Women anchors on Iranian TV 1978 1998


Women & Revolution in Iran


1. Most Westerners believe women in Islam are oppressed


--News images from Taliban-run Afghanistan reinforced that view


--Women veiled from head to toe,


--Denied schooling


--Confined to the home





How well does this image fit the facts in Iran?


--What role did women play in the revolution?


--How have women fared after the revolution?

--As compared to the previous monarchy?


--How do women think about their place in Iran today?

--Their desires, goals, struggles?


3. According to Robin Wright, the revolution's impact on women has been

contradictory and often unintended.

A. Contradictory because the revolution has both


--Opened up new possibilities for women &

--instituted repressive controls over women


B. Unintended because a different kind of woman has emerged in Iran

than was anticipated by the revolution


1. The "Ideal Revolutionary Woman" was supposed to be


--trained in tradition

--limited to housewife & mother roles

--deferent to fathers, husbands or brothers



2. To ensure they wouldn't tempt men, the regime ordered women to


Images of Iranian women

--Cover all but face & hands

--Segregate themselves from men in public places

--Be surveyed by "morals police"


Khomeini called the chador (cape) the "flag of the revolution"


3. But a vibrant women's movement emerged anyway. Why?


4. Khomeini needed women to make his revolution and then sustain it;


--He appealed to women to rise up against the monarchy



And they did

--Hundreds of thousands took to the streets

B. After the overthrow of the Shah, Khomeini appealed to women


--to support a new Islamic Republic government

--in a national referendum


Women line up to participate in the Islamic Referendum


And they did.

--Helping to cement the power of religious theocrats


C. During the war with Iraq, Khomeini called upon women to


--Send their husbands & sons to war &

--Go to work in their place


Women police officers

New Women police officers in Tehran


And they did

5. Other factors encouraging the women's movement in Iran are:


--A narrowing education gap between women & men

Women now outnumber men at universities

--A worsening economy has forced women into the labor market

to help support their families


--The regime has opened up job opportunities in government,

professions, & universities for women


--Globalization brought information & images of women's gains elsewhere


--Women's movements in Iran have a long history


6. All in all 100,000's of women became empowered through participation


--In the revolution

--In the labor market

--Women candidatesIn electoral politics

Political candidates

--In civic groups


The change can be seen in Khomeini's own family, his


--Wife was cloistered at home

Refused to remove the veil under Shah's regime

--Daughter, attended university, became a women's activist

--Grand daughters have advanced degrees, and are

working professionals


7. Most women support the revolution & theocracy even while

struggling for greater freedom within the new Islamic system


--As women have become students of religious law & logic


--They are struggling with men over interpretations of

woman's proper place in society


As expressed in:


The Koran & Hadith (Islamic traditions)


--parallels civil rights struggles in USA

8. Iranian women & feminists hold a range of views,


--On Islamic dress, traditions, customs

--And on methods for achieving goals.


A. "Regime Women" are those who believe gender equality

is best achieved through an Islamic government


Mussoumeh Ebtekar Click to see next pageis a leading example


--Spokesperson for 444 day student takeover of U.S. Embassy in 1979

--Attended school in Philadelphia while father pursued doctorate

--Newspaper Editor, Ph.d in Immunology, Professor at Tehran University

--Two children


--Founder of Center for Women's Studies & Research

--Launched "Farzaneh", a women's issues magazine


--Represented Iran at United Nations Women's Summit

--Appointed Vice-President for Environment in Khatami's Cabinet


--In reference to Iran's dress code for women, Ebtekar says,


"Hejab is a personal choice; a social uniform perhaps, like Chinese

Dress in Mao's time. The chador is no longer an appropriate symbol

of what women are doing in Iran".


B. Saudi Arabian sociologist,

Fatina Shaker, provides another example.


Recently interviewed on PBS


Shaker sees Islamic society as a multi-layered reality.


"People here, they don't show you everything at once"


"I don't mind covering my head, but don't cover my mind, give me choices according to my situation".

To stay at home, to work, to do both


Shaker is divorced, & recently became second wife to a Saudi architect,

about which she says,


"I am really proud to have this provision that allowed me to be a

second wife".


Raises interesting questions:


--How does 1st wife feel about this?

--Women can't take additional husbands? Why not?

--Is polygamy that much different than serial monogamy (USA)

or mistress (France)?


C. Elaine Sciolino's has written a history of the use of the veil in Iran

("Persion Mirrors")

--"What an Iranian woman wears defines her politics and her

level of piety," Sciolino says.


--Dress is a badge indicating ideology, status, identity


6. The rules governing relations between the sexes in Iran are filled

with contradictions


A. E.g. Medical Education

Women's Day in Iran

--One third of medical students are now women

--But medical education & practice are segregated

--women treat women, men treat men


B. Family planning is another case in point


--Modesty is emphasized

--Match making still exists for most couples

--Marriage age for females was lowered from 15 to 9 years




--A couple can't marry without passing a family planning course

--All forms of birth control are issued free



--Iran has a severe population problem & declining economy

--So the government has put health rooms in every factory


--To give family planning advice

--To distribute contraceptives


--Children born to average woman fell from


--7 in 1986 to 2.7 in 1998

--Iran is now considered a family planning model

for 3rd World & Islamic bloc


C. Iranian women have also achieved gains not yet won by women

in many wealthy industrial countries, like the USA.


One example:

--Parliament passed a law

--To enable women to work & be with their families


--Women who have a baby or an ill family member

--Can work half-time for half-salary

--Some women can work three-quarter time,

--leaving work a few hours early to take care of young children


This law expresses an "equality of difference" view of

gender relations:

"We believe in equality of men & women but not in their similarity"

says one of Wright's interviewees.



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