Iranian Women Stage Rare Protests Against Hijab Law

Inspired perhaps by a “White Wednesday” campaign, several Iranian women have publicly taken off their head scarves and waved them on the end of a stick. Six did so on Monday.
Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

Climbing atop a five-foot-tall utility box in one of Tehran’s busiest squares on Monday, an Iranian woman removed her head scarf, tied it to a stick and waved it for all to see.

It was no small feat in Iran, where women can be arrested for publicly flouting the Islamic requirement that they cover their hair.

But there she stood, her curly hair blowing in the breeze. No one protested. In fact, she was applauded by many people. Taxi drivers and older women took her picture. The police, who maintain a booth in the square, either did not see her or decided not to intervene.

“My hands were trembling,” the 28-year-old said, asking not to be named out of fear of arrest. “I was anxious and feeling powerful at the same time. And proud, I felt proud.”

She was not alone. On Monday several other women, a total of six, according to social media accounts, made the same symbolic gesture: taking off their head scarves in public and waving them on a stick, emulating a young woman who climbed on the same sort of utility box on Dec. 27 and was subsequently arrested. Activists say she has since been released, but she still has not resurfaced in public.

At least one of the women protesting on Monday was arrested by the police, a shopkeeper who witnessed the arrest said.

The protests, still small in number, are nevertheless significant as a rare public sign that dissatisfaction with certain Islamic laws governing personal conduct may have reached a boiling point. As the 28-year-old woman said, “I took my scarf off because I’m tired of our government telling me what to do with my body.”

And some said this might just be the beginning. “My guess is that more of these protests will follow,” said Nasrin Sotoudeh, a lawyer and human rights activist. “It’s obvious that some women want to decide for themselves what to wear.”

That remains to be seen, but the protests have already gained enough attention to provoke angry reactions in some quarters.

“These protests are done by instigators, saboteurs and vandalists and anarchists,” said one critic, Kazem Anbarlooie, the editor in chief of the hard-line newspaper Resalat. “Recently our enemies were communists and liberals, now Americans are provoking masochists against us.”

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SOURCE: New York Times, Thomas Erdbrink