Bareheaded in the park

Islamic women can shed their scarves at Tehran's female-only "Mothers' Paradise."

Published June 18, 2008 10:11PM (EDT)

Nothing beats a beautiful summer day in the park. You and I may take this for granted, but the women of Iran, who must wear head scarves and keep their bodies covered in public, are just learning what it feels like to run through the grass with the wind in their hair. Last month, Tehran opened its first women-only park. Surrounded by 13-foot-high iron fences designed to deter Peeping Toms, "Mothers' Paradise" is also staffed wholly by women during the hours when the park is open. Because no men are permitted inside, the park-goers are free to remove their hijabs and dress as they please.

While it is, of course, good news that the ladies of Tehran have a place to relax and exercise comfortably, some Iranian feminists aren't impressed. They view the park as just another attempt to keep men and women from socializing. And, as Sogol Zand, a graduate gender studies student, pointed out, "Mothers' Paradise's" very name "could mean you have no identity as a woman except as a mother." Personally, I'm just pleasantly surprised that Iran has graduate programs in gender studies.

But just as some Muslim women are taking it off, others are being warned to put it back on. In Billaybang, Pakistan, a small town near the city of Kohat, the Taliban has been distributing fliers requesting that women wear burqas. Anyone who doesn't comply will "face consequences." I'm tempted to say that no consequence could be worse than schlepping around town in 100-degree heat covered head-to-toe in heavy fabric, but I'm not about to call the Taliban's bluff, either.

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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