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The Woman Who Stood Up Against Forced Hijab

January 23, 2018
Shima Shahrabi
6 min read
Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and her husband at the site where a woman was arrested after protesting against forced hijab
Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and her husband at the site where a woman was arrested after protesting against forced hijab
The Woman Who Stood Up Against Forced Hijab

She is not wearing a manteau, just a shirt and a pair of pants. She stands on a makeshift platform holding a white scarf tied to a stick out in front of her. Her black hair flows over her left shoulder.

This is the Enghelab (“Revolution”) Street Woman, the young woman who attracted much attention after her protest against mandatory hijab through a simple act of civil disobedience. To date, photographs and videos of her have been posted and shared across social networks and by Masih Alinejad’s White Wednesdays campaign.

The White Wednesdays campaign, which Alinejad launched following the popular My Stealthy Freedom campaign, encourages Iranian women to campaign for women’s freedoms by removing their hijab, holding up white headscarves or pieces of white clothing and capturing the gesture in a photograph or video and then sending them to the campaign for wider circulation. In the case of the Enghelab Street Woman, it was different. “On Wednesdays,” says Alinejad, “I receive videos that Iranian women themselves send me, showing them bravely protesting against forced hijab through an act of civil disobedience, holding a white scarf or draping it around their neck. But on the Wednesday that the Enghelab Street Woman was arrested, I received the video [of the arrest] from three different people.”


A Silent, Peaceful Protester

One witness who sent the video to White Wednesday also sent a note about the protest and the arrest: “This young woman...did nothing violent,” the note reads. “She did not even shout slogans. Very calmly, she tied her white shawl to a stick and in this way protested against forced hijab. The moment that she stepped down from the platform, police took her and a few others away and tried to disperse the crowd.”

In addition to insisting that she has not received anything directly from the young woman, Masih Alinejad says she has no further information about her. The woman’s family has not spoken to the media either. Nobody knows her name or whether she is active on social networks. Alinejad has appealed to people to demand answers from the authorities using the hashtag ““#Where Is the Revolution Street Woman?” (“#دختر_خیابان_انقلاب_کجاست” in Persian).

People have responded to this invitation on a vast scale across social networks. But it’s perhaps the prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh who has done more than anybody else to dig up information about the mysterious protester. On Sunday, January 21, she published a photograph of herself wearing a white headscarf standing next to her husband at the very spot where the young woman stood up for women’s rights.

“Yesterday my husband and I went over there and asked the local sources that we could find about her,” Sotoudeh told IranWire. “We found out that she was arrested shortly after she stood up and was taken Police Station 148 on Enghelab street...about 200 meters away.” Sotoudeh then went to the police station. “I am not her lawyer,” she says, “so I just asked about her case and found out that the information from the local sources had been correct. Her case has been sent to Khark prosecutor’s office, which is the closest to the police station.” Sotoudeh also found out that the protester is 31 years old, married and has a 19-month-old child. She has not been able to find out any information from her relatives or her family.

According to Masih Alinejad, another lawyer in Iran is following up on the protester’s case — but the lawyer has asked to remain anonymous. “While pursuing the case,” says Alinejad, “the lawyer discovered that two other women had also been arrested on chastity and bad hijab charges.” According to the lawyer, one woman was arrested because she was not wearing hijab while she was in a car with a man who was not related to her. The other was detained because she was wearing “bad hijab” and argued with the police. The two women have been sent to Gharchak and Varamin detention centers.

Following Her Example

Since the video of the Enghelab Street Woman was posted online, many White Wednesdays campaign supporters have followed her example, tying white scarves to sticks and filming themselves as a way of saying “no” to forced hijab. “In the videos that they send the campaign, they show their faces and join [their] voices with the Esteghlal Street Woman,” says Alinejad. “What they are saying is: ‘Until you hear our voices we will have an Enghelab Street Woman within us.’ Many men also showed their support. In Tehran, Shiraz and Mashhad they tied white shawls to sticks in groups and sent me the videos.”

But Alinejad also let some of the women know that she could not publish their videos for the sake of their own safety. “For instance,” she says, “I told one of them that her face and the city was identifiable so I better not publish the video. She said: ‘If you don’t publish my video I will post it on my own Instagram page. I will pay the price in either case, so it’s better for it to be published someplace where more people will see and hear it.”

I asked one of the women who lives in Iran and sent videos to the White Wednesdays campaign as well as posting them on her Instagram page if she is not afraid she’ll get arrested. “Civil disobedience is the only way to fight discriminatory laws,” she answered. “I believe that we must overcome our fear and fight to build a better future.” She confessed that she is afraid of prison but then said: “I hate to live one way at home and another way in society. I believe if I go to prison for what I want it is much better than living a double life and dying without having said anything or done anything.”

But do using these hashtags and all this sharing actually help somebody who has been arrested? “When somebody joins a civil and social movement, everybody has the right to support the movement and make his or her views known,” the activist told me. “Supporting a civil movement, like the civil action itself, is supported by our laws and our system. The same support is given by international agreements. Civil activists have the right to both support others or benefit from other people’s support.”

Rouhani Must be Held Accountable

Masih Alinejad has decided to use an English hashtag for the Enghelab Street Woman, calling on international human rights organizations and the UN to take action and put pressure on Iranian diplomats regarding her fate. “The first person that must be held accountable is Mr. Rouhani,” Alinejad says, “because it is under his administration that a young woman has been arrested because she was protesting against forced hijab. [Foreign Minister] Mr. Zarif has tweeted that the Islamic Republic recognizes the right of its citizens to peaceful protests. So it is the duty of each and every one of us to question them about the Enghelab Street Woman.”

Nasrin Sotoudeh also plans to continue her efforts to help this young woman, although she might not be given access to her case file. “I can only see her file if she wants me as her lawyer,” she says. “Now I am pursuing the case as a civil act and as a citizen, not as a lawyer, and this is what any citizen is able to do.”

Sotoudeh herself has peacefully protested against forced hijab many times. When she was in prison she had to stop meeting her family because she refused to wear hijab during their visits. “It is the right of all human beings to choose what they wear,” she wrote in a note defending the White Wednesdays campaign. “This is a principle of human rights. I want this right to be recognized by our society as well.”




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