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Women in Iran have started a defiant act of protest just by standing outside and showing their hair.

In protest of the compulsory hijab law, one of the defining characteristics of the Islamic republic, women are forgoing the headscarves in public and instead waving their hijabs on the end of sticks.

The law enforcing the hijab has been in place since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. A headscarf and loose clothing covering the body are mandatory for every woman in the country. The law also extends to tourists and foreign visiting dignitaries, regardless of their personal religious beliefs.

Removing the hijab in public is punishable with fines or jail time. The compulsory hijab law has become one of the main pillars of the ruling system in the past 39 years.

A movement begins

On Dec. 27, a 31-year-old woman named Vida Movahed stood on top of a utility box and began waving her scarf on the end of a wooden stick. Movahed, who is also the mother of a 19-month-old baby, was arrested later that day, detained and held in custody before being released a few weeks later.

Movahed’s act of peaceful civil disobedience started a widespread movement that has left authorities trying, unsuccessfully so far, to short circuit it. An official report by Iranian news agency Tasnim says at least 29 women have been arrested in Tehran alone.

Young men have also joined the protest.

“We support our sisters,” Pouya, a 24-year-old engineering college student said. “Even if they arrest them all we will keep the movement going by holding up their scarfs.”

A nation speaks

A nationwide survey about the Islamic veil found that 49.8 percent of Iranians, both men and women, consider the hijab a private matter and believe the government should not interfere.

The 20-page report was conducted in 2014 by the Center for Strategic Studies, a research group run by the office of Iran’s president, but was only published on Monday.

According to the report’s findings, hijab and women’s issues are one of the most contentious debates in the country and for the ruling system. The report adds that it would be very difficult to continue to enforce a state-run dress code in such a conflicted social climate.

Social media is allowing Iranians to have their voice heard on this issue throughout the world. Powerful footage, pictures and messages of support are going viral in Iran and internationally.

Hashtags like #GirlsOfRevolutionSt (Mohaved took her stand ironically in one of the busiest streets in Tehran: Revolution Street) and #NoToForcedHijab are taking hold.

“Women will conquer this city with freedom again,” says Tahmineh, a 33-year old physical education trainer.

A movement like this is previously unheard of among Iranian women, who for years quietly debated whether a protest of compulsory hijab could garner widespread support.

The answer is now clear, and the images are powerful.

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