Let’s continue our long and incredible adventure in Iran. We said it before, Iran is a land of contrast and probably defies what most people think of it. And even more to this, women in Iran strongly belong to this notion. In fact, it is because of Iranian women that I truly believe that contrasts are a vital cog of any Iranian experience and those same contrasts are leading the ladies and others to keep quiete no more.
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 women plummeted from 18 years old to 9 years old (for boys is 15). 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?
Nowadays, and given the diverse background, it is safe to say that most women have had a taste of what emancipation is. Still, under the law women who venture outdoors must wear a headscarf, known as 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.
Traveling through Iran, from north to deep south, I noticed that the strictness of this law depends on many factors. Number one is where you happen to be. I noticed that in Tehran women tend to be more rebel. They push back their rusaris, wear heavy make up and like to reveal their hair in abundance.
How strictly the law is enforced depends on many factors. Partly, it is down to where you happen to live: 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.
As soon as I left Tehran towards south, everything became more conservative. In conservative rural Iran, women tend to abide by the rule significantly more. They wear drab black “chadors” and wear little make up to avoid standing out.
Foreign women are not required to wear it, however, there have been few are very few circumstances where I had to wear a chador and it normally happened at a few holy shrines, such as the Imam Shrine in the outskirts of Tehran.
Everywhere you go, though, I could simply wear any headscarf I had.
How women are allowed to dress also depends on which political faction it’s in power at the moment. If hardliners are in the ascendancy, it might be wise to conceal every lock of hair on the streets of Tehran; if reformers are in office, like it was when I was in Iran, you might try wearing your rusari so far back as to render it almost invisible.
These women have pushed a silent rebellion against the laid back government with such power that it has reached international recognition almost everywhere. From the rich Iranian teenagers of Tehran (known as The Rich Kids of Tehran) to the more women-oriented My Stealthy Freedom.
Then finally, a different faction of women that are neither reformers nor conservative. The nomad women. These beautiful women have a complete different mindset, background and even religion, being true holders of the Persian Zoroastrian belief. We will talk about them in my next post so stay tuned to continue our discovery of more incredible women…