What Is White Wednesday? Iran Women Are Fighting For The Freedom To Dress How They Want

Tensions are running high in Iran after citizens around the country began protesting the government's economic policies on Thursday. But now, a social movement that began last year is beginning to take center stage amidst the street demonstrations. You may have seen that one particular Dec. 27 video of an Iranian woman taking her hijab off during the protests. The woman's action is part of a local movement in Iran called White Wednesday.

If you don't know much about Iran and its official code on headscarves, you might be confused by the clip at first. Women in Iran are expected by the government to cover their heads. So, in May 2017, activist and My Stealthy Freedom founder Masih Alinejad started White Wednesdays to protest Iran's mandatory hijab rule. Alinejad described her movement in 2017 via Facebook, saying,

This campaign is addressed to women who willingly wear the veil, but who remain opposed to the idea of imposing it on others. Many veiled women in Iran also find the compulsory imposition of the veil to be an insult. By taking footages of themselves wearing white, these women can also show their disagreement with compulsion.

The more recent clip everyone's talking about shows an Iranian woman quietly waving her white shawl side to side while standing atop a cement block on a crowded street. To mark White Wednesdays, Iranian women don white scarves and then take them off in protest, sharing photos and clips on their social media accounts with the hashtag "White Wednesdays."

Ever since the video emerged on social media, an international audience has praised her efforts. However, Alinejad has made it clear that White Wednesdays and the current protests in Iran are two separate movements in the same country. That said, the young woman's stance has become a symbol of resistance. She told Buzzfeed News,

There is no link between the photo and the protests. She made her lonely protest just a day before the uprising. We don’t know where she is but she has become an iconic picture of the Iran protests.

Local support for the movement has been shown by both hijab-wearing women, non-hijabis, and male allies. It's also worth remembering that while compulsory hijab is an issue for some Iranian women, many Muslim women wear the hijab as a symbol of feminist resistance.

After consistent opposition from social activists, the capital of Iran, Tehran, has softened its staunch code on the headscarf. In December, Tehran said that it would no longer arrest women for not observing the hijab. However, the hijab is still mandatory in other Iranian cities and women who don't wear it in Tehran could still be forced to attend classes taught by police.

The announcement came from Tehran police chief General Hossein Rahimi who said, "Those who do not observe the Islamic dress code will no longer be taken to detention centers, nor will judicial cases be filed against them." Instead of arresting them, the government said it would try to "educate" the women on wearing the headscarf. In other words, there's still a reason for women to protest on White Wednesdays.

Historically, this isn't the first time that Iranian women have taken a stand against the religious government's headscarf rule. After Ayatollah Khomeini rose to power in 1979, thousands of Iranian women and men took to the streets to protest the government's mandatory hijab order. If you're interested, you can take a look at the evocative and stunning photos taken by Iranian photographer Hengameh Golestan. With a history of robust activism and civil rights campaigning, it's no surprise that the women of country continue to express themselves without fear even today.