Fight against repressive laws on women | Page 3 | Sunday Observer
Book review:

Fight against repressive laws on women

21 August, 2022

Masih Alinejad’s gripping memoir ‘The Wind in My Hair’ is all about her fight for women’s rights in modern Iran. It is an eye-opener to her persistent and brave fight against repressive laws that mostly condemned women to second class citizens who have little freedom to follow their hearts. She has relentlessly fought against the mandatory compulsions imposed on women to follow the dress code (veil) irrespective of their preference.

The book is an extraordinary memoir from a journalist in exile about leaving her country, challenging tradition and sparking a movement against the compulsory dress code imposed on women. A photograph on her Facebook page depicts a woman standing proudly, face bare and her hair flowing in the wind.

Her crime is the removal of her veil which is compulsory for women in her country. This is the self-portrait that sparked ‘My stealthy freedom,’ a social media campaign that went viral. However, Masih is so much more than the arresting face that sparked a campaign inspiring women to find their voices.

Masih is a world-class journalist. Her personal story, told in her unforgettably bold and spirited voice, is emotional and inspiring. She grew up in a traditional village where her mother was a seamstress and a respected figure in the community. As a teenager Masih was arrested for political activism. When released, she married her boyfriend as she was pregnant and followed her husband to Tehran where she was served with divorce papers.

Masih spent nine years struggling to regain custody of her only son and was forced into exile. Her real life saga has all the ingredients of a bestseller. From being arrested for political activism to a teenage pregnancy, an early divorce that could have impacted anyone’s sanity, she remained a fighter who overcame every obstacle that both life and the authorities have thrown at her. She traces her roots to a little known village called Ghomikola in Iran. Her journey begins on a compelling note.

Masih says, “I wanted my book to be more than a memoir; it is a journey, a geographical one from a small village in Northern Iran to the capital Tehran and then to London and New York. It is a political journey of standing against injustice and learning to fight for my political beliefs and a personal journey of forging my identity by learning to say ‘no.’ We often discover who we are when we say ‘no.’ It is easy to say ‘yes’ and get along, but it is much harder to stand for your beliefs and stand up for your rights. Also, I wanted to tell the story of my country from the perspective of a woman who lived through some of the most dramatic upheavals.”

Political activism

To a question of her being arrested for political activism, to a sudden pregnancy and a quick marriage and a subsequent divorce and her life having all the elements of a family drama, and keeping sane in the toughest of moments, she says, “I am sure my enemies often think I am not sane. I did not start out with a plan, but life often can derail the best of plans. When you are going through an unplanned pregnancy and quick marriage, you don’t have time to think about the family drama but just surviving. I wanted to get married, leave the village and go to the city but I never expected that I would end up in a divorce. As a blessing in disguise, surviving my divorce made me stronger.”

She thinks it is adequate to ask women to discard their veil, when it is actually the men who need to be educated too. She says, “Our campaign needs the support of men if we are to succeed. Unless the men learn to stand up for their women’s rights, the subjugation will continue. We need men to stop thinking of women as property, as sex objects and respect their rights. I am not a religious scholar and there are many arguments for and against the veil. I am not against the veil, but I am against it being made compulsory. Look at Turkey, Lebanon or Tunisia or in the past Iraq under Saddam, Libya under Gaddafi, Iran under Shah – where the veil was not mandatory.

Masih story is a testament to a spirit that remains unbroken and an enlightening invitation into a world we don’t know nearly enough about. ‘The wind in My Hair’ is the extraordinary memoir of a woman who overcame enormous adversity. Her inspiring journey from an ordinary working-class village girl into a transnational activist is a testimony to not only her talents and passionate dedication to equal rights but also to the aspiration and determination of many Iranian women whose stories are recounted by her in the book.

“Masih’s courageous journey is part of a growing women’s right movement that resonates with women everywhere,” says Nayereh Tohidi, scholar and director of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, California, United States.

Women’s problems are universal. Sexual harassment and abuse are not confined to just one country. Women’s problems are also not limited to compulsory veil. Yet the compulsory veil is the most visible sign of women’s submission and loss of freedom.