Iran sees rise in female-only parks, but reactions are divided

Iranian women enjoy their lunch break at a park in Tehran on March 13, 2008. (FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Dress codes rule daily life for women in Iran. In Tehran, women who don’t wear a headscarf, long trousers and a coat covering their hips run the risk of getting in trouble with the morality police. But in the women-only parks, which have increasingly beein opening across the country, women are enjoy a little more freedom to wear the clothes they want and to take off the headscarf for a while. Authorities were first inspired to open up the parks (which are also popular in other Islamic countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia) to shield women from sexual harassment and protect their health — since a lack of sunlight had led to a serious issue with vitamin D deficiency for Iranian women.

Sociologist Reza Arjmand recently wrote a book about the parks, claiming that besides these official reasons the parks also give authorities “a great chance to take segregation of women and men to another level,” which has led to critical backlash from Iranian feminists. “These parks are an insult and I will never go there. I refuse to be secluded in a reservation,” a feminist writer, who declined to have her identity revealed, told The Guardian. “If you put women in separate parks, men and women will never learn how to interact in a normal way. This can lead to dangerous situations.”

Other points of criticism levied at the parks are that they weren’t really designed with women in mind. Boys older than 5 are not allowed in, there are no changing rooms and many of the parks close early or are located in hard-to-reach areas, making it less accessible for a large group of women. Ironically, there is also criticism from the opposing side. Conservative Iranians believe it is a bad idea to allow women to stop covering themselves in public. Nevertheless, Arjmand believes there are some benefits to the parks. “No matter how you look at it, a group of women will benefit from these parks. For women from religious families this is often the only possibility to spend time outside without a headscarf,” he said. “It’s true that these parks isolate women, but it also offers a group of them a freedom they formerly did not possess.”

Read the full story at The Guardian.


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