President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is taking steps to try and ease confusion in the streets of the Islamic republic where women are required to cover their hair and bodies in public. Ahmadinejad is promoting government-approved apparel for women that is "Islamic and beautiful" at the same time.
The Washington Post reports that the move comes as a means to try and settle disputes between conservative Shiite Muslims who advise women to wear chadors, the traditional head-to-toe cloak, and Iran's rising population of fashion-conscious urbanites who prefer tight-fitting coats and scant head scarves. The Post reports on the reaction from Iranians to the proposed government-sponsored fashion line:
"Hard-liners are not amused. They say that the new designs encourage 'Western values.' But at a recent government-sponsored fashion show, young women and their mothers gazed approvingly at the plastic mannequins showcasing the new coats and scarves."
Iranians in favor of the conservative dress say that the “culture” of covering up protects women and prevents them from becoming sex objects. The Post writes that hard-liners denounce Western advertising as abusing women’s bodies to sell products. The views of these hard-liners have clashed with Iranian young adults who make up nearly 70 percent of Iran's 72 million population.
The Post notes that Ahmadinejad's motives may be influenced by the upcoming parliamentary elections in March where the president seeks to position himself as a champion of civil rights to lure middle-class voters.
Several Iranian fashion designers who sell dresses from their homes tell the Post that the new government-sponsored fashion line does not protect women or champion civil rights, but limits choice.
“Again we will face a situation in which a small group will decide for all women what is allowed and what not,” a 26-year-old designer Kiana told the Post. Kiana makes manteaus costing up to $300 apiece and did not want to be identified by her full name.
In their 2011 annual report on the country, Amnesty International writes that Iranian authorities maintain severe restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly. The government places sweeping controls on domestic and international media, aimed at reducing Iranians' contact with the outside world.