Women history and conditions
Iranian women, throughout the nation's several thousand years of history, have weathered many turbulent moments, and have proven remarkably resilient and strong under pressure. Their place in society seems to have been dictated by whatever regime ruled at the time. Hence, their role has oscillated from that of being virtual equal in status to men to a completely subservient one.
- In pre-Zoroastrian Era, Anahita was the godess of water, rain, abundance, fertility, marriage, love, motherhood, and victory. Ancient kings were crowned in Anahita's Temple. (Iranian Zoroastrian Women's Organization).
Archaeological findings of Susa and other Mesopotamian Cities reveals the status of women and their lives. In those days the king's mother had the highest rank amongst women, next was the crown prince's mother, and finally the king's daughters and sisters, however they all had authority in the court. Also, documentation points to the fact that men and women both earned wages. Women had economic independence and some professions included both sexes, some restricted to men and some to women. Ordinary women were able to own and lease property and paid taxes. They could also sell their property. Further archaeological findings point out to women managers who were mentioned at work sites. Women were also known to have held higher level military positions.
- The post-Islamic Era saw a decline in women's position of every proportion. Most of their rights evaporated, and they were almost never included in any form of government or civic leadership. Their dress code was Islamic as they were forced to wear a veil. Polygamy was practiced in abundance and family laws were exclusively to the advantage of the male.
- In the 19th Century, history saw women such as Fatima, born in 1814, who was a leading figure in the Babi Movement (Ba'hais) and the first of the women to appear unveiled in public. The Babi Movement took on the task of emancipating women and was a force behind the women's league in Iran. Women such as Khorshid Khanoum and Rustameh were traveling all over the countryside, organizing women's meetings. Many women in the Qajari Royal Court also supported Fatimeh.
She was viewed as a radical and later executed in 1852 for making an attempt on Naser-al-Din Shah's life. By the second half of 19th Century, there was Taj Saltaneh, Naser-al-Din Shah's own daughter who was writing her memoirs, describing in depth the deplorable condition of the women in Iran. She criticized the issue of veiling, and the fact that women were deprived of any progress and liberty as a result of this strict dress code.
- Later in the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, particularly in Tabriz, women, such as the wife of Haydar Khan Tabrizi, protected the pro-constitutional speakers with sticks. Women were instrumental in demanding the endorsement of the constitution and joined forces as Zoroastrian, Jewish, Ba'hais, Armenians, and Muslim coalesced to demand gender rights and the adoption of the Constitution. Mrs. Jahangeer, a relative of a constitution martyr, even went as far as blocking the carriage of Mozafare-Din Shah to demand the passage of the Constitution. Constitution was granted in 1906, but family laws still remained within the realm of the Shariat.
Women were still barred from entering politics and emancipation was a fairytale out of reach. In 1838, the first girls' school was founded in Azarbaijan by American Missionaries and later sprouted up in Tehran, Hamedan, Rasht and eleswhere. By 1913, there were 3 girls schools in Tehran with just under 3000 in attendance. (A Brief History Of Women's Movements In Iran 1850 - 2000)
- With the emergence of the Pahlavi Dynasty, women's situation improved considerably. In 1931, the Majlis finally approved a bill which gave women the right to ask for divorce, and the marriage age was raised to 15 for girls. Under Reza Shah's Leadership, in 1934 laws were passed to implement reforms for women and in 1936, a system of education was formed for boys and girls equally. In the same year, a legislation to abolish veiling was passed and in fact it was forbidden for women to wear a veil thereafter. Reza Shah also made it his policy to encourage women to work outside homes. Mohammad Reza Shah continued the work of his father to fully emancipate women. However, women did not gain electoral rights until 1962 and 6 years later in 1968 "Family Protection Law" was ratified. Divorce Laws and polygamy became more stringent with the latter being almost entirely discouraged and a rarity. Marriage age was now legal at 18 as in all civilized countries of the world. The country saw Mrs. Farokh-Rou Parsa (tragically executed by the Islamic Regime's Butchers in 79) as the first woman minister; she was the minister of education. By 1978, 33% of university students were women and 2 million of them involved in the workforce. Women were also required to serve the Education Corps (Sepahe-Danesh) and enlist in the military.
There were 22 women in the Majlis and 2 in the senate. By 1979, women were nearly equal to men in status and taking advantage of public education. Women entering the workforce had a wide range of skills. WOI (women's Organization of Iran) was formed in 1967 by Princess Ashraf Pahlavi. WOI was running family welfare centers, and issues such as childcare, job training, family planning, and legal services were a part of what the organization had to offer.
- Women were a big force behind the success of the '79 Revolution and were seen alongside their husbands and children, in anti-regime rallies. Sadly, with the victory of the Islamic Revolution, the Family Protection Law was abolished.
Women were barred from holding higher levels of public offices and were ordered to observe the Islamic Dress Code of Hijab. Here is the account of a government sponsored website, Salaamiran, in regards to Hijab "Islamic dress (hijab) is protection against the perpetration of abuse and cruelty against women."
This is what the government claims while the women are suffocating under the cruelty of this forced dress-code. Is the chador, in fact, promoting "protection" or oppression? History has shown that it has become a symbol of powerlessness, as with the chador, Iran saw the arrival of many laws against women. And so women, from its inception, have protested the Islamic Republic for its mistreatment of their gender. Legal age of marriage was once again set at 13.
Therefore, married women, in many cases children themselves, could not attend school. Stoning became the prevalent form of punishment for women. Although their heroic effort restored some rights to them, such as attending schools and being able to pursue higher education, women were still under bondage and most
laws, such as divorce and polygamy would be to their disadvantage. Women were not only segregated in public, be it in the workforce, classrooms, and public transportation, they were even barred from soccer stadiums. This while the regime in its Salaamiran website once again claims "The Islamic Republic of Iran observes and gives attention to international forums and legislative measures on women because they tend to promote women's status. From the viewpoint of Islam, women have innate dignity and bring sublime values to their society".
Prostitution is predominant amongst women, in many cases as young as 12, as women continue to dominate in percentage the unemployed. Dr. Hamid Kusha of Texas A&M University in his new book The Sacred Laws of Islam, stresses that as a result of the misapplication of the Sacred Laws of Islam, along with social and
economic oppression, Iranian women have been "drawn to unprecedented involvement in crime, suicide and consumption of narcotics." He goes on to say "Iran's post-Islamic Revolution data on the feminine commission of the five violent crimes makes Iran one of the most violent Islamic countries both in terms of female arrest rates and rates of commission". He further states in the book "No other Islamic country comes even close to Iran's rates." Despite this reality, there are more women in ratio to men in higher education, pursuing majors traditionally designated for men, such as engineering and sciences. Women have suffered and suffocated under the mullah regime in Iran to the point that now as always in the Persian History, they're leading the anti-oppression protest movement against the regime in power. Burning or throwing away their headscarves have become a common practice for women, while risking their lives.
It's with great sadness that Iranian Women who've fought throughout the Persian History to achieve freedom and recognition, read time and again what the western analysts, some of which are women themselves, have to say about the Muslim Dress-code in relation to the women. These analysts put this phenomena in historic perspective and justify its usage, according to them a product of culture, ignoring the underlying facts completely, and without consulting Iranian Women to find out how unpopular the Muslim hijab actually is amongst most of them.
This status quo in the condition of women in Iran is highly injurious to the soul of a nation of people forced to live stagnant lives. If, as Oscar Wilde once stated, "Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or nation", the women of Iran have long been ready to take the next step.