This image shows Iranian women in 1979, just before the Islamic revolution:
At first sight, this image is testimony to moral regress. It would be difficult to take an image like this in the Iran of today. Women in Iran were confronted with new cultural and legal restrictions after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and those restrictions are still in force. Exposure of any part of the body other than hands and face is subject to punishment of up to 70 lashes or 60 days imprisonment (source). In April 2007, the Tehran police (which is under Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei‘s supervision), began the most fierce crackdown on what is known as “bad hijab” in more than a decade. In the capital Tehran thousands of Iranian women were cautioned over their poor Islamic dress and several hundred arrested. And it’s not just dress code. The government has set quotas for female pediatricians and gynecologists and has made it difficult for women to become civil engineers (source). And it goes on.
However, the pre-revolutionary regime didn’t always perform better in the field of women’s rights and gender equality. Reza Shah and his son did take some measures beneficial to women – e.g. the decree of unveiling in 1936 – but the situation was far from idyllic.
Conversely, Iranian women today, although they are denied many basic and equal rights, don’t live in the dystopia that many in the West imagine:
Women’s rights advocates say Iranian women are displaying a growing determination to achieve equal status in this conservative Muslim theocracy, where male supremacy is still enscribed in the legal code. One in five marriages now end in divorce, according to government data, a fourfold increase in the past 15 years. … Increasing educational levels and the information revolution have contributed to creating a generation of women determined to gain more control over their lives. (source)
There are other Islamist regimes that are far worse, most notably, of course, Saudi Arabia. The rulers there take the exclusion of women from public life a few steps further. Take for instance the recent Ikea scandal: the multinational was forced or thought it was a good idea to delete the images of women from the Saudi version of its catalogue.
There’s now a website making fun of Ikea and replacing famous women with Ikea products:
More posts in this series are here.