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Girls & Women

Anti-Hijab Activist Who Became an Icon Might Be Missing in Iran

Footage of the woman standing silently waving her white headscarf, tied to a stick, went viral in December, symbolic of the resistance against forced hjiab in Iran. 

Standing alone on a pillar box in the middle of one of Tehran’s busiest streets, she became the poster child of the women’s rights movement against the country’s compulsory dress code.

But now, renowned human rights Nasrin Sotoudeh has raised concerns that the woman featured in the iconic footage may have gone missing — and she is convinced she has been arrested. 

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“What I am certain about is that this lady has been arrested,” Sotoudeh told news agency AFP . “The witnesses on the scene who saw her being taken away and even accompanied her to the police station gave me this information. I have no contact with her family.” 

Sotoudeh said the woman seemed to be “at the end of [her] tether, because of all the controls placed on her body over the 31 years of her life.” 

“Women feel they have no control over their bodies,” she said. “It is a prelude to infringing on all of their rights.” 

Read more: Women Who Violate Tehran Dress Code Won't Be Arrested, for the First Time in Nearly 40 Years

The unnamed woman has been dubbed the “Girl of Enghelab Street” after the area where she staged her protest, and thousands have shared her image on social media — first, with messages of support for her protest. Now, with messages of concern for her whereabouts. 

According to reports in Iran , the woman hasn’t been seen in public since her photograph was taken on Dec. 27 — the day before unrelated economic protests broke out in Iran. 

Sotoudeh reportedly told journalists that she had been to the area and asked after the woman, who she was told is a 31-year-old mother-of-one. 

Now a growing movement of people are calling for authorities to reveal her whereabouts, using the hashtag #Where_is_she? 

Read more: An Egyptian Lawyer Said It's a 'Duty to Rape' in Revealing Clothes and People Are Outraged

Women in Iran are subject to strict clothing restrictions, which say they must wear a headscarf and long coat when in public. 

But the restrictions are facing a growing resistance, through both the “White Wednesdays” movement — which it is believed the woman was referencing to when waving her white headscarf — and the “My Stealthy Freedom” movement, which sees women sharing images and footage of themselves stealthily removing their scarves in public. 

In December, however, police in the capital city of Tehran announced that they would no longer detain women who violate the dress code — which also includes a ban on nail varnish, heavy makeup, and loose headscarves.

Instead, according to reports, women who fail to observe the dress code in Tehran would have to attend classes on “Islamic values” given by police. If women repeatedly offended, it was said, they could be subject to legal action. 

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