Un-Veiled Women: the rules

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.

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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.

Young people, in spite of the limitations, still have fun and enjoy shisha and alcoholic drinks even though hidden from public eyes. These are young people I met at the Sad’ Abad Complex.

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.

On 8 March 1979, more than 100,000 women gathered on the streets of the Iranian capital to protest against the new Islamic government’s compulsory hijab ruling, which meant a compulsory use of a headscarf when away from home. The protest was held on International Women’s Day. Photo source: @ Rare Historical Photos

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.

A very friendly girl I met at a shisha café-bar in Tehran. She, like most young people in Iran, has social media accounts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

In rural areas, however, tradition is more predominant and the level of faith is more tangible. Women behave and dress more conservatively.

Girls in Yazd, a very traditional town located south-east of Esfahan.

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.

The Towers of Wind

Many things made and still make Persia famous today. Going along the line of Persian inventions, today we find the Towers of Wind 🙂 AKA the mother of air conditioning devices.

The towers of wind are found all over Iran. And they have to be! Desert weather, unbearable temperatures and the inhospitable heat has always made it imperious to find a solution since ancient times.

 

How did ancient Persians survive the torrid heat?

The Tower of Wind is basically a ‘wind catcher’, a building designed to refrigerate hot air. These towers, normally connected to water channels, are capable of storing water so efficiently that even during summer water can feel nearly freezing.
The invention proved so effective that it rapidly spread out in many Middle-eastern and Asian countries.

Their invention is certainly credited to the Persian Empire but we are still not sure today if the first Tower was actually built in Iran. What we know is that one of the oldest of these magnificent towers is about 3,000 years old and located in the city of Yazd.

(c) wikipedia. This is a very simple scheme of how a tower of wind with qanat works. Basically, hot air, thanks to wind pressure, is pushed down the tunnel where the contact with water cools it down and then pushed inside the building through its basement. Always due to pressure, hot air is naturally expelled out of the high tower. There is never dust in these towers because the sand is carried outside by the underground water flow.

Yazd is a desert city which has been able to maintain its ancient architecture, and as such, it represents today a beautiful example of Iranian planning engineering.

The Towers of Wind may come in different designs. The ones you find in Iran all come with a qanat, meaning underground water flows, which aggregates an even better cooling effect.

These Towers made it possible for very hostile environments to become fit for residential use.

The Dolat Abat Garden in Yazd. The tallest tower of wind in Iran.

Its invention was widely applauded in the region, becoming an integral part of sacred temples and palaces.

Traveling to Iran

Why Travel to Iran?

It was the question addressed to me in the days, weeks and months prior to my trip to Iran.
I traveled to Iran because I wanted to see if the conflictive view most people get from the outside is accurate or real. As it pleasantly turned out, in many ways it is notIran is a conflicted place, a misunderstood destination, a cradle of culture, a million things all at once. Iran is a country where contrasting understandings of the world live side by side every day and everywhere. One of the countries I longed to visit since infancy happened to be another jewel on the globe’s map and probably the safest country in the region.

Perhaps the main question should rather be:

Why wouldn’t you travel to Iran? 🙂

Unfortunately, as it happens to many other places, Iran has become infamous for its political turmoil. The Revolution of 1979 in only a couple days saw the country transforming from a liberal nation, under the Shah of Iran (known for his liberal view and his excessive lavishness), to a suppressive regime under the hands of the Ayatollah Rurollah Khomeini.

Khomeini, then the Supreme Leader, overthrew Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, took over and things started to change, for better or for worse. With him came the Sharia law and with it the use of compulsory Hijab, religion acquired a much more significant role in everyday life and the country started to regress dramatically.

Unlike I was told, images and tributes to the current Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, are not spread all over the country. This is probably one of the very few images I found.

Nonetheless, Iran struck me as one of the most attractive and friendliest countries I have ever been to.

Let its friendly people, incredible architecture, vibrant cities and mystic deserts enchant you…

The most stunning mosque I’ve ever seen is by all means. This is the peacock dome of the Shah Mosque (Persian: مسجد شاه), also known as Royal Mosque or Imam Mosque in Esfahan.

Iran is a huge, it occupies1.6m sq. km. Its borders reach the same latitude as Athens and the southern boundary falls on the edge of the Tropic of Cancer. It is six times the size of Britain and three times that of France. Iran is really big.

Map of Iran, by iranpoliticsclub.net

My trip started on a very cold winter day in Tehran, the dynamic capital, after landing in what I believe it is thesecond most silent airport ever after the one in North Korea.

It didn’t take long to realise that the only danger Tehran poses is traffic. I learnt how to be fully aware on sidewalks, major path for bikes to flow in and out.

My ride into Tehran

Tehran is a lively peculiar city. On the one hand Iranians are notorious for their friendliness and hospitality, their unrestrained kindness, their love for culture and luxury, their passion for ornamentation of their art and their sense of amour propre, yet their restrictions and sensitivities are widely displayed.

From people, to food, to gardens, every corner shows all the polite formality of their language with its inbuilt metaphors and phrases and its simple rules of syntax.

Here I discovered the endless cradle of art, architecture and culture, Iran is pioneer of multiple concepts and words that are nowadays used all over the world such as the enclosed and carefully structured Pardis (the origin of our ‘paradise’), which provides a setting where variety of spiritual and secular activities happen in the same space.

Bakhlava and other delicatssen of Iran.

If you take media reports with a pinch of salt, Iran is actually very safe. I felt safere here than in Mexico, where I currently live, on in the US with the current wave of mass shooting. Also, once you meet some friendly Iranians, you will understand what I’m talking about.

I never encountered people being so helpful anywhere else in the world. Not even at night I felt a whim of insecurity.

Iran can also easily be the ultimate backpacking destination. It’s cheap, it has hostels in major tourist places, cheap hotels and guesthouses in others, comfortable buses, and friendly locals. What more can you want when you backpack…?

It’s true that Iran has a fairly negative image and very bad press on issues such as freedom of speech and human rights. This easily pushes a country down the bucket list and leaves it up for the most intrepid travelers only.

Taking my best shots of rural Abyaneh.

But times are changing, and even though Iran basically is still literally invisible on platforms like Instagram travel feeds, Iran is swifting its political spectrum. After my visit in January 2017, the government turned towards the progressive party. Sharia law is still inforced and with this I mean also death-by-stoning and mandatory dress code for women. “Mandatory” has become a fluid concept really. Truth is the reality I witnessed in Iran was quite different.

Iran is not a country where women have no voice and drape themselves with black chadors. On the contrary. In Tehran I saw the vivid and livid image of women not willing to be subjected by such impositions. Especially in Tehran. Women style has nothing to envy to Paris or Rome female icons.

Women and people in general are very well educated and seem to have a thorough knowledge on many things. They are curious, they ask questions about you and your country, they love hearing how much you like their food and they’re even willing to discuss politics if you will.

Gentlemen in Esfahan. They love politics and happily asked us questions about our perception of Iran and foreigners.
Having a good talk with old pals.
More traditional girls and women are found in rural areas of the country. This is Yazd.

Iran in the end, is a land of eye-watering beautiful minarets and shrines, bustling and cheerful bazaars, tea houses with shisha, tabernas with sublime lamb and saffron dishes, and so much more.