Iran is a land of contrast and probably defies what most people think of it. Especially regarding women. Women who strongly belong to a silent yet strong rebellion motion for freedom. It is because of Iranian women that I believe that contrasts are a vital cog of any Iranian experience and those same contrasts are leading the ladies and others to become stunch advocates of freedom.
Few things to know about Iran
1- Among the several social problems Iran is facing, youth and young couples are one of the biggets ones. Young couples cannot walk holding hands, they cannot kiss and show any other sign of affection. Having a relationship out in the open is reserved to married couples. Therefore young unmarried couples tend to meet up in houses and friends’ places. To be able to walk down the street holding hands, you need to married.
2- All women, Iranians and foreigners, by law must cover their head.
3- For women, blouses and shirts sleeves must be at least elbow-long. Skirts and trousers must not reveal anything from ankles up. If a woman is inside a private place, the rules do not apply.
4- The law forbids dancing and drinking in public places (this has been true for at least 3 centuries as Persians used to bring women from Georgia instead of locals Persian women). Depending on the level of faith, a woman might cover only her hair or a more traditional stand will have a woman wearing a chador that will cover most of her body.
The Women’s Movement
Women’s movement in is peaceful yet powerful. Historically, women have lived in a relative progressive society and enjoyed more freedom and equality than any of their neighbours. Women were workers, owners, sellers and tax payers.
With the arrival of Islam, women rapidly saw a decline in their position at every level.
Then things changed again. In the 1930’s, Reza Shah started legislating for women by granting them the right to seek divorce. He also encouraged them to work outside their homes and abolished the veil, a move that polarised opinion among progressive and conservative women. Finally, women gained the right to vote in the 1960’s.
But when in 1979 Iran became an Islamic Republic following the fierce Revolution, the adoption of the Sharia Law affected women enormously. Legal age for marriage plummeted from 18 years old to 9 years old for girls and 15 for boys. Women were obligated by law to wear the headscarf (‘rusari’ in Farsi) and were not allowed to appear in public with a man to whom they were not related to.
Many things changed for women, freedom of travel, expression, family law fell under religious jurisdiction which means that for a woman to seek a divorce became almost impossible.
What do women dress and look like today in Iran?
It depends on where you go. Women in the capital have had a taste of what emancipation is so it is common to see more modern/rebellious styles strolling the streets of Tehran. They push back their rusaris, wear heavy make up and like to reveal their hair in abundance.
In rural areas, however, tradition is more predominant and the level of faith is more tangible. Women behave and dress more conservatively.
On every inch of Iranian soil, under the law women who venture outdoors must wear a headscarf, the “rusari”, and a long overcoat, known as the “manteau”. Alternatively, they can wear a black cloak known as the “chador”. These are legal requirements, punishable by fines or imprisonment for repeat offenders.
The strictness of the law enforcement depends on the areas. Consequently, it is down to where you happen to be: in affluent north Tehran, women tend to push back their rusaris to reveal an abundance of hair. Their “manteaus” are multi-coloured and stylishly nipped in at the waist.