As Iran’s “Feminist Revolution” enters a third week of street protests against the authoritarian Islamist regime, renowned screen and movie stars from around the world have begun to cut their hair in solidarity.
- Women’s hair is deemed “a symbol of honour and dignity” in Iran
- The symbolic gesture also has echoes in local history and folklore
- A museum in Rome is collecting locks of hair cut to present to the Iranian Embassy
Activists and experts say the act is a specific response to the enforcement of dress restrictions but also has roots in local history and folklore.
The protests were initially sparked by the killing of a 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested by the Iranian morality police for violating the regime-imposed dress code in September.
From the beginning, hair cutting by Iranian women protesters emerged as a symbol of resistance.
According to the US-based Persian literary critic, Waheed Siddiqi, the cutting off of locks of hair is a specific act in protest against the imposition of veils.
“The religious leaders in Iran have made the veil mandatory for women and girls to completely cover the hair, which is deemed as a symbol of honour and dignity but this action of the women activists has simply blasted the whole concept of that forceful imposition,” Mr Siddiqi said.
Rouzbeh Nabipourshiri, a Melbourne-based Iranian refugee, told the ABC that, by cutting off locks of hair, the protesters hoped to show they were not giving up on their demand to uproot the regime.
“Unlike the previous waves of demonstrations, this ‘Feminist Revolution’ is not afraid to confront the regime,” he said.
Mr Nabipourshiri was part of the 2009 “Green Movement” in Iran and the subsequent protests influenced by the Arab Spring.
He said the women and girls were showing their resolve to fight until the end and sacrifice everything for freedom.
“The protesters have no hopes for gradual improvement or reforms, so they are demanding a complete overhaul and an end to the oppressive regime by the religious leaders,” he said.
On Wednesday, Oscar-winning actors Marion Cotillard and Juliette Binoche, as well as other French screen and music stars, posted on social media videos of themselves chopping off locks of their own hair in solidarity.
“For freedom,” Binoche said as she hacked a large handful of hair off the top of her head with a pair of scissors, before brandishing it in front of the camera.
The video — hashtagged #HairForFreedom — comes with images of Iran engulfed by anti-government protests.
Images of women elsewhere cutting their hair to show solidarity with Iranian women have gone viral — from Turkish singer Melek Mosso on stage last week, to women in Lebanon and Syria, to Swedish lawmaker Abir Al-Sahlani in the halls of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday.
A museum in Rome is collecting locks of hair to present to the Iranian Embassy.
“For women to cut their hair in Iran is a form of protest … a symbol to stand against the mandatory hijab,” said Dorna Javan, an Iranian political scientist based in France who specialises in Iran.
Such a visual gesture is a way for women across the world to rally around the Iranian women’s plight, she added.
The videos of Cotillard, Binoche and dozens of other women cutting off locks of their hair were compiled and posted on an Instagram account, “soutienfemmesiran” — which translates as “support women in Iran”.
“These women, these men are asking for our support. Their courage and their dignity obliges us,” said a post with the video.
“We have decided to respond to the appeal made to us by cutting — us too — some of these locks.”
Some of the other women who took part included actors Charlotte Rampling and Charlotte Gainsbourg, who was also filmed cutting off a lock of hair from the head of her mother, singer Jane Birkin.
This highly symbolic gesture also echoes Iranian history and folklore, where women chopped their hair as a sign of protest.
The Shahnameh (The Book of Kings) — a national epic of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi between 977 and 1010 AD — refers to a princess chopping her hair to protest against the death of her husband she saw as unfair.
“Women cutting their hair is an ancient Persian tradition also found in The Shahnameh, when the fury is stronger than the power of the oppressor,” tweeted Shara Atashi, an Iranian writer based in Wales.
Ms Javan described it as a “benevolent gesture”, and called for more robust political action from the international community to support Iranian protesters.
“We can’t reduce the fight of Iranian women for their rights — which dates back to the second half of the 19th century — to the gesture of cutting their hair,” she said.
“But these viral videos are a way to give an international impact to their fight.”
One of the protesters in Iran told the ABC the demonstrations continued, despite internet blockages by Iranian authorities.
“We’ve got lots of internet problems, the web proxies are almost all down, and almost no access to WhatsApp messing platforms most of the times,” said Neda Allahverdi, moments after returning home from a night-time protest in Tehran.
She said the agitation drive had spread to smaller towns and villages across Iran, where women and girls were rising against the regime.
Regime not stepping back
Breaking his silence on the protests, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, earlier this week condemned what he called “rioting” and accused the US and Israel of being behind the agitation.
“This rioting was planned,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Ayatollah said during a speech in Tehran that the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody was a “sad incident”.
Iranian activist Nabipourshiri said the Ayatollah’s comments indicated the regime was not intending to submit to the protesters’ demands.
“This is an open-ended movement led by Iranian women and girls. No one can predict the outcome,” he said.
Original posted at www.abc.net.au