TEHRAN - Female civil servants at Iran's Culture Ministry and female journalists at the state newspaper and news agency must be out of the office by dusk to be with their families, a directive said on Tuesday.
The directive was issued by Culture Minister Mohammad Hossein Saffar-Harandi, one of a batch of hardline cabinet ministers brought in by President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad who won a landslide election in June.
"Owing to the sensitive role of women in the family and in raising children, women employees are banned from staying at the office after 6 p.m.," the Tosea newspaper quoted the directive as saying.
The order to get home early also covers the official IRNA news agency and the state-run Iran daily newspaper.
The directive did not specify what punishments women would face if they disobeyed the decree.
Shirin Ebadi, Iran's 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, said the decree was blatantly discriminatory.
"Women should be free to adjust their working hours based on their pace of life," the human rights lawyer told Reuters.
One woman reporter believed it was part of a plan by Ahmadinejad's government to turn the clock back on the tentative progress made under moderate former President Mohammad Khatami.
Under eight years of Khatami's presidency, enforcement of social restrictions such as Islamic dress codes for women were relaxed. Women entered previously male-only domains such as taxi driving and the police.
"It is just a start. They will put more limitations on women. They do not want us to be socially active," said a female journalist, who asked not to be named. She works night shifts at the Iran newspaper. "What about me? I start working at 3 p.m. This decree means that I will be jobless soon."