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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 July, 2003, 23:51 GMT 00:51 UK
Iran's frustrated generation
Frances Harrison
Frances Harrison
BBC correspondent in Tehran

Fashion poster for 'traditional-modern' Iranian dress
Clothing rules have been relaxed, but the young want more freedoms

"Things have improved here but there are so many things I want to do and I just can't stop thinking about them," says 20-year-old Parisa - not her real name.

Born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution she is part of the baby boom generation encouraged by high rates of population growth at the time of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Parisa has just finished doing her university entrance exams. She has a one in five chance of admission.

An estimated 70% of Iran's population is under 30 years of age.

Opportunities for the young are thin on the ground with unemployment as high as 28% for those under 30.

For us life now is like heaven, but the young think it's hell
Nassim, 34-year-old Iranian
"Absolutely all of my friends would like to go abroad," says Parisa.

She sports the latest Tehran fashion - bleached blonde long hair sticking out of her see-through headscarf, and tight drainpipe jeans with the skimpiest of short overcoats that does little to hide her figure.

"At the parties I go to I see girls wearing very open clothes - short skirts and low-cut evening tops," Parisa says.


She adds that her greatest wish is to be able to go to a party and not have to worry if she is going to end up in jail as a result, or to have a meal in a restaurant and not have to bother about her headscarf slipping off.

It is sheer boredom that seems to be the greatest problem.

Young Khatami supporters at a rally before the 2000 elections
Young voters played a key role in bringing Khatami to power
"There's nothing for us to do here," she explains.

"The most we can do is go from one coffee shop to another... there are sports clubs but they're all indoors. They're hot and not nice and anyway they're expensive to join."

But the generation that experienced the pre-reform era believes young Iranians simply do not know how lucky they are.

"It was an awful and closed society," says Surreya, explaining that the first years of the revolution saw debate as to whether women could even work.

Surreya is a gym instructor and says inspectors used to come and check what music they were playing.

"If we used this kind of rock and pop they didn't like it - they suggested we use monotone music without lyrics. But nowadays I don't see them around... we are free to do whatever we want," she says.

Reformists' dilemma

Women in their 30s describe going to weddings shrouded from head to toe and without any make-up or nail polish for fear of being stopped at a checkpoint and scrutinised.

"When you compare the young people now with us they have all this freedom and they're so ungrateful and don't appreciate what they've got," says 34-year-old Nassim.

Anti-government protests, June 2003
Frustrated students have taken to the streets
"For us life now is like heaven, but the young think it's hell and they constantly moan and groan about everything," she says, pointing out that in the early years of the revolution there was no music at all but now there are Iranian rock bands who give concerts.

The dilemma for the reformists is whether giving concessions to young people allows them more room for expression and thus protects the Islamic system of government - or whether it just whets their appetites for more freedoms that may ultimately undermine the system.

"The older generation is not able to communicate properly with the young," says journalist Minda Badiyi, who specialises in youth issues and teaches communications at university level.

"Today's young people want freedoms in line with what the young have everywhere else in the world. Because they are denied that we are a society in crisis," she says.

'Calm and patient'

Mrs Badiyi says the recent student unrest was a manifestation of this sense of discontent that officials have failed to address.

In particular she says two decades after the revolution the state has failed to convince young girls of the need to wear headscarves and modest dress.

Women praying in Iran
Older women say the young do not know how lucky they are
"The government says we are an Islamic state and everyone must cover up, but the resistance of young girls is a big problem for them," she says.

She argues that women should choose Islamic dress voluntarily based on their belief and not as a dictate from above.

"We must try to balance the capacity for change and the demands of the younger generation," says reformist MP Dr Elaheh Koolaee.

"It's very, very difficult, I know, but we must try," she says explaining the need for "dialogue with the younger generation to convince them to be calm, to be patient".


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