The locks of two girls, not hidden under the fabric of mandatory hijabs, were free under the fading rays of the Spring sun, shining. And a police officer, standing with arms crossed behind his back, witnessing the girls besotted. Everything is alive and ordinary, a couple of steps further some people are busy shopping, as if a normal life, deprived of the mandatory hijab’s daily struggle, has taken place in this village since day one and the everyone’s eyes are familiar with the two girls’ black locks. As if, a girl has never been killed due to mandatory hijab, as if girls have never been degraded, have never been arrested, prisoned and deprived of their rights that are human rights.
This is a tale of an image depicting a village called Hajij-e Bozorg in Kermanshah. A picture that was created after six months of bloody oppression was named the Woman, Life, Freedom Revolution. I received the image in the last days of the 1402 Nowruz holidays which displays that despite the killings, arrests, tortures, and threats, women’s determination to overthrow the regime and reach liberation still stands strong. They continue the struggle for freedom that can only be achieved by overthrowing the regime.
On Iranian social media, from Instagram to Twitter and Telegram, this image has been shared rapidly. A variety of pages have shared the image, some referring to is as “The March of Freedom.” Others described the photo as “Bravery and beauty in one frame.” Therefore, I decided to engage in conversation with the person who had sent me the image to ask about her feeling at the moment the photo was taken.
In this conversation, this person is referred to as Naziar.
Zamaneh: How did it feel when you walk in the public space without a headscarf, or in other words mandatory hijab?
Naziar: this moment was a coming together of multiple feelings. Feelings of courage because of breaking a patriarchal order, and traditions in the name of the father’s honor. Feelings of being liberated from the constraints of an oppressive system whose power we succeeded to challenge despite the ominous presence of its representatives. We have experienced fear, but at that moment we overcame not only all our fears but also overthrow predefined gendered constraints and restrictions for women. We thought it was a sublime moment of freedom despite the heaviness of the surveilled atmosphere. At that moment, even though we feared power, the joy we experienced by disobeying and deriding this power is indescribable.
Since childhood, in school as well as in the public space, the hijab has always been enforced on us which affected the way we presented and clothed ourselves. We had become used to always carrying a headscarf with us. On the one hand, putting this habit aside was a bit difficult but on the other hand we were determined to experience being in the public space without wearing a headscarf.
Z: Were you worried? Especially when passing by police or military forces?
N: When we were paced by the police officers I was not at all worried. I ignored them. I tried to show them how inessential their presence is.
Our experience is the experience of a generation entangled with traditions and acts based on what had been previously decided in our names, a matter of things we had inherited from the past. But with the start of the Jina Revolution, and voicing the slogan woman, life, freedom, and women overthrowing their headscarves, the course of many predetermined matters and traditions was disrupted. To such an extent that one could say our present moment does not resemble any moment of our past. Not anymore. From that moment on, we moved towards transgression, and simultaneously with Jina’s funeral, we buried our fears at Aychi cemetery in Saqqez. We were aware of the possible consequences of disobeying and deriding the guardians of the current regime, especially in the context of the regime’s continued oppression, but we still, passed them by ignoring their presence.
Z: How did the surveilling forces react?
N: For us, the presence of surveilling forces does not secure our safety but is inherently a tool for the creation of fear and anxiety. Especially after the Jina Revolution, an increased number of surveilling forces can be seen in every part of the city and even in the entrance and exit of the bulk of Kurdish cities. Continues inspections and the intentional creation of many traffic jams whose sole purpose is to create widespread fear. They want to dominate us by reminding us that they are present and will not allow us, our thoughts, and our revolutionary slogans to continue growing. And we revolted against their presence and the essence of their existence showing that we can ignore them, not see them. In Iran, the police are the murderer of women’s freedom.
The number of surveilling forces was high, undercover officers, as well as military forces, were present, and every couple meters there stood another officer, solely to put fear in women’s hearts. Their faces were marked by rage.
Z: How was the Nowruz atmosphere in Kurdistan after the bloody oppression? Have other women joined your act of protest in other ways?
N: The atmosphere of Kurdistan is not the field for discourse on names anymore. A discourse the governing regime has aimed to define Kurds based on. Through the domination of this discourse, the government hat exerted control using Intra-national mechanisms. Women, the pioneers of this revolution, succeeded once again to demarcate the atmosphere as they desired.
They will not endure oppression any longer and revolted against the regime, displaying unprecedented degrees of resistance, by using tactics to take back the control over their bodies.
As such, men and their gendered gazes have been affected by the Jina Revolution. Today, they perceive women as humans and not as the inferior sex. After the revolution, in the new mindset that emerged not only among men but also among women, women are no longer perceived as objects under the possession of men who, in the public spaces, are often times verbally abused and made fun of. Despite the oppressive system’s claims, the revolution has resulted in more respect towards women in the public space.
In Kurdistan, the atmosphere was turbulent. We saw many tourists who had traveled to Kurdistan to visit the grave of Jina. There were no obligatory veils. Everyone ignored the forced veiling law. Compared to previous years, more freedom could be witnessed. Many women were present in the streets of Mariwan, Avroman, and Hajij-e Bozorg without the mandatory hijab and in traditional Kurdish clothing.
Z: How did you react when encountering other women who did not wear the mandatory hijab? How did it feel?
N: Historically, in these lands, it has not occurred often that the bulk of women and even men align themselves with each other in a revolutionary quest. Elderly women and men who were committed to their beliefs and could not remove themselves from what they believed in in their hearts, but when being confronted with women who had taken off their compulsory veils, they looked at these women with pride and in awe. Sometimes, they would join the women and take off their scarves to show that their internal beliefs differ from those of the governing ideologic regime.
All of these attempts are worthy. Any kind of civil disobedience, from dancing and displaying joy and women holding each other’s hands, and men who refuse to gaze at women from positions of domination, and the elimination of forced veils from women’s wardrobes, have caused indescribable joy and happiness.
I see many women who were wearing their hijabs, but when seeing us without our veils, they are given the courage to also take off their forced veils.
Z: How did society perceive you? Especially the men who have gotten used to seeing women with hijabs in the public space.
N: I have almost never experienced degrading gazes in society or heard degrading words from other women. Throughout this movement, I have experienced a kind of feminine convergence not only with other women but also with men. If our people are liberated from those ideological pedagogies and restrain, and can participate in a new form of education that unfolds parallel to the beliefs of this revolution, they can all live in an equal society, free from sexist gazes no matter whether they are wearing a hijab or not.
The headscarf or in other words, the lachak is an element of traditional Kurdish clothing. But given the highly surveilled public space of Kurdistan, among men and even men from older generations, who are used to seeing scarfs on their women’s heads. Even those men made me feel calm and safe. The feeling of safety they gave me encouraged me and made me feel supported. They expressed their support by making this moment look safe and normal.
Z: Can you explain a bit more about this reclaiming of the public space, from which the bodies of women have been erased, and the gaining of control over your body?
N: Before this, the presence of us women in the public space was always invisible. The bodies of women were under the control of the regime’s ideology, but we reclaimed our bodies from the ideological control of religion and the patriarchy. It was through our bodies that we challenged the totality of the regime’s territorial systematic ideology. Our bodies gained political agency and we will continue utilizing each chance to find ways to continue the resistance. We will never give them back our bodies.
Rejecting the exploitative compulsory veil is the first step. We will dismantle not only the domination of our bodies but also the oppression of our minds.