Headscarves off in Tehran’s first female-only park

TEHRAN (AFP) — Nasrin and Kimia cast aside their Islamic headscarves and quickly unbutton their coats as soon as they pass a gate watched by male guards — the entrance to Tehran’s first women-only park.

The mother and daughter lay out their picnic on the lawn and lie in the hot spring sun as a group of other women jog past them in spaghetti-strapped vests and lycra shorts.

An unusual sight indeed in Iran, where all women are obliged to cover their hair and body contours in public to obey the country’s strict Islamic dress code.

But last month the Tehran municipality opened the “Mothers’ Paradise” park in the upmarket north of the city to create a male-free zone every day of the week except Friday.

Built on hills and filled with lush evergreens, it was deemed an ideal spot for any park. It is now surrounded by iron sheets up to four metres (13 feet) high to keep out prying eyes.

“It is a good place to take in fresh air and finally dress as you want,” said 39-year-old Nasrin who lives nearby and comes to the park almost every day. “In an Islamic country this is as good as it gets.”

In Islamic societies, women wear headscarves with the avowed aim of preventing men from being sexually aroused by seeing their hair and curves in public and thus protecting their virtue.

But even in Iran, where the hijab is obligatory in public, the Islamic dress rules do not apply for women in places where it is forbidden for men to enter.

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