Iranians Urged to Dress More Conservatively
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
And now to Iran, where officials are considering a law that would encourage wearing more Islamic-style clothing. This is going to help protect Iran's culture from corrupt foreign influence, say the pro-new law people. No, say the anti's; this is I just another attempt to bat down women. From Tehran, Roxana Saberi reports.
ROXANA SABERI: In Iran, women must hide their hair and the shapes of their bodies in public, only allowing their faces and hands to be seen. But during the eight year presidency of reformist Mohammad Khatami, many women began to push the limits of that law.
Ms. SEBI DE(ph) (Accountant): Put some mascaras, and some lip glosses...
SABERI: Twenty-four-year-old Sebi De is an accountant. She is getting ready to go out in Tehran.
SEPITA: After Khatami, we can change it. Everything changed. Colors came in scarves, in mantos, in everything. They wear short trousers, short mantos, the tight one...
SABERI: Khatami left office last year. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, considered a hardliner, took his place. With conservatives now back in control of Iran's most powerful institutions, including parliament, there have been increasing calls for stricter implementation of Islamic law and a more conservative dress code for women. For now on the crowded streets of Tehran, many women still support open-toed sandals and short tight jackets. Their hair often peeps or flows out of their head scarves.
Earlier this year, Iranian lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a bill that would encourage a dress code they consider suitable for Iran and Islam. They have not yet given details of what kinds of clothes would be appropriate, but they mention Iran's traditional and regional costumes as inspirations. Mohammed Resumerde Jordani(ph) is a cleric on the Parliament's cultural commission. He says the proposed law would help protect Iran's society from what he calls the corrupting influence of foreign cultures.
Mr. MOHAMMED RESUMERDE JORDANI (Culture Commission Member): We interact with all cultures of the world. We have accepted this. For example, satellite TV and the Internet quickly spread all styles of clothing around the world. But we felt that if we let these things go forward freely, we would lose our identity.
SABERI: Conservative Iranians have welcomed the move.
(Soundbite of crowd)
SABERI: At this rally outside parliament, a group of women called on their government to crack down on what they termed improper women's clothing. They see it as a sign of moral decay. Like her fellow demonstrators, Kahdi Gez(ph) dressed in a head to toe loose-fitting black chador. Only her face and hands are showing.
Ms. KAHDI GEZ (Through interpreter): It's only for Islam that we are protesting this corruption. Some women just throw shawls on their heads. Their hair is showing and they wear short coats. They take a half a piece of cloth and make a jacket out of it.
This past summer, Iran's police force took the unusual step of organizing a fashion exhibition in central Tehran. Shopkeepers set up stalls offering clothes like long, loose-fitting jackets. Twenty-three-year-old Shagayeg Tabotabai(ph) came out of curiosity, but she worries what might happen if parliament approves a stricter dress code.
Ms. SHAGAYEG TABOTABAI (Through interpreter): These days young Iranians won't accept this at all. In other words, the more pressure that is put on them, the less they will accept it.
SABERI: But supporters of the bill say it would advise, not tell, women what to wear. Iran's police chief, Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddamm, says that choice should be a personal one.
Mr. ISMAIL AHMADI MOGHADDAMM (Iranian Police Chief) (Through interpreter): Each person is free to choose his or her own type of clothing. But we think cultural organizations should encourage better clothing. Then there wouldn't be a need for the police or judiciary to act.
SABERI: This past spring, Iranian police said women wearing clothing deemed inappropriate could face fines or even jail time. But Moghaddamm said most offenders were only given warnings. Still, some women's rights activists worry if the clothing bill passes, they may face more government scrutiny. For NPR News, I'm Roxana Saberi in Tehran.
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