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This article is primarily about the women's movement. For information about women in Iranian/Persian culture, please see Iranian women.. Template:Feminism sidebar

The Iranian women's movement, also called the Persian women's movement,[citation needed] involves the movement for women's rights and women's equality in Iran. The movement first emerged some time after the Iranian Constitutional Revolution. The first journal published by a woman in Iran was Danesh, started in 1910.[1] The movement lasted until 1933 in which the last women’s association was dissolved by the Reza Shah’s government. It heightened again after the Iranian Revolution (1979).[1][2]


The Persian Constitutional Revolution

Iranian women played a significant role in the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1905-11, which became a turning point in their lives. They participated in large numbers in public affairs and held important positions in journalism and in schools and associations that flourished from 1911-24.[3] Prominent Iranian women who played a vital part in the revolution include Bibi Khatoon Astarabadi, Noor-ol-Hoda Mangeneh, Mohtaram Eskandari, Sediqeh Dowlatabadi, and Qamar ol-Molouk Vaziri.

At the turn of 20th century, many educated Persian women were attracted to journalism and writing. Danesh (1907) was the first specialized journal focusing on women's issues. Later, Shokoufeh, Nameie Banovan, Alam e Nesvan, and Nesvan e Vatan Khah were published in Tehran. Moreover, Nesvan e Shargh in Bandar Anzali, Jahan e Zanan in Mashhad, Dokhtaran e Iran in Shiraz, and Peik e saadat in Rasht addressed women's issues throughout Persia (Iran). Although the defeat of the constitutionalists (1921–25) and the consolidation of power by Reza Shah (1925–41) destroyed the women's journals and groups, the state during these years implemented social reforms such as mass education and paid employment for women. Reza Shah also began his controversial policy of Kashf-e-Hijab, which banned the wearing of the Islamic hijab in public. But like other sectors of society in the years under Reza Shah's rule, women lost the right to express themselves, and dissent was repressed.[4]

Shah's era

The shah's government began its "White Revolution" in 1962 and ratified important women's rights measures, including suffrage and the Family Protection Law of 1967, later amended more heavily in favor of women in 1975, which ended extrajudicial divorce and restricted polygamy.[5]

Islamic Republic

Women and the Iranian Revolution

Women participated heavily in the Iranian Revolution of 1979 that toppled the shah.[5][6][7]

Notwithstanding this, the Islamic republic of Ayatollah Khomeini severely curtailed rights that women had become accustomed to under the shah.[6] Within months of the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the 1967 Family Protection Law was repealed; female government workers were forced to observe Islamic dress code; women were barred from becoming judges; beaches and sports were sex-segregated; the legal age of marriage for girls was reduced to 13; and married women were barred from attending regular schools.[5]

Almost immediately women protested these policies.[6][8] The Islamic revolution is ideologically committed to inequality for women in inheritance and other areas of the the civil code; and especially committed to segregation of the sexes. Many places, from "schoolrooms to ski slopes to public buses", are strictly segregated. Females caught by revolutionary officials in a mixed-sex situation can be subject to virginity tests.[9]


"Bad hijab" ― exposure of any part of the body other than hands and face — is subject to punishment of up to 70 lashes or 60 days imprisonment.[10][11] In April 2007, the Tehran police, (which is under Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's supervision), began the most fierce crackdown on what is known as "bad hijab" in more than a decade. In the capital Tehran thousands of Iranian women were cautioned over their poor Islamic dress and several hundred arrested.[12]

Post-Khomeini era

The early 1990s brought a marked increase in the number of women employed in Iran. Dramatic changes in the labor force might not have been possible if Khomeini had not broken the barriers to women entering into the public sphere unchaperoned. Women were also more likely to pursue higher education, a product of the free education and the literacy campaigns. Today, more women than men are pursuing higher education in Iran even though the Islamic Republic tries to limit women to domains exclusive to women. For example, the government has set quotas for female pediatricians and gynecologists and has made it difficult for women to become civil engineers.

In May 1997, the overwhelming majority of women voted for Mohammad Khatami, a reformist cleric who promised more political freedom. His election brought a period during which women became increasingly bold in expressing ideas, demands, and criticisms. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights and women's right activist, further emboldened women's rights activists inside Iran and cemented their relationships with Iranian feminists abroad.

During the Sixth Parliament, some of Iran's strongest advocates of women's rights emerged. Almost all of the 11 female lawmakers of the (at the time) 270-seat Majlis tried to change some of Iran's more conservative laws. However, during the elections for the Seventh Majlis, the all-male Council of Guardians banned the 11 women from running for office, and only conservative females were allowed to run. The Seventh Majlis reversed many of the laws passed by the reformist Sixth Majlis.

File:Zanane iran.JPG

Iranian women's movement: Simin Behbahani, Shirin Ebadi, Tahmineh Milani, Mehrangiz Kar, Elaheh Koulaei, and Farah Karimi. The women's movement during the Iranian revolution, and in post-revolution Iran continued to be strong. Perhaps the most notable figure

Marriage law

In 1997, it became legal to sign a new kind of prenuptial document in Iran, with the object of giving them more rights than regular marital contracts. Under the terms of this prenuptial contract, the groom forfeited rights to polygamy and unconditional divorce, and the bride acquired rights to initiate divorce, divide assets, claim joint custody of children, and receive child support. As most men would not sign such contracts, the possibility of signing had little practical effect. A small number of family courts have returned, and divorce is referred to these courts. Women can function as judges but do not have the title. Mahriyeh ("bridal treasures", a stipulated sum that a groom agrees to give or owe to his bride) is indexed and linked to inflation. Women have more legal options for initiating divorce than they had in the past.[13]

In 2008, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration introduced a "family support bill" in the parliament that would have allowed men to marry a second wife without his first wife's permission, and put a tax on Mariyeh - which is seen by many women "as a financial safety net in the event a husband leaves the marriage and is not forced to pay alimony." [14] [15] In September 2008, however, the bill for the tax was returned by Iran's judiciary to the legislative council with complaints about the polygamy and tax articles,[14] and these were removed from the bill.[7]

During the administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration, the use of Siqeh, or temporary marriages (that can last from 30 minutes to a lifetime), was used, especially in response to the financial demands of prenuptial agreements. The temporary marriages, enacted by fatwa in 1983 under Khomeini, are heavily criticized as a form of legalized prostitution.[5][16][17]

Zanan magazine

In 1992, Shahla Sherkat founded Zanan (Women) magazine, which focused on the concerns of Iranian women and tested the political waters with its edgy coverage of reform politics, domestic abuse, and sex. Zanan is the most important Iranian women's journal published after the Iranian revolution. Zanan criticized the Islamic legal code. Article topics covered controversial issues from domestic abuse to plastic surgery.[18] It argued that gender equality was Islamic and that religious literature had been misread and misappropriated by misogynists. Mehangiz Kar, Shahla Lahiji, and Shahla Sherkat, the editor of Zanan, led the debate on women's rights and demanded reforms. The leadership did not respond but, for the first time since the revolution, it could not silence the movement.[19] However, at the end of January 2008 the Iranian regime closed the magazine down as a “threat to the psychological security of the society” claiming it showed women in a “black light.”[20] It had been the only Persian women's magazine.[21]


File:Maryam Mirzakhani.jpg

Maryam Mirzakhani, an award-winning mathematician.

The writer and activist Bibi Khatoon Astarabadi founded the first school for Persian girls in 1907. In this school, Iranian women could study a variety of subjects, including history, geography, law, calculus, religion, and cooking.

Enrollment of 12 women into the Tehran University in 1936, marked the entry of women into university education in Iran.[22] As of 2006, women account for well over half of university students in Iran[23] and 70% of Iran's science and engineering students.[24] Such education and social trends are increasingly viewed with alarm by the Iranian secularists and opposition groups.[23][25] A report by the Research Center of the Majlis (controlled by conservatives) warned that the large female enrollment could cause "social disparity and economic and cultural imbalances between men and women."[23]

The Iranian Revolution initiated social changes that and helped more women enroll in universities. Today more than 60% of all university students in Iran are women. [26][27]

Iranian women have participated in science Olympiads. For instance, Maryam Mirzakhani won gold medals in the 1994 and 1995 International Mathematical Olympiads.[28] An alumna of the Sharif University of Technology, she is an assistant professor at Princeton University.

In 2001, Allameh Tabatabaii University, Tarbiat Modares University, and Azzahra University initiated women's studies programs at the Master of Arts level, and shortly thereafter Tehran University organized a similar program.


Women contributed to the development of polo, which originated in the royal courts of Persia 2,500 years ago. The queen and her ladies-in-waiting played against the emperor and his courtiers.[29]

Today, Iranian schools offer sport for Iranian students, including girls. Despite restrictions, Iran has many female athletes who have won medals in international competitions. In 2000, Atousa Pour-Kashian became world chess champion. In 2004, Zahra Asgardoun won a silver medal in the sanshou (sparring) competitions of the Asian women's wushu (martial arts) event.

On 30 May 2005, Farkhondeh Sadegh, a graphic designer, and Laleh Keshavarz, a dentist, became the first Muslim women to make a successful ascent of Mount Everest. In December 2005, Iran won the Asian women's canoe polo crown. In 2006, Iranian wushu athletes won five medals in the Third Grand International Wushu Festival in Warsaw, Poland. Iranian women's national team athlete, Elham Sadeqi, won three golds in taolu (wushu forms) events. Iran's top race car driver is Laleh Seddigh, who is skilled in both circuit and rally driving. However, in December 2007 it was reported that Seddigh, known as the "Schumacher of the East", was banned from racing for one year for allegedly tampering with her car's engine.[30] "I did not commit any irregularities," said Seddigh, "They simply want to exclude me from racing because I'm a woman."[30]

National Iranian women's teams take part in football (soccer), taekwondo, chess, and track and field events.

Acts of protest against sex segregation of women includes an event of the 1997 so-called "Football revolution" when an estimated 5000 women defied the ban on entering football stadiums and stormed the gates to join 120,000 men in celebration of Iran's national football team which had returned to the country from qualifying for the World Cup.[31]

Female Iranian athletes are all but prevented from participation in the Olympic Games.[32] In December 2007 the vice president of the Iranian Olympic Committee, Abdolreza Savar, issued a memorandum to all sporting federations about the "proper behavior of male and female athletes" and that "severe punishment will be meted out to those who do not follow Islamic rules during sporting competitions" both local and abroad.[33] Men are not allowed to train or coach women. Iran's female volleyball team was once considered the best in Asia, but due to the lack of female coaches it has been prevented from international competition.[33]

Iranian women are allowed to compete in sports that require removal of the hijab, but only in arenas that are all female.[32] They are banned from public events if spectators include unrelated men.[34] Thus, of the 53 Iranian athletes in the Beijing Olympics, there were only three women: Sara Khoshjamal Fekri (taekwondo), Najmeh Abtin (shooting) and Homa Hosseini (rowing).[32]

Women may not wear Lycra as it is too form-fitting; when Homa Hosseini competes in rowing she must wear her hijab secured by a hat, a long-sleeved baggy top and tracksuit bottoms.[34] If women do not conform to the dress code rules, they face severe punishment and a ban on participation in any future national or international competitions.[33]

At the 2004 Athens Olympics there was only one female athlete, ironically in shooting.[32]

Women's health

In the 20th century, female social activists, health workers, and non-governmental organizations promoted the health of women by stressing the importance of regular check-ups such as the Pap smear, mammography, and blood tests. Vitamin D and calcium supplementation and hormone replacement therapy were emphasized with the goal of preventing osteoporosis.

In 2005, the Iranian parliament approved abortions carried out before four months gestation if a woman's life was at risk or if the fetus was malformed. With technical support from the United Nations Population Fund, the government undertook literacy and family planning initiatives. The fund's specific contributions to the Literacy Movement Organization of Iran included training more than 7,000 teachers, developing a nine-episode television series on women's health issues (including family planning), and procuring computers and other equipment.[35]


"Stop Stoning Forever"

Template:Further In May 2006, a group of women's movement activists in Iran initiated the "Stop Stoning Forever" campaign.[36][37][38] The campaign claims it has succeeded in saving 5 women from stoning up to March 2008, in association with the Volunteer Lawyers' Network. In August 2008 the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women! announced that there were still at least eight women and one man sentenced to die in Iran by stoning for convictions of prostitution, incest and adultery.[39]

"One Million Signatures campaign"

On August 27, 2006, a new women's rights campaign was launched in Iran. The "One Million Signatures"[40] campaign aims to end legal discrimination against women in Iranian laws by collecting a million signatures. Examples of such laws include one that sets the age of legal adult responsibility for girls at 9 years, one that gives lower value to legal testimony by women than to legal testimony by men, and one that limits punitive damages in cases of the wrongful injury or death of a woman to half of that of a man. The supporters of this campaign include many Iranian women's rights activists inside Iran and also international activists including many Nobel Peace Prize laureates. However, according to California State University professor Nayereh Tohidi, women collecting signatures were attacked and arrested, which has slowed the campaign and caused it to extend its two year target.[7]

After the victory with the marriage bill in September 2008, a court sentenced four of the women leaders, all involved in the One Million Signatures campaign, to jail for contributing to banned websites.[41] They were identified as Mariam Hossein-khah, Nahid Keshavarz, Jelveh Javaheri and Parvin Ardalan.[41]

International influence and the women's movement

The Persian cultural sphere


From up to down: Safeeieh Ammeh Jan, Farzaneh Khojandi, Golrokhsar Safi Eva, and Nusrat Bhutto

Women of modern Iran have close contacts with the women from the Iranian cultural sphere, that is, Persian-speaking countries, primarily Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and the Kurdish areas of Iraq and Central Asia. Many women's rights activists, artists, and literary figures in the region cross borders to assist each other. For example, Iranian journalist Jila Bani Yaghoub and film-maker Samira Makhmalbaf have contributed to the culture of Afghanistan. Iranian intellectual Farah Karimi wrote a book entitled "Slagveld Afghanistan" that criticizes Dutch military policies in Afghanistan, and in 2006, she was appointed as the representative of the United Nations in Afghanistan affairs.[42] In 2003, Sima Bina, the voice of Khorasan (a region of northeastern Iran), performed secular threnodies at the Théâtre du Soleil for the benefit of the "Afghanistan: one child one book" project created by the organization Open Asia.[43] Moreover in 2004, the World Bank funded a "network of Persian women" for promoting the welfare of women in Persian-speaking lands.[44]

  • Afghanistan: Influential figures include:
  • Tajikistan:

Tajik women founded more than 100 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in recent decades to defend their rights and improve their quality of life. Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi acted as a role model for a new generation of Tajik women. Many Tajik businesswomen have economic ties with Iran.[45] In 2005, a conference on poverty among women was organized in Iran, and a group of Tajik journalists, activists, university lecturers, and athletes were invited to Iran to exchange experiences.[46]

In 2006 Anousheh Ansari, a woman whose family fled the country after the 1979 revolution was the first Iranian woman in space.[47] The feat, undertaken in Kazakhstan, was reportedly an inspiration to many Iranian women.[47]

Relationship with western feminism

Some suggest that only by accepting help from western feminists, whose progress has been recognized within western society, can the Iranian Women’s Movement be recognized. This perspective suggests that western feminism can offer freedom and opportunity to Iranian women that their own religious society cannot. In addition, advocates of this view argue that no matter what the Iranian Women’s Movement is able to achieve within Iranian society, the status of individual women within this society will always be less than what has been achieved by western feminists.[48]

By contrast, others suggest that parochial movements of women will never be successful, and that until a global sisterhood made up of women from all nations and religions has been established, feminism has not truly arrived.[49]

There is yet a third perspective suggesting that a global women’s movement will inevitably ignore and undermine the unique elements of indigenous Iranian feminism which have arisen as a result of their history and religion.[48]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Afary, Janet. The Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1906 - 1911, Columbia University Press, 1996.
  2. Sanasarian, Eliz. The Women's Rights Movements in Iran, Praeger, New York: 1982, ISBN 0-03-059632-7.
  3. J. Afary, The Iranian constitutional revolution, 1906-11. Grassroots democracy, social democracy, and the origins of feminism, New York 1996.
  4. Two sides of the same coin
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Chronology of Events Regarding Women in Iran since the Revolution of 1979, Elham Gheytanchi, Social Research via FindArticles, Summer 2000. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 [1], Nikki R. Keddie, Social Research via, Summer 2000. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Iran's Women's Rights Activists Are Being Smeared, Nayereh Tohidi, Women's eNews, September 17, 2008. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  8. The Unfinished Revolution, Time Magazine, April 2, 1979. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  9. Wright, The Last Great Revolution, (2000), p.136.
  10. Wright, The Last Great Revolution (2000), p.136.
  11. [2] Video: `Iranian Police Enforces "Islamic Dress Code" on Women in the Streets of Tehran,` April 15, 2007
  12. Crackdown in Iran over dress codes, 27 April 2007
  13. Women's movement: A brief history 1850-2000
  14. 14.0 14.1 Iranian Parliament Delays Vote on Bill That Upset Judiciary, Women's Activists, Thomas Erdbrink, Washington Post, September 3, 2008. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  15. A Victory for Rich Iranian Bigamists, Meir Javedanfar, Pajamas Media, September 3, 2008. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  16. Women in Iran, Hammed Shahidian, Published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002, ISBN 0313323453; page 122.
  17. Love Finds a Way in Iran: 'Temporary Marriage', Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, October 4, 2000. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  18. Women's Pages[dead link], Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  19. Women's movement: Zanan magazine
  20. Shutting Down Zanan, New York Times editorial, February 7, 2008. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  21. IRAN: Zanan, a voice of women, silenced, Ramin Mostaghim, Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2008. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  22. History of Medicine in Iran
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Women graduates challenge Iran, Francis Harrison, BBC, September 26, 2006. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  24. Nature: News Feature
  25. Iran: Does Government Fear Educated Women?, Iraj Gorgin, Radio Free Europe, February 10, 2008. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  26. BBC NEWS | Middle East | Women graduates challenge Iran
  27. Iran: Number Of Female University Students Rising Dramatically
  28. 1995 International Mathematical Olympiad (Unofficial) Results
  29. Polo comes back home to Iran
  30. 30.0 30.1 Iran: Female race car driver barred from competition, Adnkronos, December 4, 2007. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  31. Foer, Frank, How Soccer Explains the World, HarperCollins, c2004.
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 Iran gets ready for Beijing Olympics without 'Iranian Hercules', Associated Press via the International Herald Tribune, July 24, 2008. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 Iran: Women excluded from sports in the name of Islam, Adnkrono, December 19, 2007. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  34. 34.0 34.1 High hopes of Iran's women rowers, John Leyne, BBC, August 1, 2008. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  35. Adult Education Offers Options to Iranian Women
  36. about the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign
  37. top Stoning Campaign; An Unfinished Story
  38. Suspension of stoning executions a welcome step if carried out
  39. Iran: Death by stoning suspended…but still legal!, Press Release of the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women, August 7, 2008. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  40. About "One Million Signatures Demanding Changes to Discriminatory Laws"
  41. 41.0 41.1 victory on marriage legislation, Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, September 3, 2008. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  42. Farah Karimi: a fight for freedom
  43. Sima Bina: "Afghanistan, one child one book" project
  44. Network of women in Persian speaking countries
  45. Tajik Women and Iran
  46. Campaign against Women's Poverty: Iran-Tajikistan joint project
  47. 47.0 47.1 Iranian Women Look Up to Find Ansari, Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press via, September 26, 2006. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  48. 48.0 48.1 Darraj, Susan Muaddi. “Understanding the Other Sister: The Case of Arab Feminism.” Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine 53.10 (2002): 15-26.
  49. Fathi, Asghar. “Communities in Place and Communities in Space: Globalization and Feminism in Iran.” Women, Religion and Culture in Iran. Ed. Sarah Ansari and Vanessa Martin. Surrey, UK: Curzon, 2002. 215-224.

Further reading

  • Edward G. Browne, The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909. Mage Publishers (July 1995). ISBN 0-934211-45-0
  • Farideh Farhi, Religious Intellectuals, the “Woman Question,” and the Struggle for the Creation of a Democratic Public Sphere in Iran, International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Vol. 15, No.2, Winter 2001.
  • Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Religious Modernists and the “Woman Question”: Challenges and Complicities, Twenty Years of Islamic Revolution: Political and Social Transition in Iran since 1979, Syracuse University Press, 2002, pp 74–95.
  • Shirin Ebadi, Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope, Random House (May 2, 2006), ISBN 1-4000-6470-8

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