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Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 19:11 GMT 20:11 UK
Tehran schoolgirls shed the veil
An Iranian woman looking at a display of dolls
Tradition and modernity vie in Iran today
Girls in Tehran are to be allowed to lift their veils and exchange their black robes for less restrictive, more colourful clothing while at school for the first time in over 20 years.


All schoolgirls and female staff can now take off their robes and hoods in school dressing rooms before attending classes

Education ministry's directive, published in newspapers on Thursday

The education ministry issued the directive, which asks 20 schools in the Iranian capital not to force girls to adopt the strict Islamic dress code

But the country's hard-line religious constituency is harshly critical of the trial and it is not yet certain whether the code will be implemented in conservative provincial towns if it is extended beyond Tehran.

Iranian women have been forced to wear the veil since 1979, when the pro-Western Shah was toppled and the deeply conservative Shi'ite Muslim clergy came to power.

But their conservatism is now being challenged by the more permissive policies of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, first elected in May 1997.

Strict rules

The clothing scheme was first piloted two years ago in the city of Karaj, some 30 miles (50km) west of Tehran.


My daughter is eight years old and, because of wearing the headscarf, she suffers from alopecia. She is also depressed

Mitra, mother of two
Iranian women usually have to wear a hood, covering the hair, neck and ears, and a robe, from shoulder to ankle.

Some, from more religious families, also wear a chador, a combination head covering, veil and shawl.

More secular women have complained the heavy outfits are oppressive and can cause hair loss, skin rashes and even depression.

In schools - which are all single sex in Iran - they may restrict girls' ability to play sports.

Divided opinion

Mitra, a mother of two children, welcomed the scheme.

President Khatami
President Khatami is pushing reform
"My daughter is eight years old and, because of wearing the headscarf, she suffers from alopecia. She is also depressed."

But some have fiercely rejected the plan.

The scheme will "weaken Islamic values and spread a culture of nudity," the Jomhuri-Eslami paper complained on Thursday.

Hassan Emadi, a rug merchant in Tehran's bazaar, said: "I was hoping that my daughters were growing up in a moral atmosphere. Now they will only think about their appearance and how best to look like this or that rock or movie star."

To appease opposition, school authorities have agreed to install one-way tinted school windows and keep male visitors in separate, distant rooms.



See also:

29 Jul 02 | Middle East
27 Jul 02 | Middle East
29 Jul 02 | Islamic world
17 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
08 Feb 02 | Country profiles
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