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Want to Avoid the Iranian Morality Police? There’s an App for That.

A group of Iranian programmers have come up with an ingenious way to dodge the country's morality police.

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Flashy nail polish, hair peeking out of a headscarf, or a tunic that falls too far above the knee: These are just a few of the many cosmetic offenses that could leave an Iranian woman in the crosshairs of Iran’s morality police.

But for a brief period Monday, Iranians who took advantage of a short-lived smartphone app could wear what they wanted, where they wanted.

The app is called Gershad, a play on the Persian word Ershad, or “guidance,” and translates roughly to “getting around the guidance patrol.” It works by plotting the location of morality police checkpoints on maps of different Iranian cities. After enough users report seeing morality police at the same location, a cartoonish icon of a morality officer pops up on the map, alerting users of places they may want to avoid.

Gershad is free for Android users on Google’s app store, where its creators asked users to consider why women have to be humiliated for our most obvious right, which is the right to wear what we want?”

More than 1,000 people had downloaded the app before Iranian authorities blocked it on Tuesday. So far, Gershad has received hundreds of five-star ratings and mostly glowing reviews. Gershad’s developers did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Foreign Policy, but an Iranian human rights group reported they were taking steps to get the app back online.

The morality police have been the bane of fashionable and liberal-minded Iranians since Iran’s revolutionary government began enforcing conservative dress codes in 1981. Deciding if an outfit is immodest or not has become more of an art than a science, and depends heavily on the opinions of officers on patrol.

Each year, millions of Iranian women are stopped on the street and told they need to cover up more of their hair or change into longer, looser fitting clothes. After decades of being told what to wear, many Iranians are sick of it. One Facebook page that shares pictures of women defying the compulsory headscarf rule has garnered nearly one million likes since it was started in 2014.

The popularity of this issue among reformist voters has also caught President Hassan Rouhani’s attention. While on the campaign trail in 2013, he promised to rein in the morality police. But Gershad’s creators evidently took this matter into their own hands as Rouhani has struggled to make good on his promises to expand social freedoms.

Check out the video below for an illustration of how Gershad works.

Image credit: Gershad

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. @HenryJohnsoon

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