Photographs showing eight women waving white or colored scarves on sticks while standing on makeshift platforms in Tehran, Isfahan and Mashhad were published on social networking sites on Monday, January 29. The women, who with their simple gesture have joined the protest against mandatory hijab in Iran, have been hailed as Revolution Street Women, or simply Revolution Women — a nod to Vida Movahed, the woman who first staged a similar protest on Tehran’s Enghelab (or “Revolution”) Street at the end of December. After weeks of being referred to as “the unknown protester,” her identity was only revealed a few days ago.
Thousands of people re-posted photographs and videos of Mohaved’s protest and subsequent arrest, with Masih Alinejad’s White Wednesdays campaign both inspiring the movement and circulating the photos and videos.
One of the recent protesting women is Shima Babaee. Prior to her recent activity, on August 15, 2017, Iran’s Morality Police called her mother while Babaee was at work. They informed her that her daughter must report to its office “to explain certain things.” Babaee, accompanied by her husband, arrived at the office and asked authorities for a written summons. The summons was immediately prepared, signed and stamped. It was a Wednesday, and on that day, Shima Babaee wore a white shawl when she went to the Morality Police station. The officer on duty told her to come back on Saturday. On Saturday, her father accompanied her to the station. An officer named Rafiei demanded to know: “Why are you against hijab?” A quarrel followed, Rafiei raised his voice, and a fight broke out between the officer and Babaee’s father.
“Itching” for My Rights
Shima Babaee’s father is a veteran of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and was wounded in battle. “My father became angry,” she explains, “and said: ‘is this how you treat the veterans? I did not fight in the war so that my daughter would lose the right to choose how she dresses and would get such an answer to her protest.’ They pushed him out of the room, but they took me the 21st District Court. ‘You are itching for it, aren’t you?’ the prosecutor told me. ‘You have a political record and you are guilty of propaganda against the regime.’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I am itching to get my rights.’ He sent me to Branch 6 of the prosecutor’s office and told me: ‘if I don’t deal with you today then there is something wrong with me.’”
An assistant district attorney by the name of Dehghani treated Shima more gently. He told her: “Our society is not capable of accepting voluntary hijab.” He informed her that the prosecutor had told him to set a heavy bail for her so that she would be unable to post it and would remain in custody. But Dehghani set her a surety bond instead, guaranteed by her father. However, when her father offered his paystub to post bond, it turned out that the Morality Police had filed a complaint against him for “insulting the police.” In the end, Shima was kept in custody for five hours until a lawyer guaranteed her bond. In December, officials issued an arrest warrant for Shima’s father.
Now the authorities have contacted Shima Babaee’s lawyer to say that she has not appeared in court — even though she had not received a summons for the hearing, or even a phone call. The lawyer was told that she had been tried in absentia on January 28. “We are waiting to receive the verdict,” Babaee says. “But because of the way they have treated me I will not go there if they send me a summons.”
Shima Babaee says that she is fighting against forced hijab because “if we get this right the door will open for us to get our other rights. When I see how beautifully these Revolution Women are defending their rights I feel proud that I have played a small part in this movement. I have said over and over again that I am ready to give my life for a free Iran. I will pay whatever price I have to pay, even though the price is unjust.”
Fed Up with Living a Double Life
Shaparak is another young woman who has been active since the White Wednesdays campaign started. She says she is fed up with living a “double life,” which she describes as a life of lies and hypocrisy. “Iranians are not lying,” she says. “They are living a lie. That is why we get insulted because of hijab. When we are harassed they say that we must not have been properly dressed. If a man who wants to get a divorce shows the court pictures of his wife without hijab the court rules in his favor. Our rights are ignored all the time. If we get our right regarding hijab, we will get our other rights as well.”
Every Wednesday, Shaparak picks up a white shawl and walks around the town where she lives. She says she is giving voice to her heart through the White Wednesdays campaign and the videos she posts on her Instagram page every week. But she also faces threats and harassment. “On Instagram,” she says, “they constantly threaten [us by warning]: ‘we are just outside your door’ or ‘we are going to raid your home.’ But I did not stop, even when I had a broken leg. One time I stood for so long that my arms were aching badly but I did not give up.”
Her friends and her family do not support her, but her husband does. “My friends criticize me all the time, saying that I am a mother and must not do such things,” Shaparak says. “But after Vida Movahed, who has a 19-month-old child, I told those who want to make me feel guilty that the children of freedom lovers are a few steps ahead of other children. When I saw the cartoon by Mana Neyestani that shows women breaking out from inside eggs, my whole body shook and tears filled my eyes. ‘This is us,’ I told my husband. I gained more courage to go and stand up, tie a white shawl to a stick and wave it.”
Shaparak says that she is not afraid of “prison” or “torture” or even “death,” but only of the “moment of arrest,” which she compares to the feeling you get when you jump down from a high place. “The only solution to our problems is civil action to demand our rights. I do not want women to be treated as merchandise. We are not the second sex. I do not want the Morality Patrol to interfere with my life. Even if the White Wednesdays campaign stops I will continue on my way. As long as I am alive, I will not wear a headscarf and every Wednesday I will wear white.”