Iran- from a female point of view#by Doris Hütttner, Graz/Austria, November 2015
When thinking of Iran, I was always thinking of the wonderful tales of “Thousand and One Nights“, of Shah Reza Pahlewi and his admired wife - European women loved to read about them in magazines at the hairdresser‘s in the late 60s - and how he had to leave his country, taking incredible treasures with him and leaving behind even more treasures and his throne known as the „Peacock Throne”, covered with gold and thousands of gems.
Iran, this meant for me also the coming into power of Ayatollah Khomeini and the declaration of the Islamic Republic in the late 70s, the violation of human rights in general and the almost complete annihilation of women’s rights in particular. As so many others, of course I had read “Not Without My Daughter” by Betty Mahmoody and therefore I had reservations to travel to this country for many years.
In 2015, public attention again being focused on Iran, I finally decided to visit the country to find out on my own. But, again, some prejudices and questions came to my mind: Will it be safe or will the Islamic State eventually attack the Iran, its population being mostly Shiites. And, even more obvious, can I as a woman feel safe? Can I walk around town without being accompanied by a male “guard”? How do I have to dress properly? Do I have to cover all my hair and neck and so on (according to my guide book everything apart from hands and face should be covered, in decent colours, green to be avoided as being the colour of the prophet)? What happens to women not obeying these orders, is a stoning sentence still existing?
How many prejudices and objections I had and how different it was!
My first surprise was seeing a woman not only driving a car, but even driving a taxi! When I looked to see if the dress code is strictly obeyed, I saw that especially the younger women were wearing their head-scarf all at the back of their head, just covering their ponytail, showing their hair self-confidently and even wearing tight jeans and tops just covering their hips. Young women and men were walking together in public, even sitting together in parks, talking and enjoying the cool evening…
Of course, the situation is different in the countryside, but in larger cities like Shiraz, Teheran and especially Isfahan the gap between our Western society and the Iran seems to become smaller and smaller:
Asked about girls being married even without their accordance, my tour guide had to confess that in rural areas this might still be the case. But in larger cities, especially those with universities and therefore more families with a higher educational level, young people are free to choose their partners themselves (like us), while only about 20 years ago they were not even allowed to talk to each other. Yes, times are changing!
I was also surprised to hear that every employee automatically has a health insurance similar to the one in Austria and just as in Austria, there is a private health insurance system that enables people to stay at private hospitals, etc. After working for 30 years or at the age of 60, every employee has the right to retire getting his full pension.
I expected to travel to a poor and maybe even backward country with people being oppressed by religious regulations and women excluded from public life, I expected noisy streets and merchants being always a little bit too pushy (?) . But I came to a country, very clean and quiet, with relaxed and extremely polite people, where I felt absolutely safe, where I felt very welcome and where I met people who were all trying to get into contact with me, being interested not only in another countries’ culture and traditions and in what is going on in the rest of the world (being cut off by politics and economic embargos for so many years now) but also asking me to consider that a country consists not only of its economic policy, but also of its culture and its people.