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Most difficult times ahead for Iranian women


Iranian women face greatest instability within the last 30 years, as hard-liner President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gets closer to serving his second term despite allegations of a deceitful election that sparked the most massive uprising since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

More than all other sectors of Iran’s society, women had the greatest venture in the 2009 presidential election.  Women groups demanded of all candidates to terminate laws that implement stoning and polygamy, plus those that favor men in divorce and custody cases.

“Women participated in this election in massive numbers in order to bring a moderate reformer like Mir Hossein Mousavi who could strengthen the democratic and constitutional aspects of this regime,” said Nayereh Tohidi, professor and chair of Gender and Women’s Studies Department at California State University, Northridge.

Modernization of Iran began during Reza Shah’s time and continued through the reign of his son, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahalvi.  Reza Shah modernized Iran through major developments such as the Trans-Iranian Railway and the establishment of Tehran University.  In addition, Reza Shah took it upon himself to enforce the Women’s Awakening movement during which the Islamic veil was gradually eliminated from the Iranian society.

“I remember soldiers in the streets of Iran forcing women to remove their veils,” recalls a 70-year-old Iranian-American woman who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons.

While literacy became more enforced and modernization continued during Mohammad Reza Shah’s monarchy, women became more active within the society as writers, poets, teachers, and officials.   By 1963, under the White Revolution, Iranian women were extended the right to vote, Iran Chamber Society noted.

The 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran gradually deprived women of all rights, socially and through Iran’s legal system. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution and the supreme leader of the country at the time, encouraged women to wear the Islamic hejabs and rid themselves of western influences.

“Again, the mullahs have forced women to go back under their veils,” said the dispersed woman.

Iran did experience some reform under presidents Mohammad Khatami and Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as restrictions on girls’ and women’s public behavior and dress codes were gradually loosened.

“Private organizations and charities that handle women’s issues flourished under the presidency of Khatami, growing by as much as 700 percent,” Tohidi said.

However, when Ahmadinejad came into power in 2005, laws pertaining to women leaned more toward Islamic laws allowing men to behave and practice in ways contrary to the pragmatism norms of society, as it became more challenging for women to reach the remotest level of equality within Iran’s legal system.

The 2009 Iranian presidential election suggested hopes of reform within the system, particularly on issues concerning women’s interests. Although none of these candidates are ideal for women activists to vote for, but given the choices presented, Mousavi would be more hopeful for women, Tohidi explained.

Zahra Rahnavard who is labled as a Muslim feminist, assured Iranian women during her husband’s campaign, that she will do her part in pushing Mousavi to be active in reforming very discriminatory laws, Tohidi said.

Nevertheless, despite Mousavi’s massive followers of all segments of society and immense uprisings alleging a fraudulent presidential election, Iran’s 12 clerics who make up the Guardian Council, have confirmed Ahmadinejad’s second term election to presidency.

Ahmadinejad’s re-election has stripped Iranians of all hopes of democracy and freedom, as well as women of any dreams of equality, justice, and reform.

“Women in Iran actually have more rights than men do.  Some of the reforms they are asking for would work against women rather than toward women’s interests,” said Ahmadinejad, according to Tohidi.

A statement which outraged Iranian women as it reveals that Ahmadinejad does not even acknowledge the existence of discriminatory laws against women in the current regime, Tohidi stated.

“At this point, it looks like the government has won as they have successfully suppressed demonstrations, arrested activists and journalists.  But at the same time, they have galvanized many people toward the government and damaged the legitimacy of the regime,” Tohidi said.

“In long term, they have created a way for a much bigger uprising against the regime,” she added.

Meanwhile, Iranian women face the most challenging era within the history of the Islamic republic of Iran.


  1. amir Jul 10, 2009

    its quite clear that certain people consider females to be worth less than men in iran, I would like to know how you draw your conclusion. there are women in the government, the vice president being a women. Its also clear that women may not have the same rights as men with regards to divorce, but thats about it. They also recieve half the punishment of a man, and this is all I know, if I was to know more I’m sure I could help you understand your misconceptions of Iran

  2. Romz Jul 3, 2009

    I believe you saw the good part of Iran. I was born there and have only recently immigrated to Canada. It is true that some people in Iran do not live as badly as most North Americans believe. However, this makes up a very small population. There are more people living in poverty who are homeless than those living decently. As for women, they are second-class citizens there. They are literally worth less than men and you can see this in various governmental policies. Women cannot rise high in the political ladder either.
    I believe the reason why you did not see many of these demonstrated is because of the government’s excellent ability to hide the neglect of women and the abuse of human rights from its own people and the rest of the world. You and I cannot say to what extent the government has trampled on the rights of humans, even if we have lived there for some years.

  3. Maryam Jul 3, 2009

    Dear Jessica,

    I guess you are the “presumptuous” one, who could not take any commentaries which are adversary to the writers which you obviously admire agreat deal. Trying to put those in place who are merely trying to correct a misconception or explain things which may be otherwise, is defenitely not in good style. The purpose of leaving the podium open is for all to express themselves. Also I am not old myself, but she is taking on a subject, and passing a rapid judgement on an issue that requires first hand knowledge and local experience. I sympathize with her feelings, and the difficulties she and her family have had to endure to adjust to changing circumstances, but she is not alone we all had to endure what she and her family had to. Perhaps it is a good idea for her to visit Iran after all these years, and gain a closer and updated understanding of the country of her heritage. I know that when I went back, I felt I was in a different country! I wish her all the best.

    1. Jessica Jul 4, 2009


      If you had read my comment closely, you would have seen that I wrote that opposing opinions and added comments are obviously welcome, and that goes for any article. However, in your first sentence you made a very condescending remark about the writer herself. In the laws of logic, when you criticize someone personally rather than the argument they present, this would be considered flawed logic. You made a very good argument below that comment, but again your presumption in the beginning was not necessary. I was not presumptuous at all in my statements, and I fear you have presumed again that I somehow idolize the writer. I have a great deal of respect, yes, but in no way do I believe she, or any of the writers, are above criticism for the opinions and arguments they bring to the table.

  4. Jessica Jul 2, 2009


    Actually, the “very young author” who wrote this is a grown woman with children. She did live in Iran when she was young and her family lost everything during the revolution. It’s fine if you have a different opinion or feel you can add something to the story, but next time don’t be so presumptuous about the person who wrote it. She’s very knowledgeable about Iran’s history and culture. Also, don’t assume that all college students at CSUN are young and unaware of issues going on in the world. The campus actually has many older people working hard towards their degree. Not to mention the younger ones who also work hard.

  5. Maryam Jul 2, 2009

    I wonder when it was the last time that this very young auther of this piece ever visited Iran, or lived in Iran. As a divorced single parent, very active in business and commerce, I moved back to Iran, and lived there for 5 years. Women there are very active and prominent indeed. Many are huge real estate developers, owners of private colleges, high schools, private universities, small and large businesses, small and large factories, shop owners, import-exporters, owners of large farms, Doctors, Attorneys, etc.. 2/3 of the current university students are female. Most women work full time or part time. Almost all drive, if they chose to, but there is plenty of public transportation. I could easily say with ease that many that I met are also heavily invested in Real Estate, if it is not their direct professions. One lady that I met, a widow in her early sixties, has a successful antique business, and taking the extra income and is constructing a high-rise building in North of Tehran! Many juggle children, careers, families, etc.. They are tenacious, aggressive, smart and ambitious, and the society is at times more respectable to them than the west.

    As opposed to what every body thinks in USA, Iranians live very well, have amassed huge fortunes in real estate within the last 30 years, and are all very well educated, well travelled. Many hold foreign passports also, BUT CHOSE TO LIVE THERE! So there are a lot of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and miscommunications when it comes to Iran.

    As for Moussavi and his opposition movement, if he is lauder, or more self-righteous, or more agressive, and has encouraged people taking to the streets in 10,000 or even 100,000, it does not validify his claims. And these counts, by no means represent the will and the desires of 70,000,000! I predict that things will get back to normal, and the streets will be safe and stabel again to the dismay of all those who wish otherwise.

  6. denniscav Jul 2, 2009

    Not only do the Iranian women face a great challenge to their very basic of human rights, but so do all of both the male and all of the youth, as well as all of the future prospects of the citizens of the country of Iran.

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