05/07/2018, 01.20
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Iran inching its way towards the end of the veil

by Sara Saidi

A young Iranian woman convicted for protesting against the mandatory veil does not regret her action. "[I]t was worth it because people want change,” she said. The law will change but it will take time. A government survey indicates that half of the population of Tehran is against the mandatory veil. An exiled Iranian journalist started a campaign in the United States. "The mere fact that people are talking about it is a step forward,” says one observer. Courtesy of L'Orient Le Jour – translation from the French by AsiaNews.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – "It was cold, I was stressed, I felt that from one moment to next my legs would give out. I was just concentrating on standing still!” said Narges Hosseini, the second woman who stood on an electricity box to express her rejection of the mandatory veil. The 31-year-old woman does not regret her action. She even repeated it several times under questioning. "I did not exceed my rights," she said.

A native of Kashan, Narges Hosseini is not part of any feminist movement. "My biggest struggle so far was refusing to wear the chador at home.” The charges against her are serious though: "Moral corruption and prostitution," according to her lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh. But the young woman does not regret her gesture. "What gave me the energy to do it is the knowledge that people will support me. When I came out of prison, the solidarity was such that I was shocked. So, yes, it was worth it because people want change.” She was finally sentenced to two years in prison with three months hard time.

"Change will take time"

According to Iranian authorities, 29 people have been questioned. However, for Nasrin Sotoudeh, it is necessary to separate the women who remove their veil just the time to take a selfie and those who stand long enough to be arrested. "Vida Movahed stood motionless for about twenty minutes before she was arrested," the Iranian lawyer said two months later. "She was the first, the police did not really know what to do with her," she adds.

In Iran, from puberty, women must wear a long coat and wear the hijab (veil) under a law adopted after the 1979 revolution and considered for many as a pillar of the Islamic Republic. But Nasrin Sotoudeh is categorical, the law will change, but it will take time. "In the circles of power, we are told: ‘If it does not work, we will change the law, and so you will be able to go out without the veil ", but for the law to change, it is up to us to put pressure."

In the street, a Teheran woman explains: "These are just sparks. It's important because it has to start somewhere, but it will take time before change takes place. [. . .] I m not sure people are ready for it. Even with the veil, we are harassed in the streets, so imagine without!"

Social movement, political debate

Zahra chose to wear the veil and, according to her "wearing it without believing is hypocrisy". Whilst she is against the mandatory veil, she also regrets that the women’s movement associated with Enghelab Avenue started abroad as the initiative of Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist who has lived in exile in the United States. The latter launched the My Stealthy Freedom movement in 2014, setting up a platform for Iranian women to share photos of themselves without the veil, and the White Wednesdays movement in 2017, which invites Iranian women to wear a white veil in protest on Wednesdays. "I would have preferred that the movement did not to originate with someone who did not have the courage to stay whilst others in Iran went to jail and experienced hardship without running away. I believe that those who left will never be able to defend those who remained," said the young woman.

For now, Iranian women will continue to post videos and photos of themselves without veil on the My Stealthy Freedom Facebook page. Although no change has taken place as a result of these events, the movement has had the merit of sparking a political debate. Thus, in early February, the Centre for Strategic Studies of the Iranian President’s Office published the results of a survey that showed that nearly 50 per cent of Tehran residents are against the mandatory veil. According to Nasrin Sotoudeh, the report came across as a government endorsement of the protesters.

On Enghelab Avenue, walking by the electrical box two months after the incident, two elderly men could be heard discussing the issue. "Is this where the girl stood up!” said one of them. For Hosseini, "The mere fact that people are talking about it is a step forward".

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