An Iranian woman who recently protested the compulsory hijab and became an icon as demonstrations broke out around the country has been arrested. In late December, the woman took off her white headscarf and slowly waved it like a flag in the middle of Tehran. Cellphone videos captured the woman removing her hijab, but she's been missing since then.
Now we know that she was arrested later that day, thanks to the work of Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian human rights lawyer. Sotoudeh has not revealed the woman's identity, but we do know that she is 31 years old and has a 19-month-old child.
"Many Iranian activists online were inspired by the nonviolent protest of the lone girl," activist Masih Alinejad told Al-Monitor. Alinejad founded the My Stealthy Freedom campaign, which fights for a woman's right to choose whether or not she wears the hijab. "Thousands of Iranians changed their profile picture to a one depicting her act," said Alinejad. "Her gesture was seen as a symbol of resistance. Her protest caught the imagination of Iranian women and men, feminists and non-feminists."
The anonymous woman's demonstration was not part of the wave of protests that has been sweeping across the country since late December. Those protestors seem to be mainly motivated by government corruption and a lack of economic opportunity. The woman removed her hijab as part of a movement called White Wednesday, which was started by Alinejad, in which women wear pieces of white clothing to protest the mandatory headscarf.
Still, because the anonymous woman's act of protest occurred on Dec. 27 — the day before the other, widespread demonstrations began — her image has become associated with the broader dissent.
On Sunday, Sotoudeh announced that she'd looked into the woman's whereabouts and confirmed that she was taken away by the police on Dec. 27. Sotoudeh also learned that the woman was released shortly afterward and then arrested again. We don't know what's happened to her since then, but many people are worried because Iranians can sometimes face brutal and violent treatment in prison. At least a few detainees have died after the mass arrests that occurred during the wider demonstrations.
To draw attention to this woman's case, the hashtag #Where_Is_She (and its Persian equivalent, دختر_خیابان_انقلاب_کجاست#) began trending on social media on Jan. 17. The BBC reports that the hashtag has been tweeted over 28,000 times.
People on social media have adapted her image to make a variety of protest signs:
Alinejad was in New York City for its iteration of the Women's March on Saturday. She recreated the anonymous woman's protest by Columbus Circle in Manhattan.
Many Iranian and Iranian-American woman participated in the Women's Marches across the United States this weekend. "I am marching today because I wanted to talk about the forced hijab in Iran," Sepideh Jodeyri, a 41-year-old woman, told NBC News. "I wanted to support the movement White Wednesday. This is a march for every woman everywhere."
The freedom that was displayed and quite literally paraded during these marches is bittersweet for some. Somewhere between 1.6 million and 2.5 million people rallied for the 2018 Women's Marches, and none were arrested for peacefully demonstrating. Meanwhile, there's no sign that we'll learn the fate of the anonymous woman who waved her white hijab in Tehran anytime soon.
"I am crying here, envying at this freedom," Alinejad told NBC. "My dream is to have the same freedom in my own country to protest against our government. I want my women to have the same right in my home and to march freely without getting arrested or being killed."