The idea of resistance manifests itself in various ways in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Just last month, this resistance took the shape of protests led by women who came to be known as “The Girls of Revolution Street.” These brave women risked severe imprisonment as they took off their headscarves (hijabs) and placed them on sticks to wave them like flags from elevated platforms such as telephone boxes. The protests began in Iran’s capital city of Tehran (on the city’s Revolution Street) but quickly spread to other towns and cities.
The resistance of these women is a form a civil disobedience, as Iranian women are forced by Iranian law to don the hijab in public. Women who are not wearing the hijab or wearing it properly are arrested or sent to court. In 2014 the Iranian police force reported nearly 3.6 million such incidents.
As Professor and Journalist Pardis Mahdavi reported in her 2007 study on youth culture in Iran, “when Iranians want to pray and be spiritual they go out, when they want to have fun they go inside.” Division between the public and private spheres of life has been a constant theme in Iran since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Iranians have since associated certain actions and behaviors with each of these spheres to cope with the pressures of the regime and avoid harsh punishment. Through their actions, the Girls of Revolution Street are breaking the boundary between these spheres to bring light to their oppression and injustice.
Since the advent of the protests, 29 women have been arrested for being “deceived” to part take in demonstrations against the hijab, according Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The women used the hashtag Girls of Revolution Street in Persian to spread information about their movement. The immediate goal of these protests may not be to bring about radical change in the country, but rather to spark a conversation about women’s rights in the country. Opinion polls, such as one taken in 2015, show that the tides are changing in Iran, as nearly half of the country supports the idea that women should be able to choose whether or not to wear the hijab and that the wearing of the hijab should not be forced upon women. The women in the streets protesting in Iran’s towns and cities share this belief and hope that their brave actions can build upon the already changing tides in the country.
In the United States, Iran is often associated with words such as “nuclear,” “terrorist,” and “evil.” After all, President George W. Bush did call the country part of an “axis of evil.” Too often we conflate a country of 80 million people with its brutal and totalitarian regime, even when there exist forces within the country constantly resisting this regime. We should always try to look beyond the political slogans and media portrayals and understand that within countries and societies there are always complexities and nuances that we need to explore. And if we truly want to see change in Iran, we should understand that real change always comes from within and over time.
That is what these brave women want to accomplish with their resistance, and that is why I am happy to stand with #TheGirlsofRevolutionStreet.