Saturday, June 04, 2005

Profile: Life for Women in Iran Today

KATIE COURIC, co-host:

Now to a glimpse behind the veil: life for women in Iran. It's a country that President Bush labeled part of the axis of evil, a nation hostile to this country for more than 25 years. Recently our own Tom Brokaw traveled there to see what life was really like.

Hey, Tom, good morning.

TOM BROKAW reporting:

Katie, it's hard to get into Iran these days, and what I wanted to do was to show what life is like on the streets. And in this country, while we're paying so much attention to the runaway bride and Paris Hilton ,the women of Iran really have a different set of problems of an entirely different magnitude, and we want to share some of that with you this morning.

Iranian women have a special place in their country's life. Unfortunately, it's at the back of the bus. That's the law. Or on the back of a motorbike where the only helmet is on the male driver. READ MORE

This is how Iran's mullah's would like their women to dress. But many women in this country, especially in the cities, have their own ideas. This is the season of pink, a dash of color added to the blackness.

You wear lipstick.

Unidentified Woman: Yes.

BROKAW: Do they tell you not to wear lipstick?

Woman: No, it's not to this...

BROKAW: It's not as bad as it was.

Woman: Yes, yes. These days it's usual thing. Make up and these things, it's usual.

BROKAW: But for Iranian women, it's about a lot more than wardrobe.

Ms. AZADEH MOAVENI: You have a generation coming up that's incredibly secular, that's very individualistic in its outlook, that really is all about me, me, me, and how do I take myself forward in this sort of urban jungle. And so it's definitely gone hand in hand with the corrosion of, you know, the old revolutionary ideology.

BROKAW: Azadeh Moaveni is an Iranian-American raised in California. She went back to Iran as a writer for Time magazine and wrote about the secret life of her Iranian friends. She called the book "Lipstick Jihad."

I spend a fair amount of time in this part of the world. The women that I see on the streets of Tehran, for example, are like you. Their hair is showing. The head scarf is loose. How much farther can they go, though, before the theocratic leaders begin to crackdown on them?

Ms. MOAVENI: I think this is pretty much as far as it's going to get in terms of women's dress. But in terms of private life and what they do behind closed doors with drugs and with sexuality, I think it's going to complete extremes. So really the question is how far more can it spill over into public?

BROKAW: Laleh Seddigh is fighting the system in her own way. She's become a top Iranian racecar driver, and we were invited to watch her and other women train at a track. However, the male manager stepped in, restricting our access, lecturing Laleh for getting too much attention. She wasn't happy, but she complied, even refusing to answer questions in English, a language she knows well.

You prefer to speak Persian because...

Ms. LALEH SEDDIGH: Because I'm Persian.

BROKAW: Do men sometimes get jealous of your skills?

Ms. SEDDIGH: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #1: (Translating) Yes, I think so.

Unidentified Man #2: That--that is to be expected.

BROKAW: Laleh is 28, talented, feisty, and a daughter of a wealthy industrialist, so these should be the glory years. Iran's male leaders would have you believe these are the glory years. They released this official video of Iranian women training as police cadets, but in full Muslim outfits.

Ms. MOAVENI: Life here for this young generation of women is so incredibly frustrating. Their expectations have been raised, and none of the opportunities that are really available to them when they come out of school and university are commensurate with what they've been told they can now expect. So the pressure for them is particularly acute.

BROKAW: Katie, they're really stuck between the past and the future that they would like to have fully realized. They are highly educated. Many of them go to universities there.

COURIC: Must have been a fascinating trip. Meanwhile, I know, Tom, you were saying during the tape piece to me that the elections are going to be in two weeks.

BROKAW: Right.

COURIC: So will any of this change or...

BROKAW: The women and the young people are not voting. They've been promised reform before, but every one of them that saw said, `We're not even going to go to the polls. It won't make any difference.' The mullahs, who are the supreme religious leaders, and the guardian counsel are not elected. They can veto anything that a president does or that the parliament does. So these young women are giving up the best years of their lives stuck there in a place and not knowing how it's going to turn out.

COURIC: That video of them scaling that--that building was...

BROKAW: Yeah. Well, that was a handout. You know, they were trying to make--try to show that they've got something else going on for them. A lot more tonight on "Nightly News," this time about the nuclear question and the relationship between Iran and Iraq. It's--it's an important country in that part of the world, obviously.

COURIC: All right, well we'll be watching.


COURIC: Thanks, Tom, so much for coming in this morning.