Women's rights in Iran

Women's rights in Iran have changed according to the form of government ruling the state. With the rise of each regime, a series of mandates for women's rights arose, which affected a broad range of issues from voting rights to dress code.[1]

For Iranian women, their rights and legal status have changed since the early 20th century. Women's rights in Iran are limited compared to the women in developed nations. The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Iran 140 out of 144 countries for gender parity. Women in Iran constitute 19% of the workforce in 2017 with only 7% growth since 1990.[2]

The legal rights of women have gone through many fluctuations during the past three political regimes in Iran. During the Qajar, the royal dynasty that ruled Iran from the late 1800s to the early 20th century, women were more isolated as they were not engaged in politics, and their economic contribution was limited to household work. These conditions transformed to a great extent during the Pahlavi regime from 1925-1979 where women had much more freedom, but that freedom soon retracted after the Iranian revolution in 1979.[1]

In 2017, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Index ranked Iran in the bottom tercile of 153 countries.[3] Compared to other South Asian regions, women in Iran have a better access to financial accounts, education, and cellphones.[3]:16 However, Iran ranked 116 out of the 153 countries in terms of legal discrimination against women.[3]:16

Current global ranking

The new global Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.-based Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Index, which partners with the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), ranked Iran in the bottom tercile of 153 countries.[4][3]

Legal discrimination

As reported in the 2017-2018 WPS Index, Iran ranked 116 out of 153 countries in terms of legal discrimination.[3]:16The World Bank's database, "Women, Business, and the Law" lists 23 restrictions in Iranian law that restricts married women in Iranian law. This includes "applying for a passport, traveling outside the home, choosing where to live, and being head of the household. Women cannot get a job or pursue a profession in the same way a man can; they cannot be ensured of equal pay for equal work, and there are no laws to restrain gender discrimination in hiring."[3]:16[5] The WPS report also notes that there "are no laws that penalize or prevent the dismissal of pregnant women from work, nor are there laws that provide rights for paternity or parental leave or tax deductible payments for childcare. The Iranian Civil Code confers power on a husband to prevent his wife from taking any job found to be incompatible with the family interest or the dignity of the husband or his wife. Women have no legal protection against domestic violence or sexual harassment by anyone, and the constitution has no non-discrimination clause with gender as a protected category."[3]:16

Financial inclusion

According to the 2017-2018 Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Index, 90% of women in Iran use cellphones and have "access to financial accounts" in Iran. In other South Asian regions, "less than 2 in 5" have this access, and a similar high share of women using cellphones.[3]:16

Per capita income

The per capita income of women in Iran is worse in comparison to that of women in other South Asian regions according to the WPS Index.[3]:16 According to a 2018 World Bank report, the female labor force participation rate has reached 19.8%, a marked improvement despite a wide gender gap.[6]

History

Women playing music in the Safavi era

Historical records dating back to the Achaemenid Empire (2000 – 550 BCE), women in Iran have, for the most part, been subordinate to men.

Iran's history is commonly divided into three segments: Pre-Islamic, post-Islamic, and the modern era. Though little is known about Iran's pre-Islamic time, the recorded history starts with the Achaemenid Empire in 530 B.C. During the rule of the Achaemenid Empire, Greek historical accounts include that women were able to participate in civic affairs; however, this participation was still limited and considered unusual to the general population. Greek historian, Herodotus, after his visit to the Achaemenian Empire, recounted that Persian men and women worked together in managing the affairs of the states and participated in public ceremony together. Royal women had access to education, were trained horse riders, and participated in official ceremonies, such as the King's birthday and Naw-ruz, the annual Persian New Year.[7]

After the fall of the Achaemenid Empire and the rise of Sassanid Empire, women's position in Iran degraded and their status was inferior to men. During this era, elite women veiled themselves as a form of protection from non-elite men.[7]

The Persian Constitutional Revolution

During the Qajar and soon at the beginning of the Islamic revolution “most women in Persian were second-class citizens with limited if any, rights such as to inheritance or to obtain a basic education. For example, tribal and nomadic groups (like the Kurds, Bakhtiari, Qashqai) allowed their women to interact with men to a certain extent, and even some considered polygamy and Mu’ta (Shia temporary marriage) as undesirable.”[8]

Iranian women played a significant role in the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1905–11. They participated in large numbers in public affairs and held important positions in journalism and in schools and associations that flourished from 1911 to 1924.[9] Prominent Iranian women who played a vital part in the revolution include Bibi Khatoon Astarabadi, Noor-ol-Hoda Mangeneh, Mohtaram Eskandari, Sediqeh Dowlatabadi, and Qamar ol-Molouk Vaziri.

At the turn of the 20th century, many educated Persian women were attracted to journalism and writing. Danesh (1907) was the first specialized journal focusing on women's issues. Later, Shokoufeh, Nameie Banovan, Alam e Nesvan, and Nesvan e Vatan Khah were published in Tehran. Moreover, Nesvan e Shargh in Bandar Anzali, Jahan e Zanan in Mashhad, Dokhtaran e Iran in Shiraz, and Peik e saadat in Rasht addressed women's issues throughout Persia (Iran). Although the defeat of the constitutionalists (1921–25) and the consolidation of power by Reza Shah (1925–41) destroyed the women's journals and groups, the state during these years implemented social reforms such as mass education and paid employment for women. Reza Shah also began his controversial policy of Kashf-e-Hijab, which banned the wearing of the Islamic hijab in public. But like other sectors of society in the years under Reza Shah's rule, women lost the right to express themselves, and dissent was repressed.[10]

Pahlavi era

Iranian newspaper clip from 1968 reads: "A quarter of Iran's Nuclear Energy scientists are women."

In 1925, the military commander, Reza Khan, overthrew the Qajar dynasty. In the same year, he was declared the Shah of Iran, which marked the beginning of the Pahlavi era. Iran's societal structure and the status of women began to improve after the Shah went on a visit to Turkey in 1936. The Shah was inspired by the Westernization that was taking place there by the Turkish leader, Atatürk. In a speech he gave upon his return from Turkey, the former Shah of Iran said: “I am extremely delighted that women have become aware of their rights and entitlement… Now women are on their way to gain other rights in addition to the great privilege of motherhood.”[11]

After Reza Shah was banished to the Morris Island by the Allied powers, his son, Mohammad Reza, took over. The Shah's government began its White Revolution in 1962 and ratified essential women's rights measures, including suffrage and the Family Protection Law of 1967.[7] The Shah's White Revolution helped to increase the legal rights of women.[1] In 1975, this law was amended to be more heavily in favor of women, by ending extrajudicial divorce and restricting polygamy. It also raised the minimum age of marriage of girls from 13-15 to 18.[7]

Islamic Republic

When the Iranian Revolution started in 1977, many women protested by marching in metropolitan cities and wore chadors as a sign of protest. Women played a significant role in the success of the revolution.[12] Their role was both praised and encouraged by the revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, who in various speeches stated:

  • "Our uprising is indebted to women. Men took the example of the women into the streets. Women encouraged the men to revolt, and sometimes even led the way. Woman is a wonderful creature. She possesses fiendish, strong [and] passionate capabilities." [12](Imam Khomeini, 6/5/1980)
  • The Revolution transformed Iranian society, and women were the pioneers of this transformation.[12](Ayatollah Khomeini, 30/3/1982)
  • We must not forget the activities which women performed, notably confrontations. Iranian women were able to turn into a revolutionary, political, conscious fighting element through their conscious faith ... Truly, women never lagged behind in any area or on any battleground.[12] (Ayatollah Khomeini, 6/3/1987)

Because the first Pahlavi Shah banned the use of the hijab, many women decided to show their favor for the Islamic revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, by wearing a chador, thinking that this would be the best way to show their support without having to be vocal.[13]

Women took part in the Iranian revolution by participating in the protests. Organizations supportive of the Islamic Revolution, such as Mujahidin, welcomed women into their organization and gave women essential tasks. Ayatollah Khomeini also encouraged women to take part in the protest against the Shah.[1]

With the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, women's roles were limited as they were encouraged to raise large families and tend to household duties. Khomeini believed this to be the most vital role women could pursue. It was this belief that led to the closing of women's centers, childcare centers and the abolishment of family planning initiatives.[1]

In mid-November 2018 United Nations General Assembly’s Human Rights Committee approved a resolution against Iranian government's continuous discrimination against women and limitation of freedom of thought.[14]

After the passing of Ayatollah Khomeini, women put more pressure on the government to grant more rights to women. Khamenei, who followed Khomeini took a more liberal approach and enabled women's advancement by reopening the women's centers and restoring many of the laws that were abdicated after the revocation of Family Protection Laws.[1]

In May 1997, the overwhelming majority of women voted for Mohammad Khatami, a reformist cleric who promised more political freedom. His election brought a period during which women became increasingly bold in expressing ideas, demands, and criticisms. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights and women's right activist, further emboldened women's rights activists inside Iran and cemented their relationships with Iranian feminists abroad.

During the Sixth Parliament, some of Iran's strongest advocates of women's rights emerged. Almost all of the 11 female lawmakers of the (at the time) 270-seat Majlis tried to change some of Iran's more conservative laws. However, during the elections for the Seventh Majlis, the all-male Council of Guardians banned the 11 women from running for office, and only conservative females were allowed to run. The Seventh Majlis reversed many of the laws passed by the reformist Sixth Majlis.

Late November 2018, a group of UN human rights experts including Javid Rehman U.N. Special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran and four others experts concern about Farhad Meysami’s situation who has been on hunger strike since August. He is in jail for opposing compulsory hijab.[15]

Legal rights history

During Mohammad Reza Shah's era, women were given the right to divorce or sue for divorce and also gained the right to vote. Abortion also became a right for women in cases such as rape. It was during this period that segregation laws were lifted and men and women were allowed to associate in public together.[7]

Most initiatives concerning women's rights during the Pahlavi dynasty began with the White Revolution in 1962, which eventually led to the enfranchisement of women. This enfranchisement came from the Prime Minister Asadollah Alam. Most revolutionary initiatives came with the White Revolution. A law was passed which gave women limited voting rights, allowing them the right to vote in local elections.[1]

Protests led by Ayatollah Khomeini regarding voting rights resulted in the repeal of the law. Khomeini believed that such power for women was comparable to prostitution.[1][16]

Since the voting rights law was repealed, women were not allowed to take part in a referendum held during the White Revolution. However, the Minister of Agriculture suggested that women's movement leaders set up a voting booth to voice their suggestions. Though their votes did not count, the high number of women votes convinced Mohammad Reza Shah to grant women voting rights soon after the referendum. In September of the same year, 1963, in the parliamentary elections, six women were elected to the parliament, and two women were appointed by the Shah to serve in the Senate.[17]

In mid-November 2018 United Nations’ General Assembly's Human Rights Committee approved a resolution against Iranian government's continuous discrimination against women and limitation of freedom of thought[18]

Hijab

Two Basiji women with Hijab

Hijab is a veil worn by Muslim women when interacting with males outside of their immediate family. Before the rise of the Achaemenian empire (c. 550- 330 BC), women were not required to wear a veil. In 1935, Reza Shah mandated that women should no longer be veiled in public.[7]

After Reza Shah mandated women to appear in public unveiled in 1935, a significant number of women became isolated in their houses as they felt going outside their home without hijab was equivalent to being naked. Women's dependency during this period grew as they relied on others to run errands. The unveiling law was short-lived. When Mohammad Reza rose to power, he abdicated this law, and the hijab became an individual decision.[19]

Compulsory hijab was re-instated for Iranian state employees after the Islamic revolution in 1979, followed by a law for requiring the wearing of hijab in all public spaces in 1983.[19]

The Guidance Patrol, an undercover law enforcement squad also known as "Morality Police" (Persian: گشت ارشاد‎ Gašt-e Eršād) surveys women in public for dress code violations.[20] Wearing a headscarf has been strictly enforced in Iran and has been since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Women who do not wear a hijab or are deemed to be wearing 'bad hijab' by having some of their hair showing face punishments ranging from fines to imprisonment. It was announced that in the beginning of 2018, women would no longer be arrested for wearing 'bad hijab' in public. Though the announcement was viewed as a moderate improvement, activists campaigning against compulsory hijab have still since been targeted by police.[21]

On November 26, 2018 Nasrin Sotoudeh, a female political prisoner at Tehran's Evin Prison, began a hunger strike demanding the release of Farhad Meysami, a doctor who is in jail for protesting compulsory hijab.[22]

Sharia Law

Zina is an Islamic legal term referring to unlawful sexual intercourse, usually premarital sex and adultery.[23] In the Iranian penal code of 1991, extramarital sex (zina) is punishable by stoning or slashing. An entire chapter of Iranian penal code deals with punishments for extramarital sex. Another chapter details how such relations can be proved and verified in the court.[24]

Similarly to zina, same-sex relationships are also considered haram because of its occurrence outside the traditional Islamic marriage. Lesbians typically incur lesser punishment for homosexuality than gay men.[25]

Marriage law

As part of the White Revolution, Mohammad Reza Shah also enacted the Family Protection Laws. These were a series of laws that included women's rights to divorce, helped to raise the marriage age for both boys and girls, and curtailed the custom of polygamy, mandating spousal consent before lawfully marrying a second wife.[26]

Under these laws, the right of divorce for women was granted by allowing women to put an end to a marriage if they were unhappy. The law also gave the right to women to keep custody of their children. In addition, it gave women the right to an abortion under certain circumstances, such as rape and if the woman's life was at risk.[1]

In 2008, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration introduced a "family support bill" in the parliament that would have allowed men to marry a second wife without his first wife's permission and put a tax on Mariyeh – which is seen by many women "as a financial safety net in the event a husband leaves the marriage and is not forced to pay alimony."[27] In September 2008, however, the bill for the tax was returned by Iran's judiciary to the legislative council with complaints about the polygamy and tax articles,and these were removed from the bill.[27]

During the Ahmadinejad administration, Siqeh, or temporary marriages (that can last from 30 minutes to a lifetime), was used, especially in response to the financial demands of prenuptial agreements. The temporary marriages, enacted by fatwa in 1983 under Khomeini, are heavily criticized as a form of legalized prostitution.[4][21][22]

Divorce law

Divorce law in the Islamic republic of Iran was initially based upon the general rule in Shari'a law that gives men the sole right to end a marriage at any time. This is based on Article 1133 of the previous Civil Code (1928) that states: A man can divorce his wife whenever he wishes to do so.[23]

This law in the Iranian constitution was modified in 1967 by the Family Protection Act which granted women more rights regarding divorce and established mandatory procedures regarding divorce. This also served as an amendment that made all private divorces illegal."[23]

More divorce rights were given to women, including the right to apply for a divorce under specific conditions. Article 1130 of the Civil Code gave the court more power to grant a judicial divorce requested by a woman as well as providing specific circumstances in which the wife can attain power of attorney and expedite the divorce process.[23]

In modern Iran, divorce can be obtained by both men and women, and the custody of children is given to women rather than men.[1]

Civil law

Iran's civil law system can be seen as very gender distinct, with numerous laws pertaining to favor men over women and few, if any, laws favoring women. Iran follows strict Islamic laws. One of the civil laws that is recognized in Iran is the legal age of puberty. In Iran, children that reach the age of puberty also gain penal responsibility, meaning that once a child has surpassed the age of puberty, he or she is legally tried as an adult. This can be seen as disadvantageous towards women, as female children reach puberty around the age of ten and boys around the age of fourteen. This means that girls as young as the age of ten can be prosecuted criminally. Punishments can vary from prison sentences to lashes and the death penalty.[24]

Laws in Iran forces gender equality to be practically non-existent. Women continue to face mistreatment, especially by law enforcement officers. An example of this would be the mass amount of violence against women during the 2009 Iranian presidential election, where many women were arrested for voting for Mir-Hossein Mousavi. One anonymous woman recollected what happened in prison, and said that one of the prison guards told her, “I will do something you will never forget. I'll make it so you never want to leave your house again, so any time you hear my name, you will tremble." In the end, these women's votes were never counted. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the election by a landslide and, as a result, massive protests against this election occurred, saying that the election was a fraud. Ahmadinejad took office regardless.[25]

On 13 November 2018, Entekhab, an Iran's official news agency, published a statement of the hiking board of the north eastern province of Khorasan Razavi that requires Iranian women to have a permission from their husbands or their fathers if they want to go hiking.[28]

Early December 2018 US State Department condemned arbitrary arrest of the Iranian doctor, Farhad Meisami, who has been jailed by Iranian government for protesting the compulsory Hijab law. Meisami has been on hunger strike since August.[29]

Education

First group of women who entered university, 1936. [30]

Female education in Iran is a relatively recent advancement in society. Women have been allowed to attend school as of the late 19th century and have been allowed to attend college for merely 80 years. During the Qajar years, two schools were opened for girls, both of which were opened by missionaries for minority girls such as Christian, Jew, and Zoroastrian girls. Among the elite families, some provided their daughters with education through private tutors, but, for the most part, Muslim girls were denied education as the clergies feared female education would negatively impact the fabric of Islamic society. For the pious and faithful Muslim women, education was only acceptable when it was in agreement with the teachings of Islam. The first school for Muslim girls opened at the end of 19th century in 1899. Women's education began to increase by 1920 as 58 schools in Tehran provided education for nearly 3,000 girls.[31]

During the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah and his western development model and policies, women's education accelerated much more rapidly during the 1960s and 1970s. Before the fall of his dynasty, women's enrollment in universities was just over 30 percent.[31]

When Khomeini reached power in 1979, under his rule, the government began to Islamisize the Shah's westernized education system. To do this, they began purifying it to be culturally and religiously aligned with the new Islamic regime in Iran. The options for what women could study was halved, as the goal of purification of the Shah's education system was to help the new system meet the needs of the society. Women were no longer able to study the following fields: veterinary medicine, geology, agricultural sciences, animal husbandry, and natural resources. These limitations were slowly lifted through lobbying efforts. By the end of the 20th century, all the limitations were lifted, and women were able to begin studying in these various fields. However, higher education was still male dominated.[31]

Educational opportunities increased through the rule of Mohammad Khatami, who served as President of Iran from 1997-2005. Khatami viewed the home as the proper setting for Iranian women, yet did not seek to exclude women from participating in the public sphere.[32][33] Noting the increasing dominance of women in higher education, Khatami stated that though the increase was concerning, he did not wish to create obstacles to reduce this participation. Khatami called for an opening of majors and specialties for women in universities and an end to the quota system, which was introduced after the Islamic revolution in Iran to put a cap on women's entrance to universities.[33]

At the beginning of Khatami's presidency, over 95 percent of girls in Iran attended elementary school.[34] In 1997-98, 38.2 percent of Iranian women enrolled in higher education.[35] This number rose to 47.2 percent by 2000.[33] As female enrollment in schooling continued to climb, the segregation of the sexes in academic specialization continued to persist through the end of the 1990s. In the 1998-99 academic year, males dominated enrollment in math-physics at 58% and technical fields with 71% of secondary school students. Women disproportionately enrolled in the humanities and the experimental sciences at 61% of the enrollment.[32] Gender specialization continued through the university level where a majority of women studied in the fields of basic sciences, medical sciences, and arts. Agriculture, veterinary science, engineering, and humanities were pursued mostly by men.[32] Overall, however, the decade was characterized by a three-fold increase in female enrollment in higher education.[13]

The statistics of the Khatami presidency show the slow rise of female participation in education. Women pursuing teaching positions in higher education also made gains during this period, as women held nearly half of all assistant professorships at universities, nearly double that held a decade before.[36] However, the number of women accepted into tenure-track and full-time professorships in 2001-02 remained low at 17.3%, which is disproportionate to the number of educated women in Iranian society.[36]

Male-dominated fields were overtaken by females as female numbers dramatically increased in the medical fields from 51% female versus 49% male.[31]

Data shows that nearly 80% of Iranian women are literate, but only 21% of these women are employed. In contrast, 85% of males are literate, and 79% of them are employed. In total, 40% of educated women are unemployed.[37]

Over the past two decades, the number of women attending university institutions has multiplied. This rapid increase has caused concerns for the Iranian officials. In 2009, Iranian parliament (Majlis) questioned if they need to establish a quota for the number of women entering public colleges. The conservatives believe that the increase in women's access to higher education is contrary to Islamic values and can threaten the traditional family structure that forms the basis of Islamic society.[31]

Despite all the improvement and advancement made concerning higher education for women, there have been many ups and downs regarding this issue. On August 6, 2012, the Mehr News Agency in Iran “posted a bulletin that 36 universities in the country had excluded women from 77 fields of study". This was part of an effort by the parliament to put a quota on women's participation in higher education.[38]

The increase in women's enrollment in some fields is more apparent than others. For example, in 2008, 66% of students in medical sciences were women.[32][31]

The writer and activist Bibi Khatoon Astarabadi founded the first school for Persian girls in 1907. In this school, Iranian women could study a variety of subjects, including history, geography, law, calculus, religion, and cooking.

Iranian women rights activists determined that education was a key for Iranian women and society. They argued that giving women education was best for Iran, in that the mothers would raise better sons for their country.[39]

Enrollment of 12 women into the Tehran University in 1936, marked the entry of women into university education in Iran.[40]

As of 2006, women account for well over half of the university students in Iran[41] and 70% of Iran's science and engineering students.[42] Such education and social trends are increasingly viewed with alarm by the Iranian conservatives groups.[41][43] A report by the Research Center of the Majlis (controlled by conservatives) warned that the large female enrollment could cause "social disparity and economic and cultural imbalances between men and women."[41]

In 1994, Ali Khamenei, Supreme leader of Iran, declared percentage of female university was 33% before Islamic Revolution but after that on 2012, became 60%.[44]

The Iranian Revolution initiated social changes that helped more women enroll in universities. Today more than 60% of all university students in Iran are women.[45][46]

Pre-1979 Comparison Since 1979
42.33% Literacy (15-24)[47] 97.70%
24.42% Literacy (>15)[47] 79.23%
48,845 Students[48] 2,191,409
122,753 Graduates[49] 5,023,992
2.4% Graduates (%)[49] 18.4%
19.7 Age at 1st marriage[50] 23.4

Many Iranian women have been influential in the sciences, such as Jaleh Amouzgar, Eliz Sanasarian, Janet Afary, and Alenush Terian. Maryam Mirzakhani won gold medals in the 1994 and 1995 International Mathematical Olympiads,[51] and in 2014 her work on dynamics made her the first woman in the world to win the Fields medal, which is widely considered to be the most prestigious award in mathematics.[52]

In 2001, Allameh Tabatabaii University, Tarbiat Modares University, and Azzahra University initiated a Women's Studies academic field at the Master of Arts level, and shortly thereafter Tehran University organized a similar program.

Economic rights

During the Achaemenid Empire, women's contribution to the economy was through their engagement in agricultural duties, such as sowing seeds, harvesting, and tending livestock, but their primary role in society was bearing children. In rural areas and amongst poor urban families, women contributed to the economy by specializing in trades, such as making clothing and carpets.[7]

The rate of women's participation and contribution to Iran's economy "has been 14.7 and 14.4 in urban and rural areas respectively. According to the statistics of the 2006 census, out of the total households having a woman head of 10-year-old and over, only 14.1% in the urban and 13.9 percent in the rural areas have been employed from an economic point of view".[53]

Iran's 2007 census showed that 10% of women were actively contributing to the economy. In contrast, over 60% of men were economically active. Statistics show that of the managerial positions available, the possibility of women obtaining such a position is one-third that of men.[31][54] According to a 2017 Human Rights Watch report, domestic laws directly discriminating against women's access employment is the force behind this unequal workforce participation. The types of professions available to women are restricted and benefits are often denied. Additionally, husbands have the right to prevent wives from working in particular occupations, and some positions require the husband's written consent.[55]

As of 2006, women's labor-force participation rates remained very low at 12.6% in rural areas with an overall rate of 12.5%. In contrast, the rate for men is 66.1%. This data is not truly reflective of reality as women's engagement in informal and private sectors are not included in the data.[56] World Bank figure estimates women's participation in all sectors at 32% and 75% for men.[57] The estimated data for women's leadership roles is at 3.4% in 2006.[56]

Political rights

For a short period during the Achaemenian Empire, women rose to power due to a lack of an adult male heir. First Purandukht and later Azarmidukht were given the title king of kings and ruled the country for a year. Their reign was short-lived as the Zoroastrian priesthood was against female leadership.[7]

For most of the Islamic era in Iran, women were not allowed to engage in state affairs. However, soon after the rise of the Safavid dynasty in the 16th century, women were allowed to contribute to state affairs. Women's position was still subordinate to men, but they were allowed to manage their personal property and participate in cultural activities.[7]

Women gained a foothold in state affairs in the latter part of Pahlavi dynasty as they were given the right to vote. Iran's Queen Farrah Pahlavi was at the forefront of the women's movement and worked closely with the Shah to help women gain more rights in the 1960s and 1970s. It was during this period that the first woman was elected to Iran's parliament, Dr. Farrakhroo Parsay, in 1963.[7]

During the first decade after the revolution in the early 1990s, there were only three women in parliament among the 268 members with women occupying 1.5% of the seats in the first three parliaments.[58] Today, there are 17 women among the 271 individuals in parliament.[59]

Therefore, women's presence doubled to 3.3% of the seats. The women in parliament have ratified a total of 35 bills concerning women's issues.[58]

On November 28, 2018 guards in khoy women prison, north west of Iran, attacked inmate Zeynab Jalalian and confiscated all her belongings. She was arrested in February 2007.[60]

Late November, 2018 prison warden in Qarchak women prison in Varamin, near the capital Tehran attacked and bit three Dervish religious minority prisoners when they demanded their confiscated belongings back.[61]

Sports

Women were allowed to enter football stadiums after 40 years to watch the FIFA World Cup in 2018

Women contributed to the development of polo in Persia 2,500 years ago. "The queen and her ladies-in-waiting played against the emperor and his courtiers."[62]

Women participate in numerous sports in Iran and have represented the country in sporting events, such as the Asian Games, Olympic games, and World Cups.

An issue that has been voiced particularly in recent years has been in regard to women's participation at stadiums for men's volleyball and soccer. Efforts have been made to allow women to enter Iranian stadiums alongside men, but the proposal has not yet been approved. The ban on women entering stadiums has caused an uproar among both men and women in Iran. It has been indicated numerous times by lawmakers that women's duty is to raise children and not to attend sporting games.[63] Specifically, women in Iran have been banned from Tehran's Azadi soccer stadium since 1981.[64] In 2006, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president at the time, lifted the ban on the grounds that the presence of women would “promote chastity,” but his decision was overturned just a month later by the supreme leader. Then in 2012, the barring of women was extended to volleyball matches.[65]

On November 9, 2018, Fatma Samoura Secretary General of International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) said she would ask the Iranian government to end the ban on a woman's entry to sport stadiums.[66]

Women are not allowed to ride bicycles in Iran pursuant to an Islamic fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader and autocrat. According to the Muslim clerics of Iran, if a man observes a woman riding a bicycle, it will lead to corruption in society with terrible consequences, including corruption that will lead to crime, sexual offenses, financial crimes, spiritual infidelity, religious disobedience, and many others.[42]

Women's health

The average life expectancy for Iranian women has increased from 44.2 years in 1960 to an average of 75.7 years in 2012 and the maternal mortality rate dropped from 83 to 23 per 100,000 between 1990 and 2013. In the 20th century, female social activists, health workers, and non-governmental organizations promoted the health of women by stressing the importance of regular check-ups such as the Pap smear, mammography, and blood tests. Vitamin D and calcium supplementation and hormone replacement therapy were emphasized with the goal of preventing osteoporosis. Even with the increased life expectancy that Iranian women have gained within the last 50 years, HIV/AIDS has become an alarming health problem among Iranian females. The HIV/AIDS rate with Iranian females has increased over five times between 2007 and 2015. As for concerns with mental health, depression in Iranian women was ranked first among diseases in 2011 compared to their second-place ranking in 2003. As for their social health, the prevalence of criminal misconduct by women has increased in recent years with crimes related to drugs and violence compared to Iranian men.[67]

Access to affordable contraception has been extremely limited since 2012, after the state cut funding to family planning programs.[68] Additionally, permanent modes of contraception were pushed to be banned. Khamenei called for a ban on vasectomies and tubal ligation in effort to increase population growth.[69]

In 2005, the Iranian parliament approved abortions carried out before four months gestation if a woman's life was at risk or if the fetus was nonviable or growing abnormally. With technical support from the United Nations Population Fund, the government undertook literacy and family planning initiatives. The fund's specific contributions to the Literacy Movement Organization of Iran included training more than 7,000 teachers, developing a nine-episode television series on women's health issues (including family planning), and procuring computers and other equipment.[70]

Women's rights movement in Iran

The board of directors of " Jam'iat e nesvan e vatan-khah", a women's rights association in Tehran (1923-1933)

Women's efforts to seek equal rights to men date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries. There is little available information on women's rights movements prior to the Qajar dynasty, but more accounts are available from the Qajar and post Qajar era. Women's movements in Iran can be divided into eight periods.[56]

1905-1925: this period was during the constitutional revolution, which marked the end of the Qajar dynasty. Women's efforts were mostly secretive, and their goals were to improve literacy, women's health, and prevent polygamy and domestic violence.[56]

1925-1940's: This era is marked by the beginning of the Pahlavi dynasty and the reign of Reza Shah. It was a new era in which women were not required to veil and gained access to universities.[56]

1940's-1950's: The era of nationalization of Iran's oil industry brought women further access to education and political activism to some extent. However, aside from the Family Protection Law that failed and was repealed, no major reforms were made during this era.[56]

1960's-1970's: During the era of the White Revolution and period of modernization, women saw greater legal reforms concerning voting rights, family protection laws, as well as an increase in women's participation in the economy.[56]

1979-1997: The era of the revolution featuring change to the political sphere, caused the closure of women's centers and the decline of women's contributions to the economy.[56]

1997-2005: Khatami's era and the era of reforms gave more access to the feminist press and free press.[56]

2005-2013: The Ahmadinejad era or the neo-conservative era saw the increase of repression and the rise of unemployment.[56]

2013–Present: The era of moderation under the rule of President Rouhani has not seen any major reforms related to the status of women as hardliners already repealed most reforms.[56]

In the mid 19th century, Tahirih was the first woman to appear in public without wearing a veil, and she is known as the mother of the women's rights movements in Iran. After Tahirih, there were others who followed in her footsteps to raise the status of women.[71] Among these individuals was Safiya Yazdi, the wife of a leading clergy, Muhammad Husain Yazdi. Safiya Yazdi, with the support of her husband, opened Iffatiyah Girls School in 1910 and gained praise for her outspoken lectures on women's issues .[19]

Women in Iran are becoming increasingly informed about the current trends within global feminism. They are also becoming more transnationally engaged, especially with regard to the mechanisms, tools, and machineries created through the U.N. gender projects and conventions, such as CEDAW. However, due to the vetting power of the conservative Guardian Council, attempts made by the reformist deputies in the sixth Majlis to ratify CEDAW did not succeed. Most women activists, including Islamic as well as secular ones, have been framing their demands within the CEDAW framework.[56]

In recent years, the government has made investments in women's organizations and women's activist initiatives that seek to empower women to learn skills that can help women gain more independence.[1] However, the state continues to restrict the movement of women's rights activists traveling abroad. Activist and photographer Alieh Motalebzadeh was sentenced to three years in prison for attending a workshop for women's empowerment in Georgia.[72]

The women's rights movement in Iran continues to attempt to institute reforms, particularly with the One Million Signatures Campaign to End Discrimination Against Women.[58]

International influence and the women's movement

The Persian cultural sphere

Women of modern Iran have close contacts with the women from the Iranian cultural sphere, that is, Persian-speaking countries, primarily Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and the Kurdish areas of Iraq and Central Asia. Many women's rights activists, artists, and literary figures in the region cross borders to assist each other. For example, Iranian journalist Jila Bani Yaghoub and filmmaker Samira Makhmalbaf have contributed to the culture of Afghanistan. Iranian intellectual Farah Karimi wrote a book entitled "Slagveld Afghanistan" that criticizes Dutch military policies in Afghanistan, and in 2006, she was appointed as the representative of the United Nations in Afghanistan affairs.[73] In 2003, Sima Bina, the voice of Khorasan (a region of northeastern Iran), performed secular threnodies at the Théâtre du Soleil for the benefit of the "Afghanistan: one child one book" project created by the organization Open Asia.[74] Moreover, in 2004, the World Bank funded a "network of Persian women" for promoting the welfare of women in Persian-speaking lands.[75]

  • Afghanistan: Influential figures include:
    • Sima Samar, the first Deputy Chair and Minister of Women's Affairs.
    • Safeeieh Ammeh Jan, Tajik-Afghan women's rights activist.
  • Tajikistan:

Tajik women founded more than 100 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in recent decades to defend their rights and improve their quality of life. Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi acted as a role model for a new generation of Tajik women. Many Tajik businesswomen have economic ties with Iran.[76] In 2005, a conference on poverty among women was organized in Iran, and a group of Tajik journalists, activists, university lecturers, and athletes were invited to Iran to exchange experiences.[77]

In 2006 Anousheh Ansari, a woman whose family fled the country after the 1979 revolution was the first Iranian woman in space.[78] The feat, undertaken in Kazakhstan, was reportedly an inspiration to many Iranian women.[78]

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security hosts events on women's rights in Iran including a 2018 panel discussion by that name, with panelists Azar Nafisi, Alinejad Masih, Karim Sadjadpour, Afshin Molavi and Marg Brennan, and Melanne Verveer.[4]

Relationship with Western Feminism

Some suggest that only by accepting help from western feminists, whose progress has been recognized within western society, can the Iranian Women's Movement be recognized. This perspective suggests that western feminism can offer freedom and opportunity to Iranian women that their own religious society cannot. In addition, advocates of this view argue that no matter what the Iranian Women's Movement is able to achieve within Iranian society, the status of individual women within this society will always be less than what has been achieved by western feminists.[79]

By contrast, others suggest that parochial movements of women will never be successful, and that until a global sisterhood made up of women from all nations and religions has been established, feminism has not truly arrived.[80]

There is a third perspective suggesting that a global women's movement will inevitably ignore and undermine the unique elements of indigenous Iranian feminism which have arisen as a result of their history and religion.[79]

Signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations has not improved women's situation much either. Howland in her book “Religious Fundamentalism and the Human Rights of Women” concerning the individual liberty within a democracy makes two suggestions to “the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), "a major human right treaty with 140 states"... Her first suggestion is "that in a spirit of democracy we first have to recognize that many of the women’s rights at stake in this context are core civil and political rights rather than simply issues of gender equality within the family.”[81] She further explains ”that religious fundamentalist has structured the dialogue to make the dispute appear to be about women’s rights within the family or private issues of religious belief,[81]” but she argues that “there has been little focus on recognizing these so-called private rights and wrongs within the family as public political rights"[81]... The second suggestion made by Howland is that “a state should be obligated to protest its citizens against certain actions that have heretofore been characterized as private.”[81]

Crimes against women

Amnesty International noted in 2008 that the extent and prevalence of violence against women in the Kurdish regions of Iran is impossible to quantify, but discrimination and violence against women and girls in the Kurdish regions is both pervasive and widely tolerated. Furthermore, Kurdish cultural norms which facilitate the practice of forced child marriage perpetuate the fear of violence amongst Kurdish girls in Iran.[68] In 2008, self-immolation "occurred in all the areas of Kurdish settlement (in Iran), where it was more common than in other parts of Iran".[69] It was reported that in 2001, 565 women lost their lives in honor-related crimes in Ilam, Iran, of which 375 were reportedly staged as self-immolation.[69]

In Iran, honour killings occur primarily among tribal minority groups, such as the Kurdish, Arab, Lori, Baluchi, and Turkish-speaking tribes, while honor-related crimes are not a tradition among Persians who are generally less socially conservative. Discriminatory family laws, articles in the Criminal Code that show leniency towards honor killings, and a strongly male dominated society have been cited as causes of honor killings in Iran.[74]

See also

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Further reading

  • Edward G. Browne, The Persian Revolution of 1905–1909. Mage Publishers (July 1995). ISBN 0-934211-45-0
  • Farideh Farhi, "Religious Intellectuals, the 'Woman Question,' and the Struggle for the Creation of a Democratic Public Sphere in Iran", International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Vol. 15, No.2, Winter 2001.
  • Ziba Mir-Hosseini, "Religious Modernists and the 'Woman Question': Challenges and Complicities", Twenty Years of Islamic Revolution: Political and Social Transition in Iran since 1979, Syracuse University Press, 2002, pp 74–95.
  • Shirin Ebadi, Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope, Random House (May 2, 2006), ISBN 1-4000-6470-8

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