On Saturday 27 January, Vida Movahed, the first woman arrested for taking off her hijab on Tehran’s Enghelab Street (enghelab meaning ‘revolution’ in English) in a viral social media photo, was released from prison. By Monday 29 January a spate of similar defiant women took the streets of Iran in what has started to trend as photos with the hashtag #دختران_خیابان_انقلاب (translated to #Girls_of_Enghelab_Street). As of Monday afternoon, there has been at least two reported arrests out of the six documented protest photos.
Movahed’s photo of her hijab protest, standing atop an electrical box on Enghelab street, went viral in conjunction with the outbreak of the wave of protests across the country on 28 December.
An unveiled woman in Iran stands defiantly at anti-government rally. We must keep the international eyes focused. There have been brutal crackdowns in recent past by state. We cannot let that happen again. RT using #Iranprotests pic.twitter.com/RVfFpbczm0
— Andy C. Ngo (@MrAndyNgo) December 29, 2017
Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, hijab became compulsory in stages in the country. It was first declared as something women should observe by Ayatollah Khomeini, then made mandatory in government and public offices in 1980, and in 1983 it became mandatory for all women. Iranian women, initially in support of the revolution against the monarchy, came out in hundreds of thousands to protest on the day the hijab law was introduced in March 1979, in photos famously captured by photojournalist Hengameh Golestan.
Flashback: 1979 anti-hijab rally in Tehran, Iran, a day before theocratic regime forcibly and violently began imposing veil on women pic.twitter.com/IzSPSVjIqA
— Borzou Daragahi (@borzou) March 19, 2017
Movahed’s defiance against compulsory hijab became a mistaken icon for the nationwide protests. She had in fact done the act as part of her own singular protest on Wednesday 27 December, for the White Wednesday campaign. Defiant Iranian women would post photos wearing white and discarding their headscarves with the hashtag #whitewednesday for the My Stealthy Freedom campaign, an online movement founded by exiled journalist Masih Alinejad against Iran’s policy of mandatory hijab for women.
Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International soon started to advocate for Movahed’s release, after it became known she was arrested shortly after her stand on Enghelab Street’s electrical post. By 28 January, Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer inside of Iran, known for (and often persecuted) for defending activists and opposition members, announced that Movahed had been released on 27 January on her Facebook page.
دختر خیابان انقلاب آزاد شد.
در مراجعهای که برای پیگیری پروندهی دختر خیابان انقلاب به دادسرا داشتم، مدیر دفتر گفت که وی آزاد شده است. خوشحالم که او دیروز به خانه برگشته است. امیدوارم با پروندهسازی قضایی، وی را که از حقی ساده و یقینی استفاده کرده است، مورد اذیت و آزار قرار ندهند. او هیچ کاری نکرده است تا مستحق تعقیب قضایی باشد. دستتان را از سر او کوتاه کنید.
The girl from revolution street has been freed.
When I returned to prosecutors office to follow up the case of the girl of Enghelab Street, the head of the prosecutor’s office told me she was released. I am happy to hear that she has returned home yesterday. I hope this judicial case will not be used to harass her for taking up her rights. She has done nothing to justify prosecution. Please cut your hands short from her [directed at authorities].
A day after the news of Movahed’s release, several women took to Iran’s streets in similar protests, even on the similar electrical post on Engheblab Street, to emulate Movahed’s original protest.
— کمپین حقوق بشر در ایران (@ICHRI_Fa) January 29, 2018
An informed source told Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that Narges Hosseini, one of the protesters on Enghelab street was on January 29 was arrested. #girls_ofRevolution
Other women took similar elevated stands, taking off their hijabs on different streets, however the symbolism of the initial protests taking place on Enghelab Street, translated into ‘Revolution Street’, was not lost on those following the events.
Interesting fact: The first woman protesting, -then anonymous- did it on “revolution” street. And she quickly got the title of “girl of the revolution street” this soon turned into the hashtag #دختران_انقلاب “girls of revolution” after others joined her.#دختران_خیابان_انقلاب
— Nima Fatemi (@mrphs) January 29, 2018
Numerous well known women came to the fore on statements regarding the protests and arrests from the December 2017-January 2018 protests. Notable voices inside of Iran were cinema stars Taraneh Alidoosti and Bahare Rahnama. Since the writing of this post, no notable female public figure inside of Iran, apart from Sotoudeh have remarked on the trending photos. Protests against compulsory hijab are often associated with Masih Alinejad’s “My Stealthy Freedom” campaign. Alinejad and her campaign have become a controversial issue, sometimes subjected to smear campaigns by Iranian media, and associated with opposition activism inside of the country.
On her “My Stealthy Freedom” Facebook page, Alinejad welcomed her critics in the new discussions around #girls_of_Enghelab_street. She welcomed those who had previously attacked her to her campaign as they were now engaged in discussing and opposing compulsory hijab.
Our #WhiteWednesdays campaign has been making an unstoppable impact and we are more than overjoyed. We are gratified to realize that the compulsory veil is no longer something than can be easily dismissed. It has always been an important issue as it relates to women’s freedom of choice. It is our most basic right. Our campaign has come a long way. We have also realized that people who attacked us yesterday are now onboard supporting our struggle. We warmly welcome them. We at my #StealthyFreedom do not judge people; our campaign is based on mutual respect.
One notable female social media voice inside of Iran, Zahra Safyari declared her support for the #girls_of_Enghelab_street and the right of Iranian women to choose to wear or not wear the hijab.
من چادری ام.خودم انتخاب کردم که محجبه باشم،نه اجبار خانواده بود و نه جبر محیط یا شرایط کار.از انتخابم خیلی خوشحالم ولی با حجاب اجباری مخالفم و #دختران_خیابان_انقلاب رو تحسین میکنم.در دین و حجاب هیچ اجباری نباید باشد
— زهرا صفياري (@zahrasafyari) January 29, 2018
I am a chadori [wearer of a chador]. I have chosen for myself to be veiled, not the force of my family, nor my environment or conditions of my work. I am very happy with my choice but I am against mandatory hijab and i support the#Girls_of_Enghelab_Street. With religion and hijab there should be no force.
Safyari made a point to distance the protests from Masih Alinejad or any opposition movement aiming to overthrow the Iranian establishment.
#دختران_خیابان_انقلاب نه برانداز هستند و نه از مسیح علی نژاد پیروی می کنند و نه از جایی پول می گیرند.دختران ایران زمین هستند که در پی حقوق اولیه خود هستند.
— زهرا صفياري (@zahrasafyari) January 29, 2018
#Girls_of_Enghelab_Street are neither overthrowers, followers of Masih Alinejad, or the recipients of any money. They are the girls of this Iranian land who are following their basic rights