Standing up for Women’s Rights in Iran
I was fifteen years old on March 8, 1979, when the Islamic government in Iran introduced a compulsory Islamic dress code forcing women to hide our hair under veils when in public. Many women including students like me were shocked and couldn’t believe the government had enacted a law forcing us to cover ourselves. Their enforcement of public veiling began in 1981 when I was in grade eleven. Knowing that participating in public protests and other forms of open resistance taking place in major Iranian cities against mandatory veiling was risky and could result in us being arrested and detained - or worse, I together with two classmates decided to cautiously express our outrage.
After hours of brainstorming, we decided to put our belief that women’s freedom and equality begins to erode under the Islamic dress code into words, and to let others know that students like us did not accept state policies diminishing women’s rights.
As there were no computers or social media, and television, radio and print media was controlled by the Islamic government, we decided to create hand-written messages and post them in busy neighborhoods. We began by buying several poster boards and coloured markers and met at my parent’s home to create posters, each topped by the large heading ‘Freedom of Choice for Women.’ Then, while watching to ensure we weren’t being followed, we attached our first few posters to telephone poles in a middle class neighborhood. Within minutes of putting them in place, I saw several men and women reading them.
Empowered by that initial success, we headed out to busy street in a working class neighborhood. While we were attaching a poster to the wall of a house, suddenly, someone nearby yelled “the revolutionary guards are coming!” I looked back fearfully and saw two young revolutionary guards walking toward us. We quickly finished attaching our poster before even more quickly running away, with the guards chasing us for a minute before suddenly stopping and returning to the poster.
Being staunch defenders of the Islamic regime, they not surprisingly removed our poster, but we knew we were lucky to have escaped them and being beaten and arrested. That night, from the safely of my parent’s home, I felt happy to have contributed to raising awareness against the compulsory Islamic veiling by using the power of the pen and the poster board!