This paper investigates the spatial transformations of a redlight district in southern Tehran, which was once a societal landmark called the ‘citadel’ of Shahre No. During the Pahlavi years (19251979) it operated quite openly as a government regulated brothel district. In 1979, it was demolished and later developed into a large family park, Parke Razi. Before its transformation, the vibrant activities inside Shahre No were verified. When the area was under threat of fire, a popular Shi’a cleric even came to its defence, insisting that prostitution played a necessary role in society – similar to that of a toilet in a house. This comment was prescient in that it intimated what would necessarily transpire following thesex district’s destruction and despite its cosmetic conversion. The movement from brothel district to Islamic family-themed park is treated not as a moment of rupture but one of transition. For prostitution is still an ongoing problem, where transactions for paid sex are arranged on the park’s premises. By tracing the social realities of this space over a period of forty years this discussion engages in a multivalent theoretical debate over the role of prostitution and the expectation of female sexuality in the Islamic Republic of Iran through the ideal rehabilitation of a public space.
Soraya Batmanghelichi is a women’s activist and feminist scholar, conducting research on gender, sexuality and body politics in the Middle East. She holds a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia University.