In 2018, a young woman stepped onto a box and took off her white headdress.

Tying it to a black stick, she defiantly waved it in protest of the 1979 law requiring women to cover their hair. Then, she disappeared. Other men and women raced to her support using social media to hashtag: #WhereIsShe?

After restrictions were introduced forty years ago, women who protested like this 31-year-old mother were sent to prison. Now they just disappear. In fact, more than 40,000 women in Tehran arrested by the modesty police no longer go to jail. Instead, they are sent to one of the 100 re-education centers throughout Iran or they disappear.

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Their crime? Breaking with the tradition and laws of the old ways.

While it’s not my place to pass judgment on whether values and customs should be upheld for women living in other countries and cultures, the severe punishment for breaking the legal requirement to wear the hajib seems excessive.

Maybe if the laws were applied equally to men and they too were forced to wear hijabs, I might not feel so disgruntled. But women disappearing or being “re-educated” seems to take a page right out of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.

I know I”m not alone in this feeling. There are men in Iran who have decided to wear the hijab in solidarity to protest this old law. They want to end this practice, although I’m not sure the doubled efforts to also wear hijabs will have the desired effect. What I know, however, is this story provides a wonderful segway into today’s WS Art Card and the week ahead.

As we continue to focus on technology in our August series, we consider the protections and challenges of privacy and responsibilities, as well as freedom and equal access to knowledge and information. The irony of balancing these competing interests is not lost on women who live paradoxical lives.

Wednesday’s story about Alexandria Velvakyan, the woman who invented Sci-Hub and continues to fight for free access to scientific research, is not what it seems. She’s been labeled a criminal for illegally sharing reports and studies, both of which she believes are already paid for by the public.

WomanScape writer Alex Hilton details why she is no more a criminal than the woman waiving the white hijab flag or any other woman exercising freedoms that we should all afford.

For this reason, I really like today’s photographic artist Shadi Ghadirian.

She’s an Iranian photographer who considers the freedom of women in her country. Shadi believes they are caught between old customs and archaic stereotypes enshrined in Iranian law. Born in Tehran in 1974, she presents these struggles for women who would like to embrace modernity but can’t.

Shadi graduated from Azad University with a Bachelor’s Degree and started photographing friends and family in staged portraits. In her provocative and entertaining work, she asks questions around female identity, censorship, gender roles, and geopolitics.

Her photographs of women pictured with a yellow cleaning glove or a cooking pot in place of her face are both funny and serious. Shadi’s larger series, Like Everyday, reduce women to their typecasts as housewives draped in veils.

How do we wrestle with the challenges of a changing world, where customs, values, and ideas are rapidly changing in the context of new technologies, economies, and politics? In the words of many artists, it starts with conversation. See you Wednesday, as we delve into Alexandria and a freedom fighter on the run.

Rose McInerney

Author Rose McInerney

Rose combines her love of all things artfully-designed to connect women to a shared community of learning and a richer, more fulfilled self. As a passionate storyteller, published writer, and international traveler, Rose believes women can build a better world through powerful storytelling.

More posts by Rose McInerney

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