Authorities in Iran may find the latest social media campaign for women’s rights difficult to cover up.
Under Islamic law in force in Iran since the 1979 revolution, women must wear a loose veil, known as hijab, that covers the head and neck while concealing their hair.
But internet-savvy men in Iran and around the globe are donning the veils of their wives, friends and girlfriends in pictures posted to Facebook and Twitter to protest the Islamic Republic’s strict religious laws.
The campaign began after Masih Alinejad, an Iranian activist and journalist living in New York, asked men to support her #meninhijab hashtag by sharing pictures of their covered heads while women pose without veils.
Alinejad, who left Iran in 2009 and runs the My Stealthy Freedom campaign, is known for sharing pictures of women in Iran who have shed their hijab outside of a domestic setting in a jab at the country’s draconian rules.
In Iran, Alinejad said, you have no choice but to wear the hijab. The alternative is being beaten, losing your job and even jail time, she added.
Wearing a headscarf is strictly enforced in Shiite Muslim majority Iran, where the so-called morality police strictly enforce the laws.
“If women, both Iranian and non-Iranian, had a choice, they may not opt for the hijab,” she said.
The latest campaign began with an altered parody picture of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the architect of Iran’s nuclear deal and a staunch supporter of the laws.
With a growing influx of politicians and business people headed for the country, Alinejad decided the time was ripe for making her move.
“Since he is a man, Zarif had never had to endure the humiliation of wearing the compulsory hijab and so to show him, and the world how ridiculous the idea of compulsory hijab is, I photoshopped a picture of Zarif wearing a hijab,” Alinejad told The Japan Times in an interview.
She said she then posted the photo to her social media accounts, along with a question: “Would men don the compulsory hijab and take selfies of themselves and tell me how it felt?”
“I wanted the men to experience wearing compulsory hijab in the suffocating heat of Iran’s summer,” Alinejad said. “I wanted to poke fun at the dress codes for women but get the men to join the women to challenge these repressive laws,” she said.
It wasn’t long before the campaign took off on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as scores in and outside of Iran began posting their photos.
“I didn’t think so many would do so, but the response has been amazing,” Alinejad said. “And men are taking selfies with their partners, in which the man is covered up and the woman appears without the hijab.”
According to Omid Memarian, a journalist and Iran analyst living in New York, Iranian authorities’ crackdown on civil society over the last decade has made it near impossible for activists and journalists to speak out — particularly on issues that challenge the official narratives of the establishment.
“Forced hijab is one of the issues that has been extremely difficult and costly for people inside Iran to publicly challenge,” Memarian said.
But social media, he said, has given people who oppose such restrictions a way to voice their concerns.
“These social media campaigns reflect the voice of the voiceless, who might face severe consequences if they speak out publicly in Iran,” he said.
“These … campaigns are essential to keep the movement for more freedom and more human rights alive, no matter if they succeed in the short term or not.”
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