A women’s rights activist in Iran says her heart broke when she saw New Zealanders wearing the hijab in an attempt at solidarity following the Christchurch mosque attacks.
Masih Alinejad, an Iranian activist and journalist who hosts the website My Stealthy Freedom where women in Iran post photos without headscarves, admired Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s compassion, but was conflicted about the national display.
After 50 people were shot dead in two Christchurch mosques on March 15, photos of Ardern wearing a hijab went around the world, with many political commentators admiring her act of solidarity.
Alinejad, who has lived in self-imposed exile since 2009 and received death threats for her campaigning against Iran’s obligatory wearing of headscarves, told Reuters: “I felt admiration that a prominent leader and women in New Zealand showed compassion to the Muslim community, but I also felt that you are using one of the most visible symbols of oppression for Muslim women in many countries for solidarity, and it also broke my heart.
“That is why I call on them to show their sisterhood and solidarity with us, who are being beaten up, imprisoned and punished for fighting against compulsory hijab as well.”
Alinejad has also founded White Wednesdays, a movement which saw many women take off their headscarves in protest of the “discriminatory law”.
She says visitors to Iran shouldn’t wear the hijab out of “respect for the culture of Iran”, and those who do are “sending a message that men are more equal than women”.
In a video circulating on Twitter she says: “Iranian women, they fight against the compulsory hijab and they are alone, they are on their own.
“There were three female politicians from the Netherlands – they went to Iran the same day when one of the women of the White Wednesdays movement put her headscarf on a stick and waved it in public, she got arrested.
“The same day there were three female politicians from the Netherlands in Iran obeying compulsory hijab law without challenging it.
“So the female politicians who go and visit Iran, the tourists, athletes, actresses – all of them, when they go to my beautiful country they say that this is a cultural issue, we wear it out of respect to the culture of Iran.
“Let me be clear with you: calling a discriminatory law a part of our culture – this is an insult to a nation.”
In her Herald on Sunday column, Heather du Plessis-Allan addressed the rights and wrongs surrounding the issue of wearing a headscarf.
Du Plessis-Allan wrote that a Muslim women’s rights advocate in Malaysia suggested that the reason Ardern wore hijab was because she didn’t understand the implications. “She is not a Muslim and not from a Muslim majority country,” the advocate said in an interview.
Spectator USA took a similar stance, du Plessis-Allan wrote, claiming that being “a self-professed feminist” made Ardern wearing a headscarf even worse.
In summary, du Plessis-Allan wrote that despite the criticism the PM was right to wear a headscarf.
“Putting on the headscarf was the simplest and most compelling way of the Prime Minister telling the Muslim community that they are us and they have our support.
“Supporting all Muslims was more important than being a feminist in the days immediately following the attack.”