Iran has long been an extremely conservative nation, greatly influenced by Islam and its teachings. What is usually regarded as common social practice in many parts of the world is regarded as a taboo in the Islamic republic. Traditionally an all male 'patriarchal' society, Iran has little to offer women in terms of roles and position. In accordance with traditional Muslim culture, women are restricted more to their homes and household chores. Women until now have played little or no role in the all male social club of Iran. Iran became The Islamic Republic of Iran after the Islamic revolution that marked the downfall of the regime of the last Shah. The revolution was aimed at Islamizing a nation that had traditional and strong Muslim roots but was regarded to have been steered 'off-course' by the Shah and his influential American backing.
The popular revolution was initiated against the secular government of the Shah in the year 1978. Leading the revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini pledged to restore 'Islamic law' in the country which according to him had veered off the teachings of Prophet and Islam. During the reign of Shah Reza Palhavi, women had a more democratic and free role which soon disappeared after the revolution and making of the Islamic republic. They enjoyed equal rights and status. This was however short lived and stood to change after the revolution which brought with it stringent measures and means that were soon to become an integral part of the Iranian social structure. Until the revolution, women were given the right to vote and contest for any public office. Before the revolution, women played a very recognized role in public affairs and that of the state. They had free access to all sections of the society. However, all this changed with the onset of the Islamic revolution. The revolution would forever change Iran's social structure and with it the role of women in the Islamic republic.
Women's movements in Iran - A brief history:
Women's rights activism in Iran can be traced back to as early as the year 1850. It is widely regarded and accepted that the first women's rights activist was a lady by name Fatima who was the eldest daughter of a religious icon named Ghazvin. She was born in the year 1814. In the course of time, she gained excellent education and mastered a number of languages. At a very young age of fourteen she married her own cousin who was the son of Mulla Mohammed Taghi Borghani. The Mulla was a very powerful Usuli religious leader. He was much of a fanatic and opposed all ideas of reform and modernization. At the time, there were two schools of thought in Iran namely the Ahkbari and the Sheykhi who called for liberalization and thereby challenged the power and authority of the Mujahids. Influenced by a very close relative, Fatima and her sister joined the Sheykhis. (A brief history of women's movements in Iran - I)
With the year 1828 in sight both sisters migrated to Iraq to continue their religious studies. The prolonged stay in Iraq made it feasible for either sisters to come into close contact with many political and religious figures such as Seyyed Kazem Rashti and his successor Seyyed Mohammad Bab. Apart from that, they also had a taste of European politics and governance. Fatima soon joined the Babi movement and made 'liberation of women' a chief issue on the agenda of the movement. Her endeavors were often subject to pitched controversies that led to widespread differences.
Nevertheless, it was her well coordinated efforts that put into place a very highly organized women's movement in Iran which was also the very first of its kind. Her crusade soon gained momentum across the nation and fueled hopes among women particularly among those who faced oppression and strife. Her support base grew in large numbers with some of the women members of the royal family too aligning with her. In recognition of her services and actions, she came to be known as Tahireh or pure. However her well concerted efforts proved to be short lived. In the year 1848, the opposition hardliners and several clerics organized a widespread campaign against the followers of the Babi movement which was by and large very successful. (A brief history of women's movements in Iran - I)
What followed was a well attended meeting of the Babis at Behdasht. During the course of the meeting, Fatima tore her veil and demanded that women be freed from evils and oppressive practices rampant across the nation. This act was highly controversial and soon gave way to a split in the leadership of the Babi movement. She was immediately arrested and sent into exile. After a short period of time she escaped only to be recaptured in Tehran along with several other Babi leaders. She was executed along with fellow compatriots in the year 1852. During her lifetime, this legend relentlessly pursued the cause for women and their upliftment. He movement and policies were legitimate, forceful and in keeping with the general issues of a civilized world. He strived for a more liberal society that recognized the rights and roles of women and accepted them as an integral part of the society. (A brief history of women's movements in Iran - I)
In selflessly doing so, she kick started a movement that would go a long way in addressing the need of women and repairing their status and identity. After her death, Iran lost a genuine reformist who toiled to modernize the society and championed the role of women in all dimensions. However, the movement did not altogether become stonewalled. A while later, Taj Saltaneh, who was the daughter of Naser al-Din Shah added drive to the now leaned movement. She openly wrote against the veritable practices that discriminated against women and harshly criticized the administration for being part of the devious plot to downgrade women and their position in the nation. She strongly voiced against the practice of veiling and asserted against the prohibition of women joining public offices and the royal court.
Quite soon, she found strong motivation and inspiration from Bibi Khanoum Astarabadi. Astarabadi, in her booklet 'The Shortcomings of Men' observed the general contempt that was maintained against women and their role in the society. She maintained that the entire society was against the rise of women and was involved in a cruel ploy to subjugate women in all forms. In the last phase of the 1800s and the early 1900s, women had a more liberal role to play in the social infrastructure of the nation thanks to the concerted efforts of a group of women who toiled to achieve a generally accepted role for women in the society and called for increased social standing. (A brief history of women's movements in Iran - I)
The Reuter concession of 1872 and the Tobacco protest that followed was regarded as the first ever organized protest initiated by women across Iran. The movements saw a great number of women participate in violent protests across the nation. Kamran Mirza, who was the vice regent at the time, was attacked by groups of women. Zeynab Pasha was a revolutionary who led militant women in the attack of government warehouses in the city of Tabriz. At about the same time, the wife of Haydar Khan Tabrizi organized a women's front that protected pro-constitution speakers in Tabriz from an attacking rebellion. The constitution was granted in August 1906, largely due to the efforts of women who for some time had been inexorably pressing upon the issue. With the constitution having come into force, women had a new role to play. Matters of state and public interest soon caught the attention of women who began boycotting the import of foreign goods. (A brief history of women's movements in Iran - II)
Almost simultaneously, they began soliciting funds to establish the first National Bank in Iran. It was indeed a very significant move that was aimed at structuring the economy and the financial structure of the nation. Women across the nation participated unconditionally in the movement and began widespread use of native fabrics. So as to finance the establishment of the bank which was their vision, many women across the nation sold their jewels and valuables in the hope of raising the much required funds. A secret union of women was formed and it engaged in publishing pamphlets and booklets urging reforms and restructuring at the grassroots level. At one point of time, the union published a leaflet calling for men to relinquish their seats in the Majlis (governing council) and allow women to rule the nation.
In their crusade, they hoped that eventually, the government would give in to their popular demands of equal rights and social recognition. Much to the disappointment of women across the nation, no such concessions were made in the constitution. On the contrary, much to the annoyance of women,…