Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad speaks about politics and women’s rights
Last Thursday evening, the Georgetown University Arab Society and Lecture Fund hosted A Conversation with Masih Alinejad, a discussion with the distinguished Iranian journalist and author is living in exile in the United Kingdom after she openly criticized the Iranian government.
Alinejad has published three books on women’s issues and politics in Iran, but she is most famous for her Facebook page “My Stealthy Freedom”, an online forum where Iranian women are able to post photos free from the compulsory hijab. Since its conception, the website has sparked an international discussion on the power of individual choice.
“[My Stealthy Freedom] is a platform to get all these people together to talk about women’s subjects that we had never had the chance to talk about in school or University to criticize not only the government or to object the compulsory hijab, but to criticize traditional society,” Alinejad said.
Having grown up in a small village, Alinejad was aware of the different standards that Iranian men and women were held to from a very early age. She was not permitted to engage in the same activities as her brother, like swimming, running, riding a bicycle—or deciding how she wanted to dress.
“Every morning as a woman, when you want to go out to your job, family, shopping…you have to be someone else. You have to wear something you don’t believe in,” she said.
Although the Iranian government has tried to convince her country otherwise, Alinejad said that she is not against the hijab; she opposes the lack of personal choice women have in deciding whether or not they want to wear it. “The simple demand is just to let us be ourselves,” she said. “That is it.”
Although Alinejad’s political activism began at a young age when she was arrested in 1994 for producing leaflets that criticized the government, her career was established during her tenure as a journalist in the Iranian parliament.
“Being a female journalist in parliament was not easy,” she said. “My main focus was criticizing the [members of the parliament] and politicians inside Iran. I started to expose their salary and pay, and they started to hate me from that time.”
In 2008, she published the controversial article “The Song of Dolphins” where she compared former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s interactions with his poorer constituents to those of a dolphin trainer. After receiving domestic criticism and international attention for this piece, Alinejad decided to go into exile.
“Yes, they didn’t say I had to leave the country, but I wasn’t allowed to study there, to be in Parliament… or to be a journalist,” she said. “I wanted to speak out. I wanted to be loud. I thought, I have to get out of here to be loud again. And that’s why I’m here.”
Alinejad has won various awards, including the Omid Journalism Award from the Mehdi Semsar Foundation and a “Highly Commended” AIB Media Excellence Award. She also continues to work for the popular satirical TV show OnTen on the “Voice of America” VOA Persian Service and as a correspondent for Radio Farda.
Photo: Marisa Hawley/The Georgetown Voice