October 21, 2014 Special Dispatch No. 5862

Tehran Municipality's Gender Segregation Campaign Sparks Public Debate In Iran

October 21, 2014
Iran | Special Dispatch No. 5862

In mid-July 2014, the Tehran municipality, under mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, began implementing gender segregation in its institutions. Its move is part of the power struggle over Iran's cultural character between the ideological camp, which is headed by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and to which Qalibaf belongs, and the pragmatic camp, headed by Expediency Council chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The issue surfaced on the public agenda after a secret memo circulated by the Tehran municipality was leaked to the press. In it, the municipality instructed its senior officials to remove women from posts such as bureau chiefs, secretaries, typists etc.[1] Responding to public criticism, Qalibaf clarified that this did not mean dismissing female employees but separating women and men in public spaces in order to avoid a situation where women spend more daytime hours with unrelated males than with their husbands and children.

The gender segregation plan in the Tehran municipality touched off a sharp media polemic reflecting the gap between the ideological and pragmatic camps. Members of the ideological camp, including Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officials, senior ayatollahs, Majlis members, Iran's broadcasting authority, officials in the judiciary, and others praised the Tehran municipality's measure and urged that it be adopted throughout the country. In contrast, senior officials of the pragmatic camp, chief of them Hashemi Rafsanjani, President Hassan Rohani, and ministers in Rohani's government, as well as female human rights activists, jurists and journalists, voiced firm opposition to the gender segregation plan and claimed that it contravened Islam and the opinion of the revolutionary regime's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The position of the ideological camp was expressed by Tehran deputy mayor Morteza Talai in a press conference with journalists, in which he got into a heated argument with several journalists who objected that the plan contravened both the Iranian laws and public opinion. An opposing view was expressed by women's rights activist Fakhr-Al-Sadat Mohtashemipour, the wife of political prisoner Mostafa Tajzadeh, who argued that the policy is an insult not only to women but also to men, because it assumes they are unable to control their impulses.

Below are excerpts from their statements, and some others:

The Ideological Camp: Gender Segregation Is A Moral Measure That Should Be Extended To All Regime Institutions

On August 5, 2014, Mohsen Kazemeini, the IRGC forces commander in Tehran, praised the Tehran municipality's plan and urged the regime to adopt it in all its institutions and apparatuses.[2]

The next day, judicial branch head Sadeq Larijani praised Mayor Qalibaf and said that "preventing free interaction between men and women in the workplace is important… This is a moral measure… which doesn't mean favoring men over women, so we mustn't fall for feminist falsehoods… An [unsegregated work] environment is undesirable from an Islamic standpoint." [3]

Senior Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani said: "There is no doubt that free interaction between women and men, girls and boys – even if and they are highly devout and appropriately dressed – has repercussions that will never prove beneficial to society, the individual and the family unit." He regretted that "instead of being met with praise and encouragement, this revolutionary measure provoked criticism by interested parties."[4]

On September 1, 2014, Ayatollah Mohsen Heidari, of the Assembly of Experts, said that gender segregation was not a measure against women but rather the finest gift that could be bestowed upon them.[5]

The head of Iran's Court of Administrative Justice, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, expressed regret that the public had responded to the plan with aggression and derision.[6]

On August 30, 2014, the website Serat News, which is affiliated with Kayhan editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari, criticized the mayor for failing to properly implement the segregation policy he had announced, and published photos from a musical show that took place in July 2014 in Tehran, in which a woman had performed alongside men.[7]

The Pragmatic Camp: The Plan Is Unsound And Contrary To The View Of The Regime's Founder

Rafsanjani's office published on its website a 2003 declaration by him in which he argued that gender segregation is opposed to the view of the regime's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and would be counter-effective.[8]

On August 8, 2014, President Rohani declared that, "from the government's standpoint, there is no distinction… between men and women, and posts should go to the most qualified [candidate]. Is it feasible to make half of Iranian society – namely women – unemployable based on various excuses? Our women are modest, and Iranian society is Islamic and moral. Iranian women are leaders in the field of morality.[9]On September 7, 2014, Rohani added: "At the start of the [Islamic] Revolution, when the universities [re]opened, some wanted to erect walls at Tehran University's classrooms to separate girls from boys. When the Imam [Khomeini] got wind of this, he was irritated and rebuked them, [saying] 'What is the meaning of this?' Such measures will only disgrace Islam and weaken religious directives."[10]

Culture Minister Ali Jannati said: "Gender segregation does not go hand in hand with our religious values… I instructed senior ministry officials to inform me of any infraction committed in this domain so we can take care [of it]."[11]

Tehran Deputy Mayor: Segregation A Moral Measure That Protects Women

The ISNA news agency reported on a heated argument at an August 5, 2014 press conference between Tehran deputy mayor and former police chief Morteza Talai and female journalists. Below are excerpts from the report:

"The following are some of the explanations that Tehran's deputy mayor provided yesterday in defending the municipality's action to journalists...

"Morteza Talai: 'In principle, this gender segregation plan responds to the atmosphere in society. No senior [regime] official seeks to separate women from men. The measures are performed out of respect [for women and for the sake of their] well-being and peace of mind. We in the municipality placed three women together [in the same room]. Is this segregation? It could also happen that, at a musical performance, men would be required to sit on one side and women on the other. The important point is that even raising this issue [i.e., questioning segregation] is a deviation. We must not undermine such valuable measures intended to ensure women's safety. These things [namely the criticism] are political.'

"Talai asked one of the women journalists present: 'Would you be willing to enter a room where 100 men would shove you?' The journalist responded: 'I would prefer that nobody either prohibit me from entering this room nor force me to.' Another journalist asked Talai: 'Have such things occurred at the municipality?' But Talai, ignoring the question, turned to the first journalist and said: 'Do you intend to answer me?' When the journalist said that yes, [she would be willing to enter the room], Talai shook his head sadly and said: 'You should reconsider your approach and beliefs, because this issue has moral and human dimensions.'"

"Talai continued: 'Previously, when I was in the field of public safety, women on the street used to thank me. When I asked them why, they said: "We don't want to talk with these people [who harass us]. We want to talk with other people. Thanks to you, it no longer happens that everybody stops [his car] and honks at us."'

"Talai turned to the [first] journalist and said: 'Your response is politically motivated. I don't know what media outlet you work for and what your mission is. Are you willing to forgo your honor for the sake of media politics?' The journalist, finding herself once again the target of the deputy mayor's declarations, said: 'I want freedom of choice, and that nobody impose limitations upon me.'

"At that point, Talai suddenly stepped towards the journalist and she stepped back. To prove his point, he asked her: 'So why did you just step back?'... Another journalist asked Talai again: 'Has there been such a case at the municipality?' Talai answered: 'I repeat that the municipality's measure is meant to preserve the women's rights and increase their safety, well-being and peace of mind.'

"Another journalist asked: 'It was initially said that managers would [only] employ men as secretaries.' But Talai cut him off, saying, 'The municipality's measure is [in conformity with] the [Supreme] Cultural Revolution Council law'. The journalist asked: 'Do men and women work in separate rooms now?' Talai replied: 'Go to the municipality and see [for yourself] what the real situation is. False assumptions produce false responses. I'm only saying that when women work together they feel more calm and secure. Why shouldn't we do this?'…

"One of the journalists asked: 'If this is the law, why has it been applied [only] now? Why didn't such a problem exist two years ago? After all, Qalibaf has been the mayor for nine years.' Talai answered: 'This is the law [passed by the Supreme] Cultural Revolution Council in 1993, [which stipulates] that managers will not employ women as secretaries. Mr. Qalibaf properly enforced it. He did the right thing. As a devout man, I will not let a girl be sent to a place where anybody can look at her as he wishes. I told my wife, I'm going to work, and there are three girls there, two of them divorced. Are you ok [with that]?' And she said: 'I'll break your legs. As a woman, I want my husband to be safe.' You want to impose your mistakes [on society] due to your mistaken assumptions, but my devoutness does not permit me to allow this, and I don't care what others [think].'

"A journalist remarked, 'That is your personal opinion', and Talai answered: 'Your opinion is also your personal opinion, and you have no right to impose it on others.'

"[Another] journalist asked, 'Does the fact that a [Supreme] Cultural Revolution Council law is on the books prove that the measure is correct?' Talai answered sharply: 'You accept neither the shari'a nor the [state] law! You believe the feminists who say whatever they want. We say that this is the law. You do not obey God's religion. Do you flout the law and accepted custom as well?'

"One journalist prodded: 'Does the law stipulate that a man and a woman may not work together? The Labor Law does not stipulate this!' Talai answered: 'The law of the [Supreme] Cultural Revolution Council says that male managers cannot employ women as secretaries. Do you not accept this?' When the journalist replied in the negative, Talai said: That's your private opinion. I'm willing to do down to the street right now and ask women, so you can see whether they agree or not.'…

Talai said: 'If we don't consider culture, morality and the directives of the religion, what should we consider? My statements are based on moral criteria.' A journalist asked: 'Will it not create social problems if women who support their families lose their jobs?' Talai: '… If a woman who supports a family told you that she was fired because of gender segregation, or because she wanted to work in a public space, I'd join you right now. If were the case I'd accept everything you just said…'"[12]

Female Human Rights Activist: The Gender Segregation Program Is Intended To Send Women Back To Their Homes

In an August 5, 2014 interview with the ISNA news agency, women's rights activist Fakhr-Al-Sadat said: "Gender segregation in the workplace proves the anti-regime propaganda right. The foreign media always malign [the regime] by presenting [Iranian] women as being excluded from social activity. A measure such as the one taken by the [Tehran] municipality confirms this propaganda.

"In international forums we always try to defend the Muslim women's [right] to appear in Islamic dress, but what answer do we have to the slander [in the foreign media], given this measure? Gender segregation in the workplace is insulting. It is an insult not only to women but also to men, [because] it means that they cannot restrain themselves in the workplace. Although 35 years have now passed since the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, we are reverting to the views [held by] a few people at the revolution's outset, and it appears that some [extremist] people [in Iran] do not intend to fall behind those who share their views in other countries. They have no clue about women's status and dignity and they ignore human dignity… A plan like gender segregation in the workplace contravenes the approach of the Imam [Khomenei], who firmly opposed gender segregation in the universities and adopted an intellectual approach befitting the circumstances of the time and place. I hope some people who are ostensibly faithful to the Imam [Khomenei] pay closer attention [to this].

"From the beginning of the Islamic Revolution, women had an active social role. For example, they marched ahead of the men in the demonstrations of millions [in the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79]. Gender segregation will not make the workplace better, but will deflect society from its natural course and will have [negative] repercussions. We are an Islamic country and therefore we must respect... human dignity.

"Who said that we have to surround women with a fence? If those who introduced the gender segregation plan at the workplace [think they] are right, let them conduct a survey to establish what the people's opinion is.

"Such plans have already proven themselves [bad]. We must fight them, because they are a prelude to sending women back to their homes, which is at odds with social conditions, since Iran has progressed and many of the women are highly educated. The female Majlis members should come out against this program…"[13]

Gender segregation excludes educated women from society (Image:, August 5, 2014)


[1] ISNA (Iran), July 16, 2014.

[2] ISNA (Iran), August 5, 2014.

[3] Kayhan (Iran), August 6, 2014.

[4] Fars (Iran), August 10, 2014. Senior Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi also expressed support for the gender separation plan. ISNA (Iran), August 14, 2014.

[5], September 1, 2014.

[6] ILNA (Iran), August 12, 2014.

[7], August 30, 2014.

[8], August 7, 2014.

[9], August 8, 2014.

[10] IRNA (Iran), September 7, 2014.

[11] ISNA (Iran), August 10, 2014.

[12] ISNA (Iran), August 6, 2014.

[13] ISNA(Iran), August 5, 2014.

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