The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was a shock to the western world, but unfortunately, that is the reality of a lot of women in Muslim countries. The protests that followed of Iranian women cutting their hair moved me to write about my experience surviving the 'hijab' life. To be terrified of the consequences of not wearing the hijab, to be ostracized or beaten to death is a life of fear and violence that so many women live in silence. It’s time to bring our stories to light.
Two years ago, I ran away. I came to Canada and I found my sense of empowerment in taking the hijab off. But this past summer, I went back to the place I used to call home. In doing so, I had to put aside all the healing I had done to combat my religious trauma, and wear the hijab. But in putting it on, I felt that fear latch back onto me. The sense of helplessness and oppression that I worked so hard to forget.
What's happening in Iran reminded me that the hijab is one of the most common weapons that is used against women. When women get harassed or raped or stalked or killed, the reason is always: "She probably wasn’t wearing the hijab".
Back in the oppressive culture I had escaped, with a hijab on my head, I innocently took the bus with my mother beside me. As I was looking down at my phone, I felt something touch my lower back. Then it went lower. I looked up and there was a Turkish man standing next to me with his hand on my body. He didn't even seem phased by me looking up at him. He knew what he was doing and he knew he could get away with it.
I was about to scream and tell him off but then I remembered where I was. My mom was there but she would have made it my fault. I couldn't move because the bus was crowded but worse was the fact that I had to act okay because I knew I'd be put through worse consequences if I didn’t. I could hear my father saying, "If a girl gets assaulted while walking outside, it's her fault for putting herself in that position in the first place." This was his response to the girls that recently got killed in Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan.
So here I was, literally being groped but I was more afraid of the consequences that I would suffer if I spoke up.
I knew I would get shamed and/or beaten. And then, I would be forced to wear a whole new layer of this hijab, which ironically is the reason why some men in that society feel comfortable assaulting women in the first place. This was a society where instead of telling men to control themselves, they cover up women because they're to blame for “enticing” poor helpless men. They believe that the hijab is meant to conceal everything that would tempt a man to commit a crime. A crime that wouldn't have happened if you were wearing it right.
My anger turned to my mom and I wanted to fight her for believing that this piece of fabric would protect me from people like him, for making me feel guilty my entire life for being assaulted while wearing the hijab. But I have to remind myself to pick my battles. I shouldn't be caught up trying to remember the thousand rules I followed. I didn't come back to be in the same position I always in. I'm not the same girl that thought the scariest thing I could do was take my hijab off.
Now that I live in a country that is safe enough to be free as a woman, I realize how big this battle is. I fought for my freedom, now I fight for my younger siblings'. Even though I still sometimes feel intimidated and small, I have to remember my strength and courage.
I'm reminded of this every day, and when I saw the news about the Iranian woman, who was about my age, that was killed brutally, I realized how fortunate I am to have made it out, and how important it is to be the voice of all the oppressed women that are too afraid to speak up.