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Iran Feature: The "No to Hijab" Campaign on Facebook (Esfandiari)

Golnaz Esfandiari writes for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

Dozens of Iranian women, and some men, living both inside and outside the country, have posted their pictures on the Facebook page of a newly launched campaign called, “No to Mandatory Hijab” that declares that women should have the right to choose whether or not to wear the Muslim headscarf.

Among the posters, according to the campaign’s organizers, are women living inside the country who voluntarily wear the chador -- the long cloak with a head scarf -- but believe that the hijab shouldn’t be compulsory.

The activists who launched the campaign describe themselves as “liberal university students and graduates” and say it’s meant to be an expression of solidarity with Iranian women, who they say should have the freedom to decide what they wear.

Dozens of intellectuals, journalists, activists, artists, religious and secular Iranians have joined the campaign by posting their pictures on the Facebook page of the campaign and expressing their opposition to the mandatory hijab. In just a few days the page has attracted more than 10,000 fans.

Campaign leader Alireza Kiani told RFE/RL that at least half of the people who have “liked” the page live inside Iran. Kiani, who left Iran about a year ago, says he was deeply bothered by the constant harassment of Iranian women over their appearance.

“It’s an insult to women but also men,” he says about the mandatory hijab.

Iranian officials claim that women who do not properly cover up themselves lead men astray. They also maintain that the hijab --- especially the chador --- is the best protection for women.

The 27-year-old Kiani said the campaign is aimed at stirring public opinion about the compulsory hijab and forcing political figures and others to take a stand.

“We’re especially targeting the reformists and religious intellectuals who in the early days of the revolution were either supportive of the mandatory hijab or kept silent about it," Kiani said.

"We believe that if tomorrow Iran will be free, if in tomorrow’s Iran there won’t be any compulsion and mandatory hijab, those reformists, religious intellectuals, and, in general, political figures have to take a clear stance regarding it. So that if there are changes in Iran, we will have a document from them proving that they expressed their opposition to the compulsory hijab....

Not all opponents of the hijab are supporting the campaign. Posts on social media sites by activists reflect a distrust of the campaign organizers. There is some distrust of “liberal university students and graduates” who, in the past, have expressed support for tough Western sanctions against the Islamic Republic, which some fear could eventually result in military strikes against Iran. 

One woman in Tehran who did not want to be named said that despite her strong opposition to the hijab, she was not planning to join the campaign. 

“What’s the use of it?” she wrote. “It is not going to change the pressure we’re facing to cover up. I think our defiance is stronger than an online move. [Morality police] detain us, harass us, but we keep coming to the streets with makeup and small, colorful scarves.” 

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