Freedom comes in all shapes and sizes — it can be as monumental as the Declaration of Independence, as American as apple pie, or as simple as letting your hair flutter in the breeze.
London-based journalist Masih Alinejad is at the center of a social platform called “Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women,” a forum for women who want the freedom to choose whether or not to wear a hijab, the traditional head covering that is currently required by Iranian law.
Over the past few weeks, thousands of Iranian women have submitted photos of themselves with their hair flowing free, and their hijabs waving behind them in the wind, like a personal flag.
“Stealthy is so familiar for Iranian women because they have to create their moment of freedom, they have to enjoy running in stealth, or being in a relationship with a boy in secret,” Alinejad said in an interview this week with ABC News. “Stealthy is a word which is really familiar for these women who do not have freedom.”
It all started when Alinejad posted a photo of herself on a London street with her hair blowing behind her in the wind, then another photo — driving without a headscarf, her hair whipping at the window. The response from her Iranian followers was so overwhelming, she invited them to send in their own photos.
Over the past three weeks, the Facebook page she created has exploded, gaining more than 345,000 likes and almost one photo submission every ten minutes.
“I hope my 6-year-old daughter will never have to enjoy her freedom stealthily,” reads one photo caption.
Another woman echoed the sentiment, writing, “Hoping for the day when our freedoms do not have to be stealthy anymore.”
Alinejad explained that in America, “stealthy freedoms” are the equivalent of what we might call a “guilty pleasure.” But it’s much more serious in Iran, where going out in public without a hijab is a punishable offense that can carry a penalty that can range from a fine to imprisonment.
“These are the women who know they are putting themselves in a dangerous situation, who know how much it can get them in trouble, but this is the only way they can send a message to the world or their government, because they just want to be heard,” she said. “I wanted to give them a voice.”
Alinejad is very clear about her mission. She’s not leading a battle against the headscarf. She’s simply advocating the right for individual women to be able to choose whether or not they wear it. She’s also hoping this outlet will help more women across the country realize they’re not alone.
“For me, as a journalist, it’s really important to help these woman find each other,” she continued. “There are a lot of women who exist in Iran who are suffering under forced hijab, but they don’t have any permission from the government to take to the street and protest or take to the media and speak out. They’re fighting every day, but they’ve been ignored.”
Alinejad said she would also like to shatter the perceived image of Iranian women as always being cloaked in a long black chador.
“I want the world to see these are woman who are in colors, who are smiling, who are full of love,” she said. “I want them to be heard as well when they say, ‘Look, this is me, an Iranian woman. I want to be free.’”