their “stealthily” taken photos without the veil.
The captions are sometimes more powerful than the images of bare heads and smiling faces. One woman wrote, "I just want to have the right to CHOOSE! Maybe I would have even chosen to wear a scarf if I'd had options to choose from. But it hurts me so much when others make decisions for ME instead of myself."
In many of the images, the women fly the veil behind them like a defiant flag.
Some of the women are supported by their families. One wrote:
Stealthy freedom is more enjoyable when you've grown in a religious family that respect your choice based on your beliefs, but it becomes even sweeter when your father decides to take a picture of your stealthy freedom on the seaside by the Persian Gulf, with his own camera; and is happy for you to share it with other women of your country.
I hope we see the days when we can celebrate our freedom all together.
Iranian activist and journalist Leila Mouri notes that while some Muslim women in Europe are fighting for their right to cover themselves up with a burqa, the women of Iran must fight for their right to uncover themselves. She writes:
Now is the time to stop justifying mandatory hijab in the name of religion, nation, country, or culture. It is time to remind ourselves, as women and human rights activists, that when it comes to women's rights, there is no room for appeasement.