Women's Movement was formed with the support of the government. Monireh
Gorjee a member of the Islamic Republic Party was the only woman at the
Assembly of Experts when the new constitution was drafted. She did not
oppose the new legislation concerning women. Shariat became the legal code.
In the first Majlis Gohar Dastghayb and Maryam Behruzi were elected and
represented the two prominent parties, Islamic Republic and Crusaders for
Islam. Azam Taleghani represented the Women's Society of Islamic Revolution
and send letters to Khomeini cautioning the authorities about compulsory
veiling. Altogether 217 members were elected to the first Majlis, 3 were
women. The birthday of Fatima, Prophets' daughter was announced National
Women's Day. In 1980 Azam Taleghani completely wrapped in Islamic attire
represented Iran in United Nations Conference on Women in Thailand.
Prime Minister Mousavi's wife took over the popular magazine Etelaate-i
Banouvan and the name was changed to Rah Zeynab. Fereshteh Hashemi Was
appointed chief editor of Zan-i Ruz. In the early 1980s, Dr. Shahin Tabatabei
chaired Iran at another United Nations' women's conference in Denmark Amongst
independent participants was Laleh Bahktiar the well-known scholar of Islamic
mystic literature and a psychologist residing in England. When asked about
stoning women to death, she defended the action and commented that no crime
is worst than adultery committed by women. At the same time the tomb of
Sadigeh Dawlatabadi was destroyed. In her last will and testament she had
said that she did not want any veiled woman to ever visit her grave!
In the summer of
1980, Rajai the Prime Minister introduced the Law of Compulsory Veiling
to Majlis. Soon all political parties were banned members arrested and
mass executions of the 1980s put an end to all independent political activities.
Mojahedin Khalgh suffered most. Maryam Firouz an executive member of the
Tudeh Party praised Imam Khomeini and called him the most important supporter
of Women's rights in our history. Tudeh party was the next one to go.
A year later, Maryam
Behruzi in Beijing condemned abortion, called day cares as centers for
producing robots. She defended the Islamic Criminal code and regarded Ghesas
as appropriate and Islamic. Outside Iran the National Council of Resistance
and the National Union of Women were established. Rah Zeynab magazine was
closed down. Muslim women began expressing concern over their situation
in Iran. Armed male and female personnel began their function as the guardians
of the Islamic code of conduct by arresting, imprisoning, flogging and
imposing monetary penalties. In 1982, Freedom Movements' women's league
in Tehran after a meeting with Zahra Rahnavard, Azam Taleghani, Ali Mojtaba
Kermani, Ahmad Sadr Haj Sayyid Javadi and Naser Katousian, expressed concern
over implementation of the Islamic Legal Code.
In 1984, the first
theology school for females was established in Qom. The male teachers entered
the fortress like building through an underground passage and never met
any of the students. Presently the school has female tutors only and no
males are allowed inside. Unlike male students of such schools, the women
will not have a religious rank. So far they have stayed away from all debates
in Qom and nationally. The only women journal published by the theology
students; Payam-i Zan is published by males. After the war with Iraq and
in the 1990s women's issues became front-page news. The magazine Zanan
published in 1992 systematically criticized the legal code. They argued
gender equality was Islamic but religious literature is misread and misappropriated
by misogynist interest oriented males. Secular activists, Mehrangiz-i Kar,
Shahla Lahiji and the Muslim Shahla Sherkat the editor of Zanan lead the
debate on women's rights. Reforms were demanded by all, the leadership
did not respond but for the first time they could not silence the movement.
sexes legitimized the entry of millions of lower class girls from traditional
families and rural areas into the public life and the education system.
The segregation required training of women to serve the female only policies.
Thousands were employed in the security forces and morality corps and others
to impose strict Islamic codes. For many this was the first time they had
fully entered public life and received wages with pensions at the end.
Khatami's presence in Ministry of Guidance paved the way for a less restricted
press. Hundreds of books about feminist issues were and are published including
radical feminist books and biographies. Faezeh Hashemi initiated Asian
games for Muslim women in 1993. Later on the establishment attacked her
for being outspoken, wearing blue jeans and riding bicycles. In a landslide
victory she was elected in the 5th Majlis with the highest number of votes
in Tehran. Muslim feminism had emerged in Iran.
In 1997, a prenuptial
document to be signed at the time of marriage was approved. The object
was to give women the rights they lacked in Shariat. The future husband
forfeits his rights to polygamy and unconditional divorce. Women can initiate
divorce, divide assets and have joint custody of children and child support.
All the articles are conditioned. As pointed out by the critics this is
only a voluntary contract, men do not have to sign and if they don't there
are no legal consequences. The practice so far has failed and most men
will not sign the contract. Few gains are made since then. Family courts
are back again and divorce is referred to these courts, though the number
of courts is very limited. Women can function as judges but do not have
the title. Mahriyeh is indexed and linked to inflation. Women are given
more grounds for initiating divorce. But so far no fundamental changes.
By the late 1990s, the National Muslim Women's League, sponsored and financed
by the government became a powerful umbrella organization providing support
and networking for sixty registered women's organizations. In 1998,
52% of the students entering universities were female and the worsening
economic situation has forced millions of women to enter the workforce.
The fifth Majlis has 13 female deputies out of 270. The changes and the
oppression have released a massive political force never seen before. The
result has been the formation of a dynamic grassroots movement lead by
the so-called Muslim feminists who believe men have misinterpreted and
manipulated the religious texts.
movement is very new and is part of a larger global movement by small reformist
groups who are questioning Shariat and its compatibility with the modern
world. The Muslims have never criticized practices of Islam. Nor any Muslim
country has provided a safe environment where such re-thinking can be experimented.
Historically all such movements have either been crushed or resulted in
new religions such as Ismaili and Bahai.
The struggles over
the last two centuries have made one thing clear to women in Iran. The
inability of Shariat and religious authorities to improve legal status
of women and the centrality of women to the political process. What happened
in Iran is a logical evolution of the women's movement since its' beginning
in the 1800s. Ironically it started with religious reformists and ended
up as a new religion, Bahai. The women of Iran are not about to start a
new religion. But the realization is all too clear. Change is not
going to come from within the system. Shariat is God's words and constitution
forbids any legislation contrary to Shariat.
Pahlavi rule cleared
the path for women. Sooner or later they had to face the major obstacle,
Shariat. The revolution provided the momentum. The secular women though
extremely active especially in legal matters are not heard as well as the
Muslims. The two have joined forces now. How far the secular and the Muslim
feminists will go depends on the success of the larger movement in the
Islamic world and the political situation in Iran. In 1997 presidential
elections, eight women nominated themselves as candidates. The Council
of Guardians rejected all. Khatami won the presidential election by promising
women reform and equal opportunities; none has happened as yet. So far
he has blamed the hard-liners; the new Majlis should show his sincerity
and how far he is willing to go.
Price is a Social Anthropologist and Human Ecologist from London University, Kings
and University Colleges. She specializes in ancient Mesopotamian Studies.
She currently lives in Canada. Works with a number of Women's organizations
and is a free lance writer.