Women in Iran

After 30 beautiful days in Iran I’m now back in the freezing cold low-lands (The Netherlands). And going to Iran as a solo female traveller I got quite a lot of questions, before travelling, while travelling and now I’m back home again. “How is it to wear a scarf/hijab?” or “How did the men treat you? Where the men respectful?” So I decided to write a blog about my experiences but also what I’ve learned on how it is for women to live in Iran.

Walking on the street in Iran people ask so many times how it is to wear a Hijab (scarf on your head). I prefer to not immediately answer that question, after all it was my choice to travel to Iran, and as a female choosing Iran as your destination you know you’ll have to wear a hijab, so I won’t be complaining! I always asked the question back. “What do you think about the hijab?” Most people I spoke with really disliked wearing the hijab. After talking about their experience I would say “I wish women had the choice to wear or not wear a hijab!” And often I make a joke “But when it’s cold in the evening I really love my hijab!”

Most of the men I met in Iran are very respectful. And while talking to some men I noticed that some men are more upset about the unequal rights between men and women as the women themselves. I really love to see men standing up for female rights! I wish media showed some of these men in the west next to the powerful women standing up for their rights. So show that not all men are suppressing the women but quite some men are fighting for female rights too! (take a look at the Instagram page of Masih Alinejad, https://www.instagram.com/masih.alinejad/ )

So for the women in Iran, who were born in this country and do not have a choice it’s not only about the hijab, it’s about so much more. Of course having to cover up only showing our face because your female sounds awful to me! And Iran a country that is on number 1 hottest place on earth it’s even worse (Dasht-e-lut desert with a record of 70,7 degrees). Why do female have to cover up and men can walk in their comfortable clothes? It doesn’t seem fair to me.

While walking in Isfahan, third biggest city in Iran, and traffic is crazy. At a big cross point none of the cars were obeying the traffic lights. Al the cars were going everywhere and traffic lights were only for decoration. The police was actually standing at this cross point and not doing anything. I was walking with a female friend and we said to each other “What would happen if we take down our hijab?” Of course we didn’t tried this out, and as tourists we would get away with it or only get a warning. But female Iranian women walking without a hijab can get a warning or have to come to the police station to sign a contract to not do it again or they can even get a fine. Every city has small differences and some cities and villages are more strict/conservative and other places are more open/progressive. It’s not only the authorities but also the social norms and social acceptance that create differences. The moral police in Iran is checking if women are dressed appropriate and if people are behaving correctly.

While I was travelling once I had a bad incident, a man on a motor bike drove by me and grabbed my ass. I was really in shock since everyone was so nice to me, it was so unexpected! It was middle of the day but in the narrow alleys of a touristic spot there was nobody else in this small street. When I told people what happened I first heard about 1000 apologies “I’m so sorry! So sorry for my country! So sorry on behalf of the men” I somehow got a free lunch and everyone was very caring. (I didn’t want to tell everyone but one person came after the other) So why do I write this down, because after people gave me 1000 apologies I was told that maybe I should have covered up more, I shouldn’t have walked alone in the narrow streets at two o’clock in the afternoon and somehow these caring people who wanted to help me made me feel like I was the one to blame. Of course I understand that they wanted to prevent it for next time, and I’m sure they blame the man, but telling me to cover up more (I was already covered) felt strange to me.

But besides the obvious hijab, there is a lot more. I noticed when I was on the island in the south, Qeshm, I saw a boy about 10 years old boy driving a scooter and his mom and younger brother sitting on the back. Females aren’t allowed to drive motors or scooters, in some parts of Iran women are not allowed to ride a bicycle either. This lady is depending on her 10 year old son to drive her! Apparently the government prefers a 10 year old boy to drive a scooter than an adult woman, I can’t wrap my mind around this! I didn’t know how to feel after seeing this, sad for the women, angry about the situation, it’s so unfair!

On the wedding I attended the ladies dress up, so beautiful! Six layers of skirts making their hips look voluptuous and the dresses look even better since you can see all the bling-bling on the skirts. It takes hours with the make-up, styling the part of the hair you can see en dressing in the beautiful dresses. The men might wear a traditional hat, that’s it. At the wedding with 1600 people there were some chairs, somehow all these chairs were on the side of the men. The women were sitting on the carpets and about 100 men could sit on a chair (and the others on a carpet). How is this possible?

As a tourist its more difficult to see the inequality between men and women, except the obvious hijab, by talking to locals you can get more of an idea. And my last night I had a good conversation with a local girl about it I learned a lot and wished I had this conversation before. Or that I would have had more time in Iran and knowing these things.

When people are protesting for freedom of not wearing the hijab, that happens quite a lot lately, most of the women who are arrested for the protest have to go to prison for two years. The prisons in Iran have a very bad reputation especially for women.

If a women didn’t study or work before she got married that means that she isn’t allowed to study or work when she is married, only if her husband agrees with her decision she can. While men are supposed to work and take care of family, if he wants to study or work can. Women are depending first on their father and then on their husbands. If you’re not married then your father needs to give permission until your 40 years old. The same goes for travelling abroad. A men is free to go where ever he wants whenever he wants. Luckily many man wan equality and will give freedom to their wives, but it depends on how progressive and open the men are.

If a women has the approval to find a job, there is still many obstacles. The inequality in the job market is huge. There is less jobs for female, to grow within a company for a better job is very difficult and if you do get the chance most male coworkers aren’t used to female managers and the chance you will be accepted by your coworkers as a female manager is quite small. The payment for equal jobs isn’t the same, women often earn less. In the chart of the Gender Equality Index Iran is listed on position 140out of the 144 countries, Iran is with the bottom 4 countries.

Inequality on the job market, Human Right Watch wrote an article about it, and they made a short YouTube movie, which illustrates and explains these inequality problems a lot better than I can explain.

Hormuz traditional clothes

So travelling solo for a female I would really recommend it! This country is so beautiful people are friendly I really want to promote any form of tourism to this amazing country! Maybe with the hijab it’s more comfortable to not end up in the middle of the summer in Iran, it is very hot! And from my perspective the women who want change to happen, the change needs to come from inside out. As a tourist keep to the rules the government is giving to the women, that is more respectful. I recommend to talk to women to locals, and support these women who are fighting for change by letting them know you think they are brave. If you want to do more than raise awareness of unequal rights and post #EqualJobMarket post. And if you want to do more, see if you can be a part of Movements. 


Enjoy your travels! 🙂


16 thoughts on “Women in Iran

  1. Sarah Claes (@Sarah_Claes) says:

    Interesting story, I heard a lot of good things from people who visited Iran lately, although people did comment when they did not wear a hijab, or not even a scarf to cover their hair. So I surely understand that you did. Anyway, it’s good news that the locals are talking about equal rights, that’s the first step I guess.


  2. Lotte says:

    Thanks for your detailed description and diversified opinion on this issue!!
    I still feel like there’s a lot of “tiptoeing” around this topic in general. It’s unfair and should be named what it is: A disregard of human rights.
    Still I think it is right what you say about that it is your own decisions to travel there and th

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lotte says:

      …and that it’s more support to talk to the women right there. It’s crazy how they are held small, by law. Also very interesting how people are really nice and caring on the one hand but still make you feel like it was your fault.. does it make it better or even worse? At least it shows that they have a good heart.

      I hope there will be a change one day, this is not just a quirky cultural thing – it’s disregarding human rights. Maybe it would also help to name it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Social Backpacker says:

        I hope the women keep their strength and find more strength to keep fighting for their Human Rights! It sure isn’t just cultural thing. So by raising awareness I hope to help a bit. But mostly change has to come from within. Let’s hope change will be very soon!


  3. Femke - thethingswelike.nl says:

    Interesting article, as it is a hot topic right now also in the news. It’s really strange, on one hand it’s a modern country with such strange rules when it comes to women. I mean, the moral police, could you believe this would ever happen to us in the Netherlands?!
    But that aside, I can understand that you recommend traveling to Iran (and luckily you had a good experience, except that one time) as I heard it’s a very very beautiful country! And when you go somewhere you should respect the rules and values of the country you’ll visit. But I really hope women will get better rights and more freedom as they are just as equal as men!


  4. svanelven says:

    Thanks for this interesting article! I really like the fact that you on one hand accept and respect the rules of the country and on the other hand still discuss these (sensitive) issues with the local people and on your blog. I agree that change should come from within and I hope the situation will improve. Apart from these issues, I believe it’s an amazing country to visit!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Social Backpacker says:

      Als toerist is eigenlijk alleen de hoofddoek waar je rekening mee moet houden. Ik snap het ook niet waarom vrouwen dat wel moeten dragen en mannen niet.
      Maar alsnog Is Iran een dikke vette aanrader! 🙂


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