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One Hundred Years of Women’s Movements in Iran

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1 One Hundred Years of Women’s Movements in Iran
Ali Mostashari Iranian Studies Group at MIT

2 The Early Days ( ) In March 1838 American Presbyterian missionaries opened the first girls’ school in Urumiyah, Azarbaijan. Religious minorities, mainly Armenians, attended the school. Similar schools had opened in Tehran, Tabriz, Mashhad, Rasht, Hamden and other cities. Muslim girls were barred to attend the missionary schools by the religious authorities and public pressure. In the 1870s the first Muslim girls joined the American school in Tehran. Babi Women’s Organization headed by Fatemeh (Tahereh) in 1840s. She was executed with other Babis in 1852.

3 The Early Days ( ) In the 1850s, Nasseredin Shah’s daughter Taj Saltaneh criticizes veiling and patriarchy in her memoir. In its August 1890 issue, Qanoon (The Law), a monthly published in London, wrote: "Women make up half of any nation. No plan of national significance will move forward unless women are consulted. The potential of a woman aware of her human essence, to serve in the progress of her country is equivalent to that of 100 men.

4 Constitutional Revolution Era (1905-1907)
“Persian women since 1907 have become almost at a bound the most progressive, not to say radical, in the world. That this statement upsets the ideas of centuries makes no difference... Having themselves suffered from a double form of oppression, political and social... they broke through some of the most sacred customs which for centuries past have bound their sex in the land of Persia”. W. Morgan Shuster, April 30, 1912

5 Constitutional Revolution Era (1905-1907)
Woman, particularly in Tehran and Tabriz became active in the constitutional struggle in , boycotting foreign goods and selling Jewelry to support constitutionalist forces. In 1905, a group of militant women, headed by Zaynab Pasha, attacked Kamran Mirza, who was part of the despotic forces on the street. Zeinab Pasha organized seven groups of armed women to parry government efforts to put down the rebellion. The seven groups under her command themselves led other groups of women.

6 Constitutional Revolution Era (1905-1907)
When government forces intimidated the bazaar merchants into opening their shops, Zeinab Pasha and a group of armed women, wearing the chador, re- closed the shops, forcing the strike to go on. On January 10, 1906, the shah's carriage was on its way to the home of a wealthy aristocrat, when it was attacked by a multitude of women marching in the streets, forcing it to stop. One of the women read a statement addressed to the king, saying: "Beware of the day when the people take away your crown and your mantle to govern."

7 Constitutional Revolution Era (1905-1907)
With the strong influence from the clergy, the electoral law of September 1906 expressly barred women from the political process. A group of women from well to do families objected, but were told that “ the women’s education and training should be restricted to raising children, home economics and preserving the honor of the family” On January 20, 1907, a women’s meeting was held in Tehran where ten resolutions for Women’s rights and education were adopted.

8 Pre-Pahlavi Era ( ) Opening of Effatiyah School by Mrs. Safieh Yazdi, the wife of the pro constitution mujtahid, Mohammed Yazdi in 1910 encouraged others and more schools were opened. By 1913 there were 9 women’s societies and 63 girls’ schools in Tehran with close to 2500 students. In 1910, Mrs. Kohal published the magazine Danesh, thefirst journal published by a woman in Iran. Mrs. Ameed Mozayan-al Saltaneh published Jahan-i Zanan and Shikufah in 1912 and 1913.                                                     

9 Pre-Pahlavi Era ( ) In 1911 Ghassem Amin’s book Freedom of Women is translated from Arabic into Persian. The renowned Egyptian activist supported emancipation. Conservative religious authorities responded harshly. Mirza Mohammad Sadegh Fhakhr-al Islam published his own ‘Resaleh’ condemning the book In 1914, the Association of the Ladies of the Homeland was followed by The Society for the welfare of Iranian Women, Women of Iran, Union of Women, Women’s Efforts, and the Council of Women of the Center. They all played an active part in politics; organized plays raised funds for schools, hospitals and orphanages.

10 Pre-Pahlavi Era ( ) In 1915 the Society of Christian Women Graduates of Iran was formed, followed by Jewish Women’s Association they started organizing, helping and educating women and children in their own communities. The communist members of the Messengers for Women’s Prosperity celebrated the International Women’s Day for the first time in Rasht in 1915. Sadigeh Dawlatabadi followed by Zaban-i Zanan and Zanan-i Iran in Isfahan and Tehran (1918 & 1919). Nameh Banouvan and Jahan-i Zanan were printed in 1920.

11 Reza Shah’s Era ( ) In 1926 Sadigeh Dawlatabadi attended The International Women’s Conference in Paris. On her return she went public in European attire. In 1928 Majlis ratified the new dress code. Mirza Aboulghasem-i Azad established the first emancipation society in 1930 and was supported by Yahya Dawlatabadi. The first conference on Muslim women at the same time began in Damascus Syria. Sadigeh Dawlatabadi, Mostoreh Afshar and Mrs. Tabatabai represented Iran.

12 Reza Shah’s Era ( ) In 1931 for the first time Majlis approved a new civil code that gave women the right to ask for divorce under certain conditions and the marriage age was elevated to 15 for girls and 18 for boys. Parvin Etessami publishes poem “Iranian Women”… “A woman lives in a cage and dies in a cage.” The Congress of Oriental Women opened in Tehran in 1932 and paid respect to the deceased socialist Muhtaram Eskandari who is considered one of the first modern feminists in Iran.

13 Reza Shah’s Era ( ) In 1933 recommended reforms at Damascus and Tehran conferences were presented to Majlis and women demanded emancipation electoral rights and were refused again. Reza Shah intervened, in 1934 Ali Asghar-i Hikmat, the Minister of Education received orders to establish Kanoun-i Banouvan and implement reforms. Hajer Tarbyat was the first chairwomen and Shams Pahlavi the Royal appointee. Though controlled by the state, for the first time women’s activities were legitimized. The Ladies Center was not received well by the socialists and independents. They opposed royal monopoly and interference.

14 Reza Shah’s Era ( ) In 1936 Reza Shah, his wife and daughters attended the graduation ceremony at the Women’s Teacher Training College in Tehran. All women were advised to come unveiled. Emancipation of women was officially born. Unveiling was made compulsory and women were barred from wearing chador and scarf in public In 1936 the first females entered Tehran University. Amineh Pakravan was the first female lecturer and Dr. Fatimah Sayah the first woman who became a full professor in 1938.

15 Reza Shah’s Era ( )

16 From World War II to the Coup (1940-1951)
After Reza Shah’s fall, independent organizations were formed. Safiyeh Firouz in 1942 formed the National Women’s Society and the newly formed Council of Iranian Women in 1944 strongly criticized polygamy. Tudeh Party Women’s league was the best organized in this period with a reported membership of 2,500 women. In 1944 Huma Houshmandar published Our Awakening and in 1949 the women’s league was changed to Organization of Democratic Women and branches were opened in all the major cities.

17 From World War II to the Coup (1940-1953)
Zahra and Taj Eskandari, Iran Arani, Maryam Firouz, Dr. Khadijeh Keshavarz, Dr. Ahktar Kambakhsh, Badri Alavi and Aliyeh Sharmini were amongst the best known Tudeh activists. The society was later changed to Organization of Progressive Women and in 1951 unsuccessfully lobbied for electoral rights. In 1951, Mehrangiz Dawlatshahi (the first female Ambassador) formed Rah Naw and with Safeyeh Firouz founded the first organization supporting human rights. The two met with the young Shah and demanded electoral rights. Opposition by religious authorities ended the debate

18 The 2nd Pahlavi Era ( ) Shortly after the 1953 coup, the Higher Council of Women is formed and headed by Ashraf Pahlavi. In 1955, Forough Farrokhzad, the most revered Iranian female poet, and an idol of progressive women in Iran writes “The Sin”. In Bahman of 1962 at last women were given the right to vote and to be elected. Fatwas by known figures including Ayatollah Khomeini declared the move heretic, demonstrations followed but were put down.                                                 

19 The 2nd Pahlavi Era ( ) In 1968 the Family Protection Law was ratified. Divorce was referred to family courts, gains were made with respect to divorce laws, polygamy was limited and required first wife s’ written consent. Marriage age for girls was set at 18 years. Mrs. Parsa became the first women minister in Iran. In 1975, women gained the right of guardianship for their children after their husbands’ death. In 1975 Mahnaz Afkhami became the first minister responsible for women’s affairs.

20 The 2nd Pahlavi Era ( ) Ali Shariati published the best seller Fatima is Fatima and proposes her as a role model for Muslim Women Ayatollah Motahari started the popular series women in Islam in the secular magazine Zan-i Ruz and confirmed Hejab. By 1978, 33% of university students were female with 2 million in the workforce. 190,000 were professionals with university degrees. There were 333 women in the local councils, 22 in Majlis and 2 in the Senate.

21 The 2nd Pahlavi Era ( ) There were no independent organizations except the underground groups opposing monarchy. Marzieh Ahmadi Oskouei, Ashraf Dehghani, Mansoureh Tavafchian, Fatimah Rezaei and Mrs Shayegan were amongst the activists. Both secular and Islamic Women had a major role in the revolution of 1979.

22 The Revolutionary Years (1979-1982)
The Family Protection Law was abolished by a declaration from Imam Khomeini’s office in March 1979 and women were barred from becoming judges. Women working at government offices were ordered to observe the Islamic dress code. On March 8, 1979 International Women’s Day, thousands gathered at Tehran University. The speakers could not speak since the microphones were sabotaged.

23 The Revolutionary Years (1979-1982)
In April 1979 the marriage age for girls was reduced to 13 and married women were barred from attending regular schools. By this time many Independent women’s’ organizations were formed and all political parties had their own women’s league. Ten’s of women’s magazines were published, the daily Awakening of Women was amongst the first published in Tehran University and was immediately followed by Equality, Women in Struggle and Women’s Path.

24 The Revolutionary Years (1979-1982)
The Organization of Iranian Women, The Women Populace of Iran, Women’s branch of National Democratic Front, National Front and the Association of women lawyers were amongst the most active. The last one is the only one that still exists and it has formed an extremely powerful lobby in support of women’s rights. In the first Majlis among 217 elected members only 3 were women.

25 The Revolutionary Years (1979-1980)
Azam Taleghani represented the Women’s Society of Islamic Revolution and send letters to Khomeini cautioning the authorities about compulsory veiling. The birthday of Fatima, Prophets’ daughter was announced National Women’s Day. In 1980 Azam Taleghani completely wrapped in Islamic attire represented Iran in United Nations Conference on Women in Thailand. The veil is made compulsory, first for governmental offices, and then for the entire country. Leftist demonstrations against the veil meet with violence.

26 The Revolutionary Years (1979-1980)
Azam Taleghani represented the Women’s Society of Islamic Revolution and send letters to Khomeini cautioning the authorities about compulsory veiling. The birthday of Fatima, Prophets’ daughter was announced National Women’s Day. In 1980 Azam Taleghani completely wrapped in Islamic attire represented Iran in United Nations Conference on Women in Thailand. The veil is made compulsory, first for governmental offices, and then for the entire country. Leftist demonstrations against the veil meet with violence.

27 Iran at War ( ) Islamic women militias are trained for homeland defense Crackdown on Marxist, Nationalist and Liberal political groups removes the last set of secular women’s organizations from the scene. Thousands of female political activists arrested. Hundreds of them are executed in prisons along with men. Reports of pre-execution rapes by prison guards are filed by Amnesty International. Pro-government women charities help raise money and supply goods for the war effort.

28 The Reconstruction Years (1988-1996)
The magazine Zanan published in 1992 systematically criticized the legal code. They argued gender equality was Islamic but religious literature is misread and misappropriated by misogynist interest oriented males. Secular activists, Mehrangiz-i Kar, Shahla Lahiji and the Muslim Shahla Sherkat the editor of Zanan lead the debate on women’s rights. Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of one of Iran’s most influential ruling clerics, initiated Asian games for Muslim women in 1993.

29 The Reconstruction Years (1988-1996)
Faezeh Hashemi is attacked by the hardliners for being outspoken, wearing blue jeans and riding bicycles. In a landslide victory she was elected in the 5th Majlis with the highest number of votes in Tehran. The so-called “Muslim feminism” had emerged in Iran. By the late 1990s, the National Muslim Women’s League, sponsored and financed by the government became a powerful umbrella organization providing support and networking for sixty registered women’s organizations.

30 Reform Years ( ) Zanan Magazine played a major role in the Presidential elections, which saw Khatami elected in 1997. Although female vote for Presdient Khatami was in the high 80 percentile in that election, few changes occurred in women’s situations. Votes for Khatami were unsurprisingly far lower in the 2001 elections. The reformist parliament passed some important laws for women’s rights in divorce cases, which were vetoed as un-Islamic by the Guardian council.

31 Reform Years ( ) With the advent of IT, Weblogs have been used extensively to promote feminist ideas. Women also discuss issues of sexuality and criticize the patriarchal structure far more openly in their Weblogs, which are considered the only uncensored media outlets in Iran. Female students participate actively in the pro-democracy rallies during 1998 and 1999. Female students outpace male students in undergraduate university admissions in the National University Entrance Examinations.

32 The Present Shirin Ebadi, a long-time women’s rights activist, became the Nobel laureate for Peace in 2003 More than 32 Women-only NGOs perform outstanding service in the relief efforts in the Bam earthquake. Women’s group have strongly protested the death sentence of Afsaneh Nowroozi, an Iranian woman who killed a man in self-defense. The sentence is currently suspended.

33 The Present By 2004, 64% of the students entering universities were female and the worsening economic situation has forced millions of women to enter the workforce. A group of several hundred Iranian female activists staged a rally on March 8, 2004 to mark International Women's Day, despite warnings from authorities that the gathering was illegal. Whichever direction the future of Iran will take, women will be the primary driving force for change.

34 References Abbas Amanat (translator), Crowing Anguish: Memoirs of a Persian Princess from the Harem to Modernity Author: Taj al-Saltana. Washington: Mage 1993 Masoumeh Price, A Brief History of Iranian Women, Iranian Online Magazine, March 3, 2000 William Morgan Shuster, The Strangling of Persia, (Washington, D.C.: Mage Publishers, 1987 Ramesh Sephrrad, Women’s role in popular movements during Qajar dynasty, National Committee of Women for Democratic Iran Publications Abdul-Hossein Nahid, Zanan-e Iran dar Jonbesh-e Mashruteh (Iranian Women in the Constitutional Movement), Germany, Navid Publications, 1989 Hamed Shahidian“The Iranian Left and the ‘Woman Question’ in the Revolution of ,” in IJMES Vol. 26 no. 2, Ziba Mirhosseini, Islam and Gender: The Religious Debate in Contemporary Iran. Princeton, 1999.

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