“Not Athletes Boycotting Iran, But Iran Boycotting Athletes Who Refuse Compulsory Hijab”

By Masih Alinejad:

Editor’s note: On October 29, Heena Sidhu, India’s first pistol shooter to win a gold medal at the World Cup in 2013, declared that she will not be participating in the Asian Air Shooting championship being held in Iran because of the compulsory hijab rule for all women in the country. This comes right after U.S. chess champion, Nazí Paikidze, also pulled out of a championship in Iran due to the same reason.

Masih Alinejad is an award-winning Iranian journalist living in exile first in the U.K. and now in the U.S. She is the force behind the My Stealthy Freedom Facebook page, which encourages Iranian women to upload images of themselves without the mandatory hijab, and has over a million fans. Masih writes on Youth Ki Awaaz on what she thinks of Heena Sidhu’s move.

Heena Sidhu is a great example of what a great number of ordinary women inside India do every day – fight against injustice and stand up for their rights. Iranian women feel certain affinity with Indian women not because of Bollywood movies but because we both share certain history and cultures. And we, the women in India and Iran, have for long been carrying the scars of discrimination. Heena Sidhu has taken a brave stance to stand for her own dignity, her self-worth, her values, and protested against the discriminatory hijab laws. We need more people, men and women, to follow her example and do what is right.

In Iran, women are also fighting in their own ways against the compulsory hijab. When Heena chose to protest against the compulsory hijab in Iran, I shared her photo on the My Stealthy Freedom campaign page and my Instagram. Many women inside Iran applauded her actions, cheering her as a sister in the same fight. Women in Iran know that they have to fight their own fight but it’s always good to have your sisters stand up with you. We remember how when the Foreign Minister of India came to our country, she didn’t dare to stand for her own dignity and wore the compulsory hijab.

We, the women from the My Stealthy Freedom campaign, never ask female politicians to come and save us. We only ask them to stand for and respect their own dignity, to stand for their own rights. Imagine if a female politician from the Islamic Republic was to visit India and was asked to remove her hijab to respect India’s cultural norms. She would refuse. All we are asking is for non-Iranian politicians, athletes and visitors to do the same, to not meekly accept Islamic Republic’s compulsory hijab laws and stand up for their own values.

When I see athletes, chess players and now Heena, join us to protest against the compulsory hijab, it shows that our message, that women should have the right to choose, is getting heard. In the 21st century, it is really ugly and unbecoming for the Government of Iran to impose its compulsory hijab laws not only on Iranian women but also on non-Iranians. As long as the Islamic Republic Government forces its rules on women, we have to fight against this compulsory and discriminatory law.

Some people say that boycotting Iran is not a good way to fight for human rights, but that is wrong. It is not the athletes who are boycotting Iran but the Islamic Republic that is boycotting the athletes who do not yield to compulsory hijab laws. In effect, the Islamic Republic says if you wear the compulsory hijab, you can enter the tournament, but if you don’t, you cannot enter the country and participate.

Now, some female politicians who visit Iran and wear the hijab, say that this is an internal matter. That it’s cultural and they don’t want to interfere. This is wrong as well. Hijab is a global issue. And as Heena says, this is not an internal matter when athletes, or chess players, have to wear the hijab to compete in international tournaments held in Iran.

What is more, compulsory hijab has never been part of Iran’s culture. Before the Islamic Republic, hijab was always a choice – you can see millions of Iranian women without hijab in photographs of the era before the clerical regime. To say you want to respect compulsory hijab is like saying you want to respect the apartheid regime that existed in South Africa. As many Indians know, it took years for the world to shun South Africa but the world did, and eventually, the apartheid regime collapsed.

Today, we have an Islamic government that forces a 7-year-old girl to wear the hijab. And when the authorities force half the population to cover up and punish them by arrest and detention and fines and even 70 lashes, then you really cannot say this is part of our culture. This is a human rights violation. Iranians have great respect for other cultures. It’s time the Islamic Republic had the same respect.

To me, Heena is a great champion. A true champion. Because she stood for her own right. And we need more athletes, like Heena, to join us and protest against discriminatory laws around the world.

To know more about Masih’s movement to end compulsory hijab in Iran, check out: In Iran, One Woman Is Leading The Battle Against Compulsory Hijab, Through Facebook

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