Iran: Tehran Opens Controversial Women-Only Park

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
In an official ceremony in Tehran this week, Mayor Mohammad Baqir Ghalibaf opened a new, sex-segregated park designed exclusively for women's leisure and sport.
In the new park, called "Mothers' Paradise," women can walk, jog, and engage in other athletic activities without having to cover their heads.
Men can reportedly not see inside the park since it is surrounded by green walls and covered by bright-colored materials.

Some Tehran residents welcomed the launch of the park as an opportunity for women to act freely. Many others, however, criticized it as yet another step in what they call widespread discrimination against women.

Sex segregation -- which has been a controversial issue in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution -- increased after hard-liner Mahmud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005. Before becoming president, Ahmadinejad was mayor of Tehran. One of his first decisions as mayor was to introduce female- and male-only elevators. Later, Iran launched women-only buses and taxis.

Segregated Cities?

Nasrin Sotodeh, a Tehran-based lawyer and women's-rights activist, told Radio Farda that such moves represent clear discrimination against women.

"They set up separate taxis for women, separate parks for women, separate hospitals for women," Sotodeh says. "Female patients can only be attended to by female medical workers. In the short-term future, we may see entire cities being divided into women's sections and men's sections. Or how about creating women-only and men-only cities? The [sex-segregated park] contradicts the international convention on human rights."

"Mothers' Paradise" is not the only sex-segregated park in Iran. Similar parks exclusively for women have already been established in other Iranian cities, including Mashad and Qom.

When the development of a new, 110-hectare women's park in the northeastern city of Mashad was announced three years ago, Iranian officials were quoted as saying that men can't even see inside the park from above.

"According to the studies that we have carried out, even from an aircraft flying over the park, women will not be seen because of the special arrangement of plant and trees," said Sedigheh Ghannadi, the head of the National Council of Women. "We have chosen trees that have greater covering and they will be planted in four rows and form a green wall."

Spying On Women

Likewise, men in Tehran cannot easily see inside the "Mothers' Paradise" park since its fencing is covered with white and orange canvas.

Tehran resident Ali says some curious men go to great lengths to try to take pictures of women inside the park, however. "Some men film women-only swimming pools using long-lens cameras or other means," he says. "It's going to be the same with the new women's park."

It is not clear if only female gardeners have been hired to take care of the park grounds.

By: Farangis Najibullah

17 May 2008

Source: Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty