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File:Jam'iat e nesvan e vatan-khah01.jpg

The board of directors of "Jam'iat e nesvan e vatan-khah", a women's rights association in Tehran (1923-1933)

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The Iranian women's movement is based on the Iranian women's social movement for women's rights. This movement first emerged some time after the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1906. Between 1962 and 1978, the Iranian women's movement gained tremendous victories: women won the right to vote in 1963 as part of Mohammad Reza Shah's White Revolution, and were allowed to stand for public office, and in 1975 the Family Protection Law provided new rights for women, including expanded divorce and custody rights and reduced polygamy[1]. Those rights were taken away following the Islamic Revolution, at which point mandatory veiling was also re-introduced[2].

Today the women's rights movement in Iran continues to fight for women's human rights, particularly with the One Million Signatures Campaign to End Discrimination Against Women[3].

1905-1925: The Constitutional Revolution And The Dawn Of The Women's Rights Movement[4]

The Iranian Constitutional Revolution which took place between 1905 and 1911 triggered a spontaneous and intense women's movement . Additionally, Iranian women were aware of women's conditions and educational opportunies elsewhere and inspired by them.

Education

Women activist determined that education was key. The argument they put forward was that giving women education was best for Iran, in that the mothers would raise better sons for their country.

At the beginning of the century, foreign missionaries founded the first school for girls, which was attended mostly by religious minorities. Haji-Mirza Hassan Roshdieh and Bibi Khanoom Astarabadi later also founded schools for girls, but both were quickly closed . Eventually, in 1918, after years of private and unregulated schools, the government provided funds to establish ten primary schools for girls and a teacher training college.

From 1914 to 1925, the women's publications expanded beyond discussions of education onto subjects such as child marriage, economic empowerment, and the rights and legal status of women.

Women's Societies and Organizations

In 1906, despite the parliament refusing their request to be allowed to organize in political societies, women created several organizations, including the society for women's freedom, which met in secret until it was discovered and attacked. The Patriotic Women’s League was born around 1918; it published Nosvan Vatankhah. In 1922, Mohtaram Eskandari created the patriotic women's organization. She was arrested and her house was burned. Zandokht Shirazi, another women activist, organized the Women's Revolutionary Association.

During this early phase of the women's movement, the women who became involved were in general daughters, sisters and wives of well-known constitutionalists. In general too, they were from educated middle-class families. The low status of women and secret operation of many of their organizations and societies have somewhat limited the amount of data on the subject.

Early Publications For Women's Rights

Women's writing in that era, mainly through newspapers and periodicals are one of the most valuable sources of information on the movement. Some of the most important periodicals of that era are listed below (the year of publication of the first issue is mentioned in brackets, sometimes with the city of publication):[4][5]

  • Danesh [=Knowledge] (1910) was the first weekly magazine, founded by a women's society, with a female editor; it was published by a doctor's wife and written for women.
  • Shekoofeh [=Blossom] (1913) was edited by a woman, Mariam Mozayen-ol Sadat. Its primary goal was the education of women against superstition and acquainting them with world literature.
  • Zaban-e Zanan [=Women's voice] (1919 in Isfahan), was one of the more hardcore publications, founded and edited by Sediqeh Dowlatabadi in 1919 in Isfahan. It was one of the harshest critics of the veil (Hijab).
  • Nameh-ye Banovan [=Women's letter], created in 1921 and edited by Shahnaz Azad, was another critic of the veil. The purpose of the magazine, as stated below its title, was "awakening of the suffering Iranian Women".
  • Peyk-e Saadat-e Nesvan (in Rasht), was published by the Peyk-e Saadat-e Nesvan Society. It was one of the first leftist journals in Iran. Roshank No'doost (1899-?) was one of its founders.
  • Alam Nesvan [=Women's Universe] (1920 in Tehran), was published by Association of Graduates of Tehran's American Girls' School. This magazine had a more informative than political tone, at least initially. Over time it became more critical and outspoken. it was a particularly Western-oriented paper. Alam Nesvan was one of the longer-lasting publications on women's issues. Its relative long survival (14 years) might have been due to its association with the above-mentioned school.
  • Jahan Zanan [=Women's World] (1921, initially in Mashhad), was published by Afaq Parsa. Despite its relatively moderate tone, the editor faced severe vindictiveness and animosity from local conservatives.
  • Nosvan Vatankhah [=Patriotic Women] (1922), published by Jamiat Nesvan Vatankhah Iran [=Patriotic Women's League of Iran or Society of Patriotic Women] was a major advocate of women's rights. The publisher was Mohtaram Eskandari.
  • Dokhtran Iran [=Daughters of Iran] (1931 initially in Shiraz) was a newspaper published by Zandokht Shirazi, a prominent feminist, poet and school teacher, who was an activist from an early age.
  • Jam'iyat-e nesvan by Molouk Eskandiari.

1925-1963: Education, Unveiling, Suffrage And The Maturation of the Women's Rights Movement

Women’s first strides were in education: in 1928, they were provided with financial support to study abroad; in 1935 they were admitted to Tehran University[6], and in 1944 education became compulsory.

In 1932, the second Congress of Women of the East was organized in Tehran, and Iranian women activists met with activists from Lebanon, Egypt, India and Iraq[4]. Dowlatabadi was the secretary.

In 1936, Reza Shah Pahlavi set the mandatory unveiling of women—a highly controversial policy which nonetheless was significant for the desegregation of women[4].

The 1940s saw a heightened consciousness of the role of women in society; and the 1950s the birth of numerous women’s rights organizations, among which Rah-e Now (New Path) founded by Mehrangiz Dowlatshahi in 1955[7], and Women’s League of Supporters of the Declaration of Human Rights founded by Safieh Firouz in 1956[8]. In 1959 fifteen of those organizations formed a federation called the High Council of Women’s Organizations in Iran[9]. The High Council decided to concentrate its efforts on women’s suffrage.

Despite much opposition by clerics, the suffrage was gained in 1963 when a national referendum reflected general support for the 6-point reform program known as the White Revolution which included women’s right to vote and to stand for public office. 6 women were elected to Parliament (Majlis)[6].

1963-1978: Desegregation, Family Protection Law And Fifteen Years of Significant Gains for the Women's Rights Movement

In the late 1960s, women entered the diplomatic corps, the judiciary and police force, and the revolutionary service corps (education, health and development)[10]: in 1968, Farrokhroo Parsa became Minister of Education - she was the first women to hold a cabinet position; in 1969 the judiciary was opened to women and five female judges were appointed, including future Nobel prize winner Shirin Ebadi. Women were elected to town, city and county councils[11].

Looking for a way to achieve a more viable organization structure for women’s activities, a coalition of women’s groups forms the Women’s Organization of Iran in 1966[12].

The Women's Organization of Iran (WOI)[12][13]

Though the WOI was patroned by Princess Ashraf (the Shah's twin sister), Iranian women and the WOI had to fight for every improvement in their lives[14].

The Women’s Organization of Iran was a non-profit grassroots organization working mainly through volunteers. Its goals were to encourage women’s education for change, to work towards securing economic independence for women, and at the same time to remain within the spirit of Islam and the cultural traditions of the nation. It worked through local branches and Women’s Centers, which provided useful services for women – literacy classes, vocational training, counseling, sports and cultural activities and childcare.

Achievements[13]

One of the major victories of the women’s movement and the WOI was the Family Protection Law of 1975. It granted women’s equal rights in marriage and divorce, enhanced women’s rights in child custody, increased the minimum age of marriage to 18 for women and 20 for men, and practically eliminated polygamy[15].

Abortion was also made legal without arousing much public attention, by removing the penalty for performing the operation embodied in a law dealing with medical malpractice[16] . All labor laws and regulations were revised to eliminate sex discrimination and incorporate equal pay for equal work. Women were encouraged to run for political office.

By 1978 almost 40% of girls 6 and above were literate; over 12 000 literacy corps women were teaching in villages; 33% of university students were women, and more women than men took the entrance exam for the school of medicine. 333 women were elected to local councils, 22 women were elected to parliament, and 2 served in the Senate. There were one cabinet minister (for women’s affairs), 3 sub-cabinet under-secretaries, one governor, an ambassador, and five women mayors[17].

Iran had also established itself as playing a leading role for women’s rights among developing countries, introducing ideas and funds for the UN Regional Center for Research and Development for Asia and the Pacific, and the International Center for Research on Women[17].

1979-1997: After The '79 Revolution

At the beginning of the revolution, high-profile women, including leaders of the women’s rights movement they were belittled, discredited and smeared; many activists were accused of prostitution[18][19]. Ironically, the massive participation of women in the 1978-79 revolution was in part a result of the mobilization efforts of women’s organization in the preceding decades, including the WOI’s activities in the late sixties and seventies during which women had gained consciousness of their own collective political power, and understood the need for women to assert themselves. Women marched in support of a freer, more egalitarian government[13].

After the Iranian revolution in 1979, the status of women quickly deteriorated. Before long, many of the rights that women had gained under the Shah were systematically abolished: the new family law was annulled (on grounds of being "against Islam"), veiling became obligatory, women barred from many areas of work and gender inequality was again institutionalized[20]. Farrokhrou Parsa, the first woman to serve in the Iranian cabinet, was executed[17][21].

The sudden loss of rights was met with massive protests comprising heterogeneous groups of women. The demonstrations did not aim to expand women's rights in Iran, but simply to keep what they had already earned. There were three major collective attempts to voice concerns:[22]

  1. A five-day demonstration starting on March 8, 1979
  2. The Conference of Unity of Women in December 1979
  3. Demonstrations after Khomeini's decree on eliminating any symbol reminiscent of the Shah's rule. A consequence of that decree was forced Hijab.

These collective attempts, as well as the smaller ones, not only faced opposition from the Islamic conservatives, but were sometimes damaged by the leftist and rightist political groups, exemplified by the organization of a demonstration scheduled by the Fedai for the same day as that of the Conference of Unity of Women in December 1979 — despite the pleas mentioned above.[23] In fact, most leftist groups did not have a well-established vision or plan for pursuing women's rights. The status of women, it was presumed, would be improved automatically by the establishment of an ideal socialist/communist society.[24]

The Islamic law --Sharia-- upon which the foundation of the new regime was based, was not helping women's cause. Aspects of the law pertaining to women can be seen in Articles 20 and 21 of the 1979 constitution, and two manifestations of Islamic law are now infamous among women's rights activists: stoning and polygamy, to name two.[25]

1997-: Twenty-First Century Activism

For the first time since the revolution, some women succeeded in 1997 in getting into a stadium to watch a soccer match[26]. Female legal consultants have been introduced in special family courts[27].In 2000 more than 600 female students from the medical University of Qom demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Health in Tehran complaining that they were prevented from studying certain subjects because there were not enough female doctors to teach them[27].

In 2003 Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in defending and promoting the rights of women and children.

In 2006, the campaigns to Stop Stoning Forever and the One Million Signatures campaign for the reform of family laws were launched. The latter aims to ask Parliament for the revision and reform of current laws which discriminate against women. One of the main aims of the Campaign is to educate citizens and particularly women about the negative impact of these discriminatory laws on the lives of women and society as a whole[3].

In 2009, following contested elections, women demonstrated en masse to bring about change.

By all accounts, although the women’s rights movement was forced underground, and despite institutionalized oppression, the degree of mobilization and consciousness among women in Iran is quite remarkable[28] . The women’s rights movement is vibrant and well-organized[29]. The movement has also been credited with very smart use of information and communication technologies despite heavy censorship in the country[30].

Iranian Feminism

Iranian feminists who reside outside Iran generally fall into two camps when it comes to the women's rights movement in Iran, post '79. Some believe that Islamization has resulted in the "marginalizing" of women. Others believe that through the dynamic nature (based on different interpretations by the religious figures) of Islamic law, known as Sharia, a unique consciousness of feminism has been formed in Iran. Both these views have been challenged. It has been argued that it is "the contradiction of the Islamic state and institutions", that is responsible for feminist consciousness[31].

Among the women's rights activists in Iran, feminism means different things. Furthermore, the word feminist itself has a non-positive connotation among conservatives. It is perceived as advocacy for gynocracy, lesbianism and other perceived radical agendas. A major contrast is seen between secular feminists and those who are dubbed Islamic feminists, on the nature of feminism[31].

Islamic feminists, or more accurately Muslim feminists, are those women rights advocates who seek to improve the status of women through more favorable interpretations of Islamic law, supporting what is called "Dynamic Interpretation" ("Feqh-e pouya" in Persian). Some Muslim feminists would rather be called "indigenous feminists" (feminist-e boomi). Many secular feminists, however, while considering the desire amongst Muslim feminists to improve the status of women a positive one, hold that due to the inequality of women and men in the religion, Islamic feminists cannot be considered "feminists" in the strict sense of the word[31].

Despite the disagreements among different factions, when it comes to the improvement of women's conditions, feminist groups have shown that they can cooperate with an emphasis on common ground[32]. The chief editor of Zanan magazin, Shahla Sherkat, for example, a woman with definite religious beliefs, invited two prominent Muslim women rights activists, Shirin Ebadi, and Mehrangiz Kar, to write on women's issues in her magazine[31].

Women's Studies

Through the efforts of women's rights advocates in Iran, in 2001 Allameh Tabatabaii University, Tarbiat Modares University, and Alzahra University initiated women's studies programs at the Master of Arts level, and shortly thereafter Tehran University organized a similar program. There are three sub-specialties: women and family, the history of women, and women's rights in Islam. These programs are needed, it is stated, to try and remedy some of the damage caused by centuries of the dominance of negative views on women, sociologically and humanistically, and other hardships suffered by women in Iran. It is hoped that graduates of women's studies programs will be able to present gender-neutral points of view. [33]

Activists

Some of the most notable activists are:[4][23]

See also

References

  1. Afkhami, Mahnaz (2004). The Women's Organization of Iran: Evolutionary Politics and Revolutionary Change in Women in Iran from 1800 to the Islamic Republic By Lois Beck and Guity Nashat. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0252071898.
  2. "Iranian Women and the Civil Rights Movement in Iran: Feminism Interacted". Bridgewater State College. http://www.bridgew.edu/SoAS/jiws/Nov07/IranianWomen.pdf. Retrieved 2010-04-29.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Iran's Million Signatures Campaign: A Leading Voice for Democracy". Democracy Digest. http://www.demdigest.net/blog/regions/iran%e2%80%99s-million-signatures-campaign-a-leading-voice-for-democracy.html. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Ettehadieh, Mansoureh (2004). The Origins and Development of the Women's Movement in Iran, 1906-41 in Women in Iran from 1800 to the Islamic Republic By Lois Beck and Guity Nashat. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0252071898.
  5. Sanasarian, Eliz (1982). The Women's Rights Movements in Iran. New York: Praeger. pp. 32–37. ISBN 0-03-059632-7.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Esfandiari, Haleh (2004). The Role of Women Members of Parliament, 1963-88 in Women in Iran from 1800 to the Islamic Republic By Lois Beck and Guity Nashat. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0252071898.
  7. "Oral History interview of Mehrangiz Dowlatshahi". Foundation for Iranian Studies. http://fis-iran.org/en/oralhistory/Dowlatshahi-Mehrangiz. Retrieved 2010-04-29.
  8. "Oral History interview of Farangis Yeganegi Saharokh". Foundation for Iranian Studies. http://fis-iran.org/en/oralhistory/Yeganegi-Saharokh-Farangis. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
  9. Paydar, Parvin (1995). Women and the Political Process in Twentieth-Century Iran. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521595728.
  10. Broadening Muslim Tradition: Bringing Family Planning to Iran. http://www.pathfind.org/site/DocServer/Broadening_Muslim_Tradition_Iran.pdf?docID=9621. Retrieved 2010-04-29.
  11. "Iranian Women in the Era of Modernization: A Chronology". Foundation for Iranian Studies. http://fis-iran.org/en/women/milestones/pre-revolution. Retrieved 2010-04-29.
  12. 12.0 12.1 "An Introduction to the Women's Organization of Iram". Foundation for Iranian Studies. http://fis-iran.org/en/women/organization/introduction. Retrieved 2010-04-29.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Afkhami, Mahnaz (2004). The Women's Organization of Iran: Evolutionary Politics and Revolutionary Change in Women in Iran from 1800 to the Islamic Republic By Lois Beck and Guity Nashat. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0252071898.
  14. Najmabadi, Afsaneh (1991). Hazards of Modernity and Morality: Women, State and Ideology in Contemporary Iran in Women, Islam and State By Deniz Kandiyoti (ed.). London: Temple University Press. ISBN 978-0877227861.
  15. "Reform and Regression: The Fate of the Family Protection Law". The Feminist School. http://www.learningpartnership.org/mafkhami2/2008/the-fate-of-the-family-protection-law-noushin-ahmadi-khorasani%E2%80%99s-interview-with-mahnaz-afkhami-the-second-woman-minister-in-iran/. Retrieved 2010-04-29.[dead link]
  16. Afkhami, Mahnaz (1994). Women and the Law In Iran 1967-1978. Bethesda, MD: Foundation for Iranian Studies.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Afkhami, Mahnaz (1984). Iran: A Future in the Past--The "Prerevolutionary" Women's Movement in Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women's Movement Anthology, by Robin Morgan (ed.). New York, NYpublisher=Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-1558611603.
  18. "'I was Iran's last woman minister'". BBC. 2009-08-19. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8207371.stm. Retrieved 2010-04-29.
  19. "Ahmadinejad to appoint female ministers". PRI's The World. http://www.theworld.org/2009/08/19/ahmadinejad-to-appoint-female-ministers/. Retrieved 2010-04-29.
  20. "Iranian Women and the Civil Rights Movement in Iran: Feminism Interacted" (PDF). Bridgewater State College. http://www.bridgew.edu/SoAS/jiws/Nov07/IranianWomen.pdf. Retrieved 2010-04-29.
  21. Hansen, Liane (August 23, 2009). "Executed But Not Forgotten: Iran's Farrokhroo Parsay". NPR. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112150486. Retrieved April 22, 2010.
  22. Sanasarian, Eliz (1982). The Women's Rights Movements in Iran. New York: Praeger. pp. 124–129. ISBN 0-03-059632-7.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Sanasarian, Eliz (1982). The Women's Rights Movements in Iran. New York: Praeger. ISBN 0-03-059632-7.
  24. Sanasarian, Eliz (1982). The Women's Rights Movements in Iran. New York: Praeger. pp. 144–147. ISBN 0-03-059632-7.
  25. Sanasarian, Eliz (1982). The Women's Rights Movements in Iran. New York: Praeger. pp. 131–136. ISBN 0-03-059632-7.
  26. Golbang, Ramin (1997-12-11). "There's Hope for Iran, Or Soccer as Metaphor". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/12/11/opinion/11iht-edramin.t.html?pagewanted=1. Retrieved 2010-04-30.[dead link]
  27. 27.0 27.1 Gheytanchi, Elham (2000). "Chronology of Events Regarding Women in Iran since the Revolution of 1979". Social Research, Summer 2000. Archived from the original on 2012-05-29. http://archive.is/Sbnn. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
  28. "Women's Rights in Iran". PRI's The World. http://www.theworld.org/2009/11/27/womens-rights-in-iran/. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
  29. "Despite Odds Women's Movement Persists in Iran". NPR. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100039579. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
  30. "E' la prima rivoluzione via Internet, la guidano le donne e i blogger". Corriere della Serra. http://www.corriere.it/esteri/09_giugno_16/una_rivoluzione_la_guidano_donne_e_blogger_alessandra_farkas_e830c394-5a3b-11de-8451-00144f02aabc.shtml. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 Rostami Povey, E. (2001). Contestation of Institutional domains in Iran in The Realm of the Possible: Middle Eastern Women in Political and Social Spaces. Feminist Review No. 69. pp. 44–72.
  32. "Iranian Women's One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality:The Inside Story". Women's Learning Partnership. http://www.learningpartnership.org/mafkhami2/2009/iranian-womens-one-million-signatures-campaign-for-equality-the-inside-story-foreword/. Retrieved 2010-04-30.[dead link]
  33. Women's studies, books and women's organizations. The Sociology Association of Iran (Women's Studies groups). 2006. Tehran

External links

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