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Haleh Anvari – Guardian – Tuesday, 20 May 2014 (originally published 14 May)

Photo from Facebook page showing Iranian woman without a hijab

One of the photos on the ‘Stealthy freedoms of Iranian women’ Facebook page. Image: Guardian

The Facebook page “Stealthy freedoms of Iranian women”, where Iranian women are sharing photos of themselves without their hijab, is attracting attention in the world’s media. That is no surprise. Iran is a country that has been represented through the garb of its women for the past 30 years. The way Iranian women dress has been a brand used both by the Islamic republic, which wishes to portray the country as uniformly pious, and western onlookers who find the exoticism of the hijab irresistible. What is new here is that the photos are being shared by consenting women in poses that they have chosen; it is re-appropriation by people whose image has often been snatched away or co-opted for varying agendas.

The page name could have been better translated to “freedoms on the quiet”, since the word “yavashaki” [furtive in Persian] also incorporates the word “yavash” meaning gently. Iranian women have been pushing against the boundaries of the hijab gently but doggedly for these 30 years. When I returned to Iran from the UK 22 years ago, one of my cousins joked that the only form of resistance to the creed of the new republic has been the persistence of Iranian women to play with the rules of hijab, something that has now created a national style of fashion being applauded as a revolution by the western onlookers, and emulated in neighboring Muslim countries as cutting edge.

It began in the home, where boundaries had to be negotiated with men of more traditional families to allow their women more space and presence in society. The Islamic republic is not generally credited with women’s freedoms, but its laser sharp focus on women’s bodies has unwittingly made women more determined and politically informed, and able to find empowerment despite the many obstacles . . .

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