By Elaheh Koolaee
The Middle East Institute)
Women have played a crucial role
in the Iranian struggle for democracy. They have played an important role not
only in the victory of the Islamic Revolution, but also in the developments
that have occurred since. The reform period was one of progress in women's
rights, including in the public sphere. However, in the post-reform period,
there has been a strong challenge not just to further progress in women's rights
but to preserve the gains that previously had been achieved.
The Reformist Period
The mass participation of women
in different aspects of politics laid the groundwork for the reformist movement,
the impressive electoral victory of President Muhammad Khatami, and a new
empowerment of civil society. They challenged the stereotype of Iranian women as
subservient, passive creatures. Reformists in the government and the Parliament
tried to respond to women's demands. Reformist parliamentarians were articulate,
committed advocates for reform. Female MPs formed a special faction and tried
hard to remove some of the obstacles to women's progress. Assisted by
reform-minded men, they succeeded in amending some articles of civil law that
were against women rights.
The Iranian Revolution at 30
Source: The Middle East Institute
This wide-ranging mega-collection of more than 50 original
essays is the first of a series of six similar publications
commemorating the events of 1979.
The reformist parliament tried to
change women's legal status by focusing on laws related to issues such as
inheritance, divorce, child custody, and insurance. The reformist government
ratified and the parliament approved the Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). However, the Guardian Council
rejected CEDAW, interpreting it as in contradiction with Islamic values. The
women's faction presented a plan to reform some parts of the civil code in a
package later in that period.
One of the most important
achievements of Iranian women after the victory of the Islamic Revolution was
their large presence in the public sphere. According to the traditional thinking
to which the conservatives adhere, women must stay at home and essentially
perform household duties and raise children while men work to earn money and
manage the family. But the late leader of Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah
Khomeini, stressed the necessity of women's participation in all social
activities, and encouraged them to take part in socio-political developments. He
focused on the domestic roles of women and their family duties, but did not
ignore their role in social tasks.
One of the first initiatives of
the new government was changing the name of "The Center for Women's
Participation Affairs" in the President's Office to "The Center of Women's and
Family Affairs." For the new president of this office, Nasrin Soltankhah,
women's NGOs had lost their importance. Her counterparts in the Seventh
Parliament (2004-2008) had been accusatory towards the previous president of the
Center for helping women improve their capacities and activities. The
government decreased the budget for women's affairs, and put its appropriations
and allocation under the auspices of the Center. This Center has focused
exclusively on women who are managing their families without men, and has
changed the course of its activities profoundly.
The Seventh Parliament omitted
"gender justice" in the process of amending the "Fourth Development Plan," which
reformists had passed. Very soon it became clear that there would not be room
for women in the board of the Parliament and the presidency of commissions and
committees of the Parliament. President Ahmadinejad said that he does not accept
a gender quota, and that he perceives it as a violation of justice and human
rights. Some female representatives subsequently passed the plan of "house
holders insurance" that remained from the Sixth Parliament (1996-2000). The
Cultural Commission of the Parliament has worked seriously on the plan for
matters of dress, especially in relation to women. Large propaganda programs
promoting the hijab were put forth to persuade all women to put on the
chador. Many conservatives claim Khatami's cultural policies have ruined Islamic
norms in Iran. However the Seventh Parliament has finished some of remaining
plans from the Sixth Parliament too. They a passed the bill on conditional
abortion that permitted the operation to save the life of mother in very
One of the serious problems
facing Iranian women relates to those who marry foreigners. According to
Articles 964 and 976 of Iran's Civil Law, an Iranian woman who marries a
foreigner may not transfer her citizenship to her husband and children, though
an Iranian man who marries a foreigner may transfer his citizenship to his wife
and children. Although the reformist parliament sought to change this, the
Conservatives reaffirmed it.
One of the considerable
achievements of Iranian women after the Islamic Revolution has been the
large-scale presence of women in the public sphere. Nevertheless, because of
many socio-cultural obstacles, many women have been unable to obtain jobs
commensurate with their education. Conservatives have attempted to return women
to their homes, and have focused on dividing the private sphere and public
sphere between women and men again. They have implemented a new gender quota
plan to limit the number of girls who are admitted to universities.
They have put in place a region-based university application system whereby a
girl must have the permission of her father or husband to attend university in
Dr. Elaheh Koolaee, former
parliamentarian, is a Professor in the Faculty of Law and Political Science,
University of Tehran.
The "Family Bill" represents
another major setback for women's rights. This proposed legislation would
facilitate a man's remarriage by no longer making it necessary for him to gain
the permission of his first wife. Although as a result of a huge protest by many
women activists - from right and left and religious and non-religious quarters -
the original bill was modified, the issue is not yet settled.
Nobody can stop the process of
social change. Iranian women have used the educational opportunities afforded by
the Islamic Republic to gain the knowledge and skills with which to better their
situation and that of their families. Many structures and institutions must be
changed according to women's needs and demands. As is the case in all countries
where traditional norms are deeply ingrained, women in Iran face stiff
resistance from the conservatives. Yet, recent experience has shown that Iranian
women have learned how to challenge and have succeeded in removing some of these
obstacles. They, like many of
their counterparts throughout the world, continue their struggle.
1. Mohammad Hossein Hafezian,
"Political Participation of Women and the Islamic Revolution of Iran," Discourse, Vol. 3, No. 3 (2002), p.
Elaheh Koolaee, "Women in Public Sphere, a Case Study of Islamic Republic of
Iran," Journal of Faculty of Law & Political Science, Tehran University, No. 61
(Fall 2001), pp. 228- 232.
Elaheh Koolaee, "A Glance at Women's Faction Performance in 6th Parliament,"
Shargh, Nos. 215, 223 (2002), p. 3.
Ashraf Gramizadegan, "6th Parliament and Women Rights," Reyhaneh, (Journal of
the Center for Iranian Participation Affairs), No. 6 (2004), pp. 219-255.
"One Month with Women in the Parliament," Zanan (Monthly Women Magazine),
(August 2006), pp. 20-23.
"One Month with Women in the Parliament," Zanan (October 2003), p. 21.
"Omit the Gender, Justice and its Reflections," Reyhaneh, No. 8 (2005), pp.
"One Month with Women in the Parliament," Zanan (June 2003), p. 30.
"One Month with Women in the Parliament," Zanan (June
2004), pp. 27-32.
10. "One Month with Women in the Parliament," Zanan (January 2003).
11. "One Month with Women in the Parliament," Zanan (August 2006), pp.
12. Elaheh Koolaee, "Gender Quota against Iranian Women," Aeen, No. 10
(2007), pp. 54-57.
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