Friday, February 27, 2009

Impact of Feminist Movements on the Social, Cultural, Economic, Political, Legal Conditions in Iran Part III

The situation of Iranian women (Two decades after the Islamic revolution)
• Generally, women’s share of rights and resources has become worse since the revolution in 1979.
• It is a result of the regressive policy of the Islamic regime.
• Compulsory veilings, sex segregation, stoning women to death for adultery, were direct results of Islamic government’s policy, which still continues, after more than 20 years.

Family Legislation
• After the Revolution, the family protection law was reprieved (delay a punishment).
• Consequently, the right to polygamous marriage was once again restored.
• The minimum age for women marriage fell from 18 to 13.
• The legal rights of women in application for divorce and custody of children were severely curtailed (reduced).

Women and Employment
• The “new” active women were mainly from the traditional middle-class who fought for the Islamic republic in the revolution.
• Although in recent years the percentage of employed women has increased from 6 in 1986 to 9 in 1996.
• It is still less than women’s employment immediately before the revolution.

Women and Education
• More than 100 fields of studies, out of a total 431, at universities were prohibited to women.
• The government’s justification was that, in accordance with the Shari‘ah (Islamic law), those courses were appropriate only for men.

Women’s Right under Raza Shah Pehlvi
• Reza Shah forcibly unveiled women in the 1936-41 periods.
• He took steps promoting women's public education at all levels.
• His civil code regarding women and personal status was mostly a codification of Islamic law, however, and favored males in many ways.
• In the politics of this time women participated mostly as members of nationalist or leftist parties.
• At the same time accepting as part of his modernization program some women's proposals to better women's legal and educational position.
• As part of his "White Revolution" from 1962 on, the shah ratified important women's rights measures, including votes for women and especially the Family Protection Law of 1967, modified in women's favor in 1975.
• While the Civil Code of Reza Shah had mostly codified Shi'i Islamic law in matters of marriage, divorce, and child custody.
• In the same period increasing numbers of women were educated and began to work in a variety of jobs outside the domestic sphere.

Women’s Right under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
• Women were defined in the constitution in terms of their familial status and duties, and the Family Protection Law was annulled.
• An unreformed Islamic law was instated, including polygamy, child marriage, father or guardian's control of the first marriage, custody to the father or his family, free divorce for men but not for women, and an eventual minimum age of 9 for female brides.
• Women could no longer be judges and were dismissed or hounded from many governmental and professional positions.
• A government announcement of enforced hejab was temporarily derailed after a mass demonstration on International Women's Day, March 8, 1979, but was re-imposed soon afterwards.
• Veiling has become perhaps the central symbol of the Islamic Republic.
• The veil and "proper veiling" have become definitional symbols of a woman's faith and loyalty.

Women’s Movement in Iran
• The second half of the nineteenth century is the beginning of fundamental structural and ideological transformations in Iran and the start of the women's movement that is still going on.
• The first major figure, Fatima, the eldest daughter of a prominent religious leader was born in Ghazvin in 1814.
• Fatima and her sister Marzieh received religious training and became masters in Persian literature, Arabic and Islamic studies.
• The long stay in Iraq introduced Fatima to others including Sayyad Kazim Rashti and his Successor Seyyed Mohammad Bab.
• Fatima joined Rashti who gave her the title of Qurrat al-Ain and eventually ended in the top leadership of the later Babi movement. Amongst many changes demanded by the Babis, emancipation of women became an issue.
• Her very strong presence in the movement initiated the formation of the first well-organized women's league in Iran.
• In the later half of the 19th century other prominent women emerged. Taj Saltaneh, Naser al-Din Shah's daughter in her famous memoirs criticized the stagnation of the political and social institutions in Iran without rejecting Monarchy.
• She mentions the pitiful state of women in Iran, criticizes the notion of veiling and how it has stopped women from advancing and joined secret societies with other members of the royal court.

Women's Voices and Struggles for Legal Change
• Despite the reduction in women's rights and the strict limits placed on political organization and the press, dissatisfied Islamic and secular women came back with campaigns in the press, the parliament, and elsewhere that led to new discussions and reforms concerning the position of women.
• The large-scale, organized, and very active participation of women in revolutionary and post-revolutionary politics and demonstrations, however, altered the consciousness of many women, and particularly popular class women, about their political potential.


Women’s movements in Islamic societies such as Iran have found their way to challenge the establishment and to change the situation of women. The experience of the Islamic Republic of Iran shows how dangerous a religious movement could be for women. Therefore, I insist that we should encourage secular feminism.

In the end I will quote the Turkish Scholar M. Fethullah Gülen:

“Women are secondary beings in the minds of many, including those self-appointed defenders of women's right as well as many self-proclaimed Muslim men. For us, a woman is part of a whole, a part that renders the other half useful. We believe that when the two halves come together, the true unity of a human being appears. When this unity does not exist, humanity doest not exist - nor can Prophet Hood, sainthood, or even Islam.”

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