Kish Island - "Temporary timeout" for Iranian women

While women in the Iranian capital Tehran are meticulously checked by vice squads for any lapse in Islamic dress codes, those making holiday on Kish Island in the country's south have a temporary timeout in this regard. ( dpa )

"It is such a pleasure to have the scarf so loose on your head and enjoy the sun and wind on your hair. Although only temporary but still it is such a nice timeout for us," said 24-year-old Salomeh who together with her friends, is spending some days on the Gulf island.

Back in Tehran where she lives, Salomeh has several times had problems with the vice squad over not sufficiently observing the dress code.

"Once I was even temporary arrested and only released after I signed a document guaranteeing to fully observe the dress codes in the future which I of course did not," she said.

Women in Iran have to wear a head scarf and long gown to hide hair and body contours.

Although the head of the Kish Free Trade Organization Davoud Madadi does not want to overexpose the liberal image of Kish saying that "people are just casual here," but most of the female tourists consider the control on Kish Island far easier than at least in Tehran.

More than 1.5 million Iranian tourists visit the island per year, many of them because of the easy atmosphere.

"We are not so strict here and want the people to relax for a few days in a different atmosphere than back home," said a local official who however insisted on not being named.

Not only the dress code is much more lax than back in Tehran, but single women can go out with single men, some of them even hand in hand in the shopping malls and on the beach.

"I came here (from Tehran) with my best friend and our girlfriends. We have our own rooms in a hotel but nobody has checked so far who goes into which room," says 26-year-old Behzad who came to Kish to go diving.

With an area of 92 square kilometres, Kish island is a free-trade zone with numerous malls and a range of entertainment, including diving and live music concerts. Although pop music is officially banned in Islamic Iran, various music concerts are held on the Island.

At the Parmis Hotel, guests at the restaurant were even surprised when the band "Spaghetti House" suddenly played the Roger Waters song Another Brick in the Wall.

"We also have Pink Floyd here in Kish," the restaurant waiter told the delighted guests.

Men as well avail themselves of the liberal environment on the island and wear sleeveless shirts and Bermudas, which none of them would dare to do in Tehran or other big cities.

"So far the disciplinary forces have not protested. I hope it stays this way," said Benyamin, a student from Tehran.

A local hotel manager said that huge investments have been made to turn the Island into a tourism centre and the government needed to expend the number of tourists in Kish.

"One report on women being bothered by vice squads and business here would collapse and cause problems for both investors and the government," the manager said.

The women making holiday on Kish Island welcome the easy regulations, but at the same time have alternative plans if the situation changes.

"I prefer to have vacations inside my own country and let the money go into the pockets of Iranians rather than foreigners," said Minou, a 38-year-old housewife from Tehran.

"But if (vice squads) bother me or my daughter just because a few strands of hair were seen under our scarves, then I would not hesitate to go again to Turkey or Dubai," she added.

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