Masih Alinejad: The Iranian hijab campaigner who won’t be silenced

‘I am a troublemaker – for those governments who want to put pressure on their own people and keep them silent’

Katie Grant
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 In May 2014, The Independent reported on Masih Alinejad, the Iranian activist encouraging women from her country to upload to her Facebook page images of themselves without the mandatory hijab. The Facebook page, named “My Stealthy Freedom”, flourished into a movement attracting nearly one million supporters.

Alinejad, 39, does not oppose the hijab itself – her mother and sister both choose to wear it – but the law imposed by the Iranian government that makes it compulsory for all women to cover their hair in public.

“There are two Irans, one is on the map – where you see women in hijab. The other is illegal Iran – where women sing, dance, take off their scarves. Everything they are banned from [doing] they do underground,” she  said.

Alinejad, who is living in exile and working as a journalist in New York, is determined to strengthen “illegal” Iran and portray the country’s “real identity” through social media.

Earlier this year the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy gave Alinejad its women’s rights award for “stirring the conscience of humanity to support the struggle of Iranian women for basic human rights”.

The activist believes it is vital to speak out to “stop the government that wants only one voice”. But by encouraging women to disobey the law, is she putting them in danger? “They are in danger already,” Alinejad insisted.

Even women who comply with strict hijab rules will be targeted by the nation’s “morality police”, so they have nothing to lose by protesting, she reasoned. Alinejad is pressing ahead with her efforts, despite pressure to abandon her activism.

“[The authorities] don’t like me… they call me troublemaker,” she said. “I am a troublemaker – for those governments who want to put pressure on their own people and keep them silent.”