Marrying young does not stop women from being active members of society.
Take Adile Tahmasibi. The 61-year-old born and raised in Ehesh city got engaged at nine and married at 13. Together with her husband, she started to hike in the local mountains. Later, Adile became a famous hiker, who in 1986 founded an organization for women hikers in Tabriz. From all around Iran, she gathered women to visit the highest peaks in Iran.
“Along with around 1,200 women from all around Iran, we began to hike in the mountains. I wanted them to increase their self-confidence. I wanted them to understand that not only men, but also women without men, can hike, to stand on their own two feet,” says Tahmasibi, whose activities include not only hiking, but also providing workshops for women in handicrafts , to teach them to be financially independent. Adile was one of the first women in Tabriz to celebrate March 8, International Women’s Day. She invited other active women to her home and they read poems and discussed women’s rights and restrictive laws.
Officials have attempted many times to stop her activity, when they found out about the underground celebrations of March 8, she was questioned and warned to stop.
“I did not want anybody to have problems or be beaten, so I decided to stop celebrating it at my home, but of course the next year, I heard that women celebrated March 8 in other homes,” she recalls.
Officials even tried to stop her hiking activity when they found out that one woman took off her chadra (headscarf) while hiking; they made her stop for nine months.
The chadra does not restrict Tabrizian women from playing an enormous role in their oppressed society. For some women, it is a symbolic headscarf that their government forces them to wear, for others, it is a part of their culture that has turned into a daily habit. However, in both instances, it cannot prevent women from doing what they think they should do.
Nazile’s mother, 64-year-old Zarifa Bazmi, sits at home in her black floral chadra, even among women. “I don’t feel comfortable without it. Even when I was in Baku, my son asked me to take it off, but I could not, because it is already a habit,” she remembers.
For her daughter Nazile, the headscarf is part of her culture.
“Whenever I travel outside of Iran, I still cover my head with the headscarf, I was raised this way; it is my choice and I feel comfortable. For me, freedom is in my mind and thoughts,” she says.
Not everyone agrees. The headscarf is certainly not a choice for writer and director Leila Noorozi.
“Yes, when I travel outside of Iran I immediately take it off, because it is not my choice,” explains the 27-year-old from Ardebil. “I would like to decide for myself whether or not to wear it, but they force us to, it is not my personal choice. I won't say that it restricts me from doing my job, not at all, but this is a matter of free will and decision making.”
Along with Telegram, Instagram is one of the most popular social media tools in Iran, and Leili Noroozi has a lot of followers. When she published a photo of herself without a headscarf, Leili received a great deal of criticism. “Especially women, women are very critical here. Their reaction was very negative, as if I wanted to show myself off. But why should I sacrifice my choice for the sake of men, just to prevent men from sinning,” expresses Leila, “They say men will look at you and will give themselves up.”
I spent just a week in Tabriz, but left with speculations about how controversial we view Iran, and how the worldwide media exaggerates its conservatism.
Tabriz International Airport.
The Tabriz-Istanbul flight. As soon as the plane takes off, headscarves fall. For many, this means freedom at last. The next day, while in Istanbul, I touched my head at least three times as if I was covered by a headscarf that needed always to be checked.