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Iranian women's movement

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Title: Iranian women's movement  
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Iranian women's movement

This article is about Iranian Women's rights social movement. For information about women's rights in Iran, see Women's rights in Iran. For information about history of Iranian women, see Iranian women.

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 in 1910, the year in which the first Women Journal was published by women. The movement lasted until 1933 in which the last women’s association was dissolved by the Reza Shah Pahlavi’s government. It heightened again after the Iranian Revolution (1979).[1][2] 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.[3] Following the 1979 Revolution, several laws based on gender discrimination were established such as the introduction of mandatory veiling and public dress code of females.[4] Women's rights since the Islamic Revolution has varied. About 9% of the Iranian parliament members are women, while the global average is 13%.[5] Following the Revolution, women were allowed to join the police and military forces.

The women's rights movement in Iran continues to attempt influencing reforms, particularly with the One Million Signatures Campaign to End Discrimination Against Women.[6]

After the Constitutional Revolution

The Iranian Constitutional Revolution took place between 1905 and 1911. The early cores of consciousness of women's rights (or rather lack of rights) which lead to establishment of societies and magazines started shortly after. 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. Women's writing in that era, mainly through newspapers and periodicals are one of the most valuable sources of information on the movement. Most important of these periodicals are listed below.[7]

Additionally, Iranian women were aware of women's conditions and educational opportunities elsewhere and inspired by them.[8]

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.

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 Jam'iat e nesvan e vatan-khah (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

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):[1][8]

  • 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.

Reza Shah era (1925–1963)

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,[9] 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.[8] 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.[8]

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,[10] and Women’s League of Supporters of the Declaration of Human Rights founded by Safieh Firouz in 1956.[11] In 1959 fifteen of those organizations formed a federation called the High Council of Women’s Organizations in Iran.[12] 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. Six women were elected to Parliament (Majlis).[9]

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi era (1963–1978)

In the late 1960s, women entered the diplomatic corps, the judiciary and police force, and the revolutionary service corps (education, health and development):[13] 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.[14]

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.[15]

The Women's Organization of Iran

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.[16] 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.[15][17]

One of the major victories of 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.[18]

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.[19] 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.[17]

By 1978 nearly 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.[20]

Iran has 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.[20]

Post-revolutionary period

After the Iranian Revolution in February 1979, the status of women changed substantially. 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 1960s and 70s 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.[17] With passage of time, some of the rights that women had gained under Shah, were systematically removed, through legislation, such as the forced wearing of the hijab, particularly the chador.[21] Soon after the revolution, there were rumors of plans for forced hijab, and abolition of some women's rights protected by "Family protection act" conceived to be "against Islam". The rumors were denied by some state officials and many women refused to accept it. Not long after, however, the rumors were realized.[22]

A new family law was annulled, and veiling became obligatory.[23] Farrokhrou Parsa, the first woman to serve in the Iranian cabinet, was executed.[20][24]

The veiling law was met with 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:[1]

  1. A five-day demonstration starting on March 8, 1979
  2. The Conference of Unity of Women in December 1979
  3. Demonstrations after the Ayatollah Khomeini's decree on eliminating any symbol or practice 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.[25] 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.[26]

Aspects of Islamic 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.[27]

At the beginning of the revolution, some of the leaders of the women’s rights, were discredited.[28][29]

Twenty-First Century Activism

For the first time since the revolution, several women succeeded in 1997 in getting into a stadium to watch a soccer match.[30] Female legal consultants have been introduced in special family courts.[31]

One Million Signatures for the Repeal of Discriminatory Laws notable campaign was launched in 2006 to collect one million signatures in support of changing discriminatory laws against women in Iran and reforming of family laws, to ask Parliament for the revision and reform of current laws which discriminate against women. Another campaign was 'Stop Stoning Forever' [32]

By all accounts, the degree of mobilization and consciousness among women in Iran is remarkable.[33] The women’s rights movement is vibrant and well-organized.[34] The movement has also been credited with very smart use of information and communication technologies.[35]

Iranian Feminism

Iranian feminists generally fall into two camps when it comes to the women's rights movement in Iran, post 1979. Some believe that Islamization has resulted in the "marginalizing" of women. Others believe that through the dynamic nature of Islamic law, known as Sharia, a unique consciousness of feminism has been formed in Iran. Both these views have been challenged.[36]

Among the women's rights activists in Iran, feminism means different things. A major contrast is seen between secular feminists and those who are dubbed Islamic feminists, on the nature of feminism.[36]

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),they are fighting for more rights for women.

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.[37] The chief editor of Zanan magazin, Shahla Sherkat, for example, a woman with definite religious beliefs, invited prominent Muslim women rights activist Shirin Ebadi, and prominent secular women rights activist Mehrangiz Kar, to write on women's issues in her magazine.[36]

Women's Studies in Iran

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 began a similar university course for a degree. 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. [38]

Activists

Some of the most notable activists are:[8][25]

See also

References

External links

  • [1]
  • International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran
  • Change for Equality (in English and Persian)
  • Women's Field
  • Iranian Feminist Tribune
  • Focus of Iranian Women
  • The Feminist School
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