Iran and Saudi Arabia race to pass gender reforms as Tehran relaxes headscarf arrests

Women in the Iranian capital will no longer be arrested for failing to wear a headscarf, Tehran police have said, in a move which follows an unexpected raft of gender reforms in Saudi Arabia.

Morality police will no longer automatically detain women seen without the proper hijab head-covering in public, a strict Islamic dress code in place since the 1979 revolution.

For nearly 40 years, women in Iran have been forced to cover their hair and wear long, loose garments.

Younger and more liberal-minded women have long pushed the boundaries of the official dress code, wearing loose headscarves that do not fully cover their hair and painting their nails, drawing the ire of conservatives.

The announcement signalled an easing of punishments for violating the country’s conservative dress code, as called for by the reform-minded Iranians who helped re-elect President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, earlier this year.

But hard-liners opposed to easing such rules still dominate Iran’s security forces and judiciary, so it was unclear whether the change would be fully implemented.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency said violators will instead be made to attend classes given by police. It said repeat offenders could still be subject to legal action, and the dress code remains in place outside the capital.

Iran’s morality police – similar to Saudi Arabia’s religious police – typically detain violators and escort them to a police van. Their families are then called to bring the detainee a change of clothes. The violator is then required to sign a form that they will not commit the offence again.

Iran’s arch foe Saudi Arabia, under similar internal pressure to liberalise, announced in September that it would finally allow women to drive.

Activists had been arrested for driving since 1990, when the first driving campaign was launched by women who drove cars in the capital, Riyadh.

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Shocking the kingdom, one of the most repressive countries for women in the world, the young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced a tranche of liberalising changes. In 2018, women will also be allowed to attend sporting matches in national stadiums, where they were previously banned.

Designated “family sections” will ensure women are separate from male-only quarters of the stadiums. The crown prince tested public reaction to the move when he allowed women and families into the capital’s main stadium for National Day celebrations this year.

And Saudi authorities this week allowed female contestants at an international chess tournament to play without the abaya, a long robe-like dress

The ambitious 32-year-old heir to the throne upended decades of royal family protocol, social norms and traditional ways of doing business. He bet instead on a young generation of Saudis hungry for change and a Saudi public fed up with corruption and government bureaucracy.

Source Credit: The Telegraph

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