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A BRIEF HISTORY OF WOMEN'S MOVEMENTS IN IRAN
(1850 - 2000) .....(Continued)
By Massoume Price
 
In 1911 Ghassem Amin's book Freedom of Women is translated from Arabic into Persian. The renowned Egyptian activist supported emancipation. Conservative religious authorities responded harshly. Mirza Mohammad Sadegh Fhakhr-al Islam published his own 'Resaleh' condemning the book, emancipation and alcohol consumption. Fazlullah Nuri complained that "by encouraging women to dress up like men Majlis has become a place for Amer-i be monker and Nahyeh az maroof" (promoting the forbidden and forbidding the good). Fazlullah Haeri Mazandarani in 1921 published Hejab ya Pardeh Doushizegan and condemned reforms. Zia al Din Majd and Aboul Hassan Tonekaboni urged Muslims to fight since veiling is a fundamental institution in Islam. By 1927 a collection of all articles opposing emancipation were published together in a book called Answer to supporters of emancipation.  The Muslim Poet Eghbal Lahourri encouraged Muslim women every where to stick by their religion.

Reza Shah became monarch in 1926. In 1926 Sadigeh Dawlatabadi attended The International Women's Conference in Paris. On her return she went public in European attire. In 1928 Majlis ratified the new dress code. All males except ulama were required to dress like Europeans at all government institutions. In 1930 ladies hats were exempted from taxes. Emancipation was discussed constantly and encouraged by the authorities. Mirza Aboulghasem-i Azad established the first emancipation society in 1930 and was supported by Yahya Dawlatabadi. The first conference on Muslim women at the same time began in Damascus Syria. Sadigeh Dawlatabadi, Mostoreh Afshar and Mrs. Tabatabai represented Iran.

In 1931 for the first time Majlis approved a new civil code that gave women the right to ask for divorce under certain conditions and the marriage age was elevated to 15 for girls and 18 for boys. The civil code was secular but family laws remained within the domain of Shariat. The Congress of Oriental Women opened in Tehran in 1932 and paid respect to the deceased socialist Muhtaram Eskandari. In 1933 recommended reforms at Damascus and Tehran conferences were presented to Majlis and women demanded emancipation electoral rights and were refused again. Reza Shah intervened, in 1934 Ali Asghar-i Hikmat, the Minister of Education received orders to establish Kanoun-i Banouvan and implement reforms. Hajer Tarbyat was the first chairwomen and Shams Pahlavi the Royal appointee. Though controlled by the state, for the first time women's activities were legitimized. The Ladies Center was not received well by the socialists and independents. They opposed royal monopoly and interference.

In 1936 Reza Shah, his wife and daughters attended the graduation ceremony at the Women's Teacher Training College in Tehran. All women were advised to come unveiled. Emancipation of women was officially born. Unveiling was made compulsory and women were barred from wearing chador and scarf in public. A national education system was formed to educate boys and girls equally. In 1936 the first females entered Tehran University. Shams al Moluk Mosaheb, Mehrangiz Manuchehrian, Zahra Eskandar, Batul Samei, Tosey Haeri, Shayesteh Sadegh, Taj Muluk Nakhaei, Forough and Zahra Kia, Badr al Muluk Bamdad, Shahzadeh Kavousi and Saraj al Nesa (from India) were admitted. Amineh Pakravan was the first female lecturer and Dr. Fatimah Sayah the first woman who became a full professor.

After Reza Shah's fall, independent organizations were formed. Safiyeh Firouz in 1942 formed the National Women's Society and the newly formed Council of Iranian Women in 1944 strongly criticized polygamy. Tudeh Party Women's league was the best organized in this period. In 1944 Huma Houshmandar published Our Awakening and in 1949 the women's league was changed to Organization of Democratic Women and branches were opened in all the major cities. Zahra and Taj Eskandari, Iran Arani, Maryam Firouz, Dr. Khadijeh Keshavarz, Dr. Ahktar Kambakhsh, Badri Alavi and Aliyeh Sharmini were amongst the best known Tudeh activists. The society was later changed to Organization of Progressive Women and in 1951 unsuccessfully lobbied for electoral rights. Mossadegh's fall puts an end to independent organizations. In 1949 the Higher Council of Women is formed headed by Ashraf Pahlavi.

The council opened branches all over the country focussing on health, education and charity work. By 1964, it was changed to Organization of Iranian Women and in 1978 had 349 branches, 113 Centers and covered 55 other organizations dealing with women's welfare and heath. The last registrar indicates that in 1977 alone, over a million women used the services. Most centers were trashed after the revolution.

In 1951, Mehrangiz Dawlatshahi (the first female Ambassador) formed Rah Naw and with Safeyeh Firouz founded the first organization supporting human rights. The two met with Shah and demanded electoral rights. Opposition by religious authorities ended the debate. In Bahman of 1962 at last women were given the right to vote and to be elected. In 1968 the Family Protection Law was ratified. Divorce was referred to family courts, gains were made with respect to divorce laws, polygamy was limited and required first wife s' written consent. Marriage age for girls was set at 18 years. Mrs. Parsa became the first women minister in Iran. Women were required to serve the education corps and pass military service. In 1975, women gained the right of guardianship for their children after their husbands' death. Abortion was never legalized but the existing penalties were omitted and this made it a lot easier. In 1975 Mahnaz Afkhami became the first minister responsible for women's affairs. Shariat remained but ulam's response was drastic, Fatwas by known figures including Ayatollah Khomeini declared the move heretic, demonstrations followed but were put down.

At the same time Ali Shariati published the best seller Fatima is Fatima and declared all western looking Iranian women as corrupt. Ayatollah Motahari started the popular series women in Islam in the secular magazine Zan-i Ruz and confirmed Hejab. There were no independent organizations except the underground groups opposing monarchy. Marzieh Ahmadi Oskouei, Ashraf Dehghani, Mansoureh Tavafchian, Fatimah Rezaei and Mrs Shayegan were amongst the activists. By 1978, 33% of university students were female with 2 million in the workforce. 190,000 were professionals with university degrees. There were 333 women in the local councils, 22 in Majlis and 2 in the Senate.

At the revolution of 1978 millions of women participated in every aspect of the movement. The Islamic Republic was established in January, the Family Protection Law was abolished by a declaration from Imam Khomeini's office in April and by March women were barred from becoming judges. Women working at government offices were ordered to observe the Islamic dress code. Women protested, on March 8, International Women's Day, thousands gathered at Tehran University. The speakers could not speak since the microphones were sabotaged. The crowd moved towards Ayatollah Taleghani's house, Jam e Jam TV station and Ministry of Justice. In April the marriage age for girls was reduced to 13 and married women were barred from attending regular schools. By this time many Independent women's' organizations were formed and all political parties had their own women's league.

Ten's of women's magazines were published, the daily Awakening of Women was amongst the first published in Tehran University and was immediately followed by Equality, Women in Struggle and Women's Path. The later with the National Union of Women and others formed a loose coalition, the Committee for Solidarity of Women.The Organization of Iranian Women, The Women Populace of Iran, Women's branch of National Democratic Front, National Front and the Association of women lawyers were amongst the most active. The last one is the only one that still exists and it has formed an extremely powerful lobby in support of women's rights.

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