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A BRIEF HISTORY OF WOMEN'S MOVEMENTS IN IRAN
(1850 - 2000) .....(Continued)
By Massoume Price
 
Mrs. Jahangeer, the aunt of the martyred journalist Mirza Jahangeer Sur-i Israfil, blocked Mozafare Din Shah's carriage and warned him to endorse the constitution. Progressive newspapers like Sur-i Israfil, Habl al Matin, Qanun, Soraya and Nida-yi Vatan published articles by men and women writers demanding constitutional and gender rights. Women from all faiths gathered and joined the strikers seeking sanctuary at the British embassy in 1906. Setareh the daughter of the Armenian revolutionary activist Yephrem Khan her mother and many others, Jewish, Bahai, Zoroastrian etc., participated.

After the constitution was granted in August 1906, women became involved in both boycotting the import of foreign goods and raising funds for the establishment of the first National Bank. Native fabrics were worn and women sold their jewelry and dowries to finance the bank. The members of the Secret Union of women published pamphlets and articles demanding men should give up their seats in Majlis and let women run the country. With the victory of revolution they expected equal opportunities and gender rights. None was granted in the constitution. The electoral law of September 1906 had expressly barred women from the political process, and the appeal to the newly formed Majlis for institutional support received hostile response. They were told that " the women's education and training should be restricted to raising children, home economics and preserving the honor of the family". Family laws remained within the domain of Shariat with no change and emancipation of women became an embarrassment.

Women decided to organize by themselves, education became the priority. In March 1838 American Presbyterian missionaries had opened the first girls' school in Urumiyah, Azarbaijan. Religious minorities, mainly Armenians, attended the school. Similar schools had opened in Tehran, Tabriz, Mashhad, Rasht, Hamden and other cities. However Muslim girls were barred to attend the missionary schools by the religious authorities and public pressure. In the 1870s the first Muslim girls joined the American school in Tehran. The failure of Majlis to meet their demands forced women to take action. Semi secret societies were formed.

On January 20, 1907, a women's meeting was held in Tehran where ten resolutions were adopted, including one that called for establishing girls' schools and another that sought the abolition of dowries so that the money could be spent on educating the girls instead. In 1907, Bibi Vazirof opened Madresseh Doushizegan. She was forced to close but re-opened. At the same time Toba Azmodeh opened Namus in her own house. Despite threats and abuse by the mob and religious authorities the efforts continued. The opening of Effatiyah School by Mrs. Safieh Yazdi, the wife of the pro constitution mujtahid, Mohammed Yazdi in 1910 encouraged others and more schools were opened. In 1911 Mahrukh Gawharshinas defied her husband and started Taraghi. In the same year Mah Sultan Amir Sehei opened Tarbiyat.  By 1913 there were 9 women's societies and 63 girls' schools in Tehran with close to 2500 students.

The schools produced the first generation of well-educated and prominent women. Touran Azmoudeh, Fakhre Ozma Arghon (Simin Behbahani's mother), Bibi Khalvati, Guilan Khanoum, Farkhondeh Khanoum and Mehrangize Samiei, are amongst the best known graduates of these early schools. Male supporters joined the movement. Mr. Javad Sartip, Mirza Hussein Rushdiyeh, Nasr Douleh and Adib Douleh are amongst the best known supporters whose moral and financial support made the movement possible.

Women's associations flourished. Society for the Freedom of Women and Secret Union of Women were formed in 1907. Association of the Ladies of the Homeland was followed by The Society for the welfare of Iranian Women, Women of Iran, Union of Women, Women's Efforts, and the Council of Women of the Center. They all played an active part in politics; organized plays raised funds for schools, hospitals and orphanages. In 1915 the Society of Christian Women Graduates of Iran was formed, followed by Jewish Women's Association they started organizing, helping and educating women and children in their own communities. The communist members of the Messengers for Women's Prosperity celebrated the International Women's Day for the first time in Rasht in 1915.  Society for the Freedom of women, the most prolific of all the societies attracted prominent activists like Sadigeh Dawlatabadi, Muhtaram Eskandari, Huma Mahmudi and Shams al-Muluk Javahir Kalam. People from all faiths and men were present at the meetings.  The gatherings were kept secret to avoid any attack by the mob. Other ladies like Mirza Baji, Samei, Monireh Khanoum, Gouleen Moafegh, Eftekhar Saltaneh, Taj saltaneh, Hakeem, Ayoub, Jordan and Afandieh Khanoum were amongst the first members of the society.

A member of several associations and a publisher, Sadigeh Dawlatabadi in 1918 opened the first girls' school in Isfahan and was forced to close it after 3 months. On her return from France in 1927, she was amongst the first women who appeared in public unveiled. Eskandari, a Qajar princess later founded Society of Patriotic Women, organized classes for adult illiterate women and published a journal. The group in a demonstration publicly burnt a misogynist pamphlet entitled Wiles of Women at the Sepah Square in Tehran.

Huma and Shams al-Muluk were leading feminist writers and speakers. Huma was one of the organizers of a major demonstration by women outside Majlis demanding equal rights. Also a publisher and a poet she wrote constantly on women's issues. Shams al-Muluk, a teacher was the first Iranian woman to teach unveiled in co-educational classes in Tiflis. Others like Durrat al Muali were praised by figures like poet Iraj Mirza for their courage. Other prominent males like Dihkhuda, Vakilal-Ruaya, Lahuti, Ishqi, Aref and later figures like Kasravi, Taghizadeh, Saeed Nafissi, Ebrahim Khajehnouri and Reza-zadeh Shafaegh also lent their support with others like Parvin Etesami. Conservative members of ulama opposed the schools. Sheykh Fazlullah Nuri and Seyyed Ali Shushtari often accused the activists of heresy and having Babi sentiments. Soon there were girls' schools in all the major cities and though they were constantly threatened, burnt and closed they stayed.

In 1910, Mrs. Kahal published the magazine Danish. This was the first journal published by a woman in Iran. Navabeh Safavi and Mrs. Ameed Mozayan-al Saltaneh published Jahan-i Zanan and Shikufah in 1912 and 1913. Sadigeh Dawlatabadi followed by Zaban-i Zanan and Zanan-i Iran in Isfahan and Tehran (1918 & 1919). Nameh Banouvan and Jahan-i Zanan were printed in 1920. Mrs. Fakher Afagh-i Parsa, the mother of Farokh Roo Parsa the first women minister in Iran who was executed after the revolution, published the later. This magazine was published in Mashhad and was violently opposed by religious groups. Mrs. Parsa was forced into exile and had to run for her life. Many publications followed, by 1930s fourteen women's magazines were discussing rights, education and veiling. Letters were send to Majlis; equal rights and emancipation were demanded. They were refused and ulma's hostility grows.

Sadigeh Dawlatabadi

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