The unprecedented anti-regime protests by women in Iran seem to be going from strength to strength despite attempts by the government to clamp down--nearly 100 protesters have died resisting the government forces-- on the ongoing stir. Lately, schoolgirls have joined the protests and a real shot in the arm is the solidarity expressed by freedom-loving citizens across the world. Moreover, a video of French female artists including, the admirable, Juliette Binoche cutting their hair in solidarity with the Iran protests has gone viral on social media.
At this moment, it would be relevant to look back at an article, dated July 25, 2022, published by Ahou Koutchesfahani, a Ph.D. candidate--which was uploaded on King's College, London website-- to offer a glimpse at the "How Iranian women use social media to narrate their struggle to the world," which is also the headline of the piece.
In Iran, two notable causes around which social media is helping mobilise women are the campaign against the compulsory hijab and Iran’s #MeToo movement.
In Iran, international social media platforms are blocked but over 60 million active Internet users circumvent the filters and gain access daily with Virtual Private Networks (VPN). Nonetheless, being vocal online against restrictive laws such as the compulsory hijab and socio-economic inequalities faced by women leaves them at risk of imprisonment.
One of the first major examples of hashtag activism within Iranian women’s rights activism was from Masih Alinejad, a former parliamentary journalist inside Iran. After the green movement uprisings in 2009, when she along with many others fled the country for security reasons, she created the hashtag #MyStealthyFreedom as a critique of the compulsory hijab.
With over six million followers on her Twitter and Instagram accounts combined, Alinejad’s tech-savvy approach to capturing movements in short hashtags has gained her a significant audience that has continued to grow over the past decade.
Her large online presence is much indebted to the fact that content is sent to her in the form of videos and photos from protesters of the compulsory hijab within Iran. This raises an interesting, albeit problematic, question about her ‘armchair activism’ as she is posting from a space of relative safety. A controversial figure of the Iranian women’s rights movement, she nevertheless has a large audience and that assures Iranian women who send her footage from inside the country that their voices will be heard by many.
Social media has enabled women inside Iran to depict, through the click of one button, how poorly they are treated to a global audience. It shifts the scale of visibility for women’s rights activism from a local stage to a global stage. Iranian women’s digital activism has created an important additional space for the narration of their struggle to reach a wider audience. However, whilst in some cases it is able to shift societal and even policy changes, for the women activists who campaign, it comes with its own set of considerable perils, as the state tries to stamp out dissenting voices and reassert its control over women and their bodies.