Condition of Iranian Women under the Clerics' Rule
"And he caught her, and seized her, and tore the helmet
from her head, for he desired to look upon the face of the man
who could stand the son of Rostam. And Lo! when he had done so,
there rolled forth from the helmet coils of dusky hue, and Sohrab
beheld it was a woman who had overcome him in the fight. And he
was confounded, and said, if daughters of Iran are like thee,
and go forth unto battle, non can stand against this land."
- FERDOWSI, Epic Poet of Iran, 940-1020A.D.
In the long and tumultuous history-of -We Iranian people, women's
rights, as a significant issue, has occupied a special chapter.
The role of women in the Iranian society has had its ebbs and
flows, but, unfortunately, for the most part their rights have
been violated. This is particularly true for the 16 years of the
rile of the Islamic clerics under the philosophy of "Velayate
Faqih" (Guardianship of the Jurisprudent). At no time in
our history has the Iranian woman been subjected to more cruel,
harsh and arbitrary treatment from the ruling clique. Their subjugation
has been codified into law. The pressure is so overwhelming that
the suicide rate has been climbing in recent years, especially
among young women.
We are dedicating this issue of FOCUS ON IRAN to the Iranian Women,
with the aim of helping focus world attention on their plight.
The clerical regime must be taken to task. The Iranian Woman must
stand shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian Man to face down this
primitive repressive regime.
In the Iranian tradition, women have always had special respect
and equal treatment. Throughout history, we come across references
to the special role of women in the traditional Iranian society.
According to Plutarch "Iranian women used to participate
in social affairs and fight in the battlefield".
During the Sassanian Dynasty, before the Arab invasions, Iran
had two Queens, Pourandokht and Azarmidokht, who ruled for brief
periods. In Ferdowsi's epic Shahnameh we see another reference
to yet another ruling Queen named Homa Chehrzad. The study of
"Avesta" the Zoroastrian holy book indicates that women
in Iranian society were to some extent equal to men and enjoyed
a number of legal and social freedoms. As is described in "Din
Kart" an ancient religious text, women could manage their
property, could represent their husbands at court, could become
judges, and could perform religious ceremonies.
The condition of women in the Islamic era experienced transformation.
In this regard Elize Sanasarian explains that there are those
that believe Islam is responsible for the low status of women
in Iran and the Middle East, but some specialists refute this
by saying that Islam has given higher status to women and has
recognized the need for an active involvement of women in political
and social affairs. The mistreatment of women should not be blamed
on religion, but rather, on fundamentalist and radical interpretation
of Islam. Hamideh Sadeghi and Ahmad Ashraf, in a paper titled
"On Women In Iran" and delivered to the Aspen Institute
in 1975, maintain that in the later Islamic era, women were considered
`erotic creatures', imperfect and capricious. This dark view of
women led to the deterioration of women's position and condition
psychologically and socially, and created a situation which led
to the domination of men.
The desperate condition of women continued for centuries until
the twentieth century when Iran underwent modernization. The change
came during the Pahlavi era in 1935, when a decree banned the
wearing of the veil, and opened new vistas for women.'
In 1963 the right of suffrage was granted to the women, and in
1967 The Family Protection Law was promulgated. In 1975 this was
reinforced with the Family Protection Act, which restricted polygamy.
WOMEN'S STATURE AFTER THE REVOLUTION
The fruits of centuries of struggle for equal rights have been
lost since the advent of the Islamic revolution 16 years ago.
In the rule of "The Jurisprudent", women have again
been relegated to the dark ages. They have become second class
citizens, who must cloak themselves at all times so as not to
arouse men. The primitive and shameful practice of `temporary'
marriage has been reinstated. The value of their witness in a
court of law is half that of a man, and they cannot travel abroad
without the written consent of their husband. Many women have
been physically assaulted by the government sponsored thugs under
the guise of not dressing in the "proper Islamic manner".
Many women have been beaten, whipped, and even stoned in public
on a variety of trumped-up charges. Even under-age girls and pregnant
women have not been spared.
The clerics look upon women as weak inferior beings responsible
for the moral decay of the society, and actively promote the separation
of man and woman. The more sinister purpose of such separation
is to keep the society divided in order to maximize their control
on both men and women, and thus prolong the rule of a bunch of
primitive, savage authoritarian imbeciles.
In traditional Iranian culture and belief, men and women are compliments
of each other. United, they are creative and accomplished. Divided,
the men try to subjugate the women, and the society looses half
of its creative potential. A nation cannot develop normally without
the active participation of women. Without the participation of
women, a society will disintegrate, as evidenced by the deteriorating
conditions in the Iranian society today.
OPPOSITION GROUPS AND WOMEN'S RIGHTS
While some observers criticized the Pahlavi policies on women's
rights for lack of substance, it cannot be denied that the policies
institutionalized a number of very positive Laws concerning women.
the passage and enforcement of those Laws paved the way for women
to play increasingly important roles in the society. Before the
revolution, Iranian women held such posts as Cabinet Ministers,
Members of Parliament, Senators, and other responsible positions
throughout the government and society.
"In 1935, in a meeting, Reza shah had said "I doubled
the population of Iran, since [women's] presence in the society
did not count".
Some opposition groups have actively sought to recruit women to
their ranks. Some of these groups have tried not only to attract,
but to convert them to their specific ideological beliefs aswell.
Even though women participate in the affairs of some of these
groups, their role and stature is dictated and limited by the
ideological framework of that particular group. We have yetto
find an organization part of whose goals would be a dedication
to the promotion of leadership roles for women as women, and not
merely because of ideological expediency. To use an example, we
can look at an organization such as the Peoples' Mojahedin of
Iran. Its appointed leader Mrs. Maryam Rajavi has her post because
it is in the 'ideological' interest of the organization to have
a woman leader, not because of her achievements as a female leader.
To paraphrase the Mojahedin themselves, even the divorce form
her first husband and subsequent marriage to Mr. Massood Rajavi
was ideologically motivated!
We see the definite and immediate need for the organization of
a movement dedicated to the liberation of the Iranian women -
a dynamic, activist organization whose main aim and purpose would
be the restoration of the natural, civil, political and economic
rights of the women of Iran.
Majlis they went, and, gathered there demanding of the President
that he admit them all. What the grave Deputies of the land of
the Lion and the Sun may have thought of this strange visitation
is not recorded. The President consented to receive a delegation
of them. In his reception hall they confronted him, and lest he
and his colleagues should doubt their meaning, these cloistered
Persian mothers, wives and daughters exulted threateningly their
revolvers, tore aside their veils and confessed their decision
to kill their own husbands and sons and leave behind their own
dead bodies, if the Deputies wavered in their duty to uphold the
liberty and dignity of the Persian People."
THE WOMEN'S ROLE IN THE DAWN OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
We believe that the role of Iranian women at this juncture of
history is exceedingly important in shaping and directing the
future development of the Iranian Society. In general, we have
witnessed the emergence of women in this century to the extent
that today there is hardly a profession or field in which women
arc not active or do not excel. In this day of information and
knowledge, we cannot allow Iran to wallow in ignorance and backwardness.
We cannot allow our women to remain second class citizens and
be considered as chattel. Iran today is in the clutches of a group
of ignorant, regressive clerics who are moving the whole society
towards annihilation. Iranian women have not only shown their
courage in times of national crises, but have proved more worthy
When in 1911, the government of Iran engaged the services of an
American advisor Mr. Morgan Shuster to reform the financial and
customs affairs of Iran, the Czarist government of Russia which
did not wish to see any changes in the Iranian financial system
issued an ultimatum to the Iranian government to get rid of Shuster.
Following is an excerpt from THE STRANGLING OF PERSIA by Morgan
Shuster, about this incident:
"It was rumored more than once that in a secret conclave,
the deputies had decided to yield to the Russian demands. The
Bazaars and the people of the Capital were torn with anxiety ...
The Persian women supplied the answer. Out from their walled courtyards
and harems marched three hundred of that weak sex, with the flush
of underlying determination in their cheeks ... many held pistols
under their skirts or in the folds of their sleeves.
Unfortunately, the women have never benefited from the Iranian
Revolutions. Both the Constitutional Revolution which was a positive
movement towards progress, and the Islamic Revolution which turned
the clock back 1000 years, did not take any positive steps towards
women's rights. On the contrary, what rights the women had won
in the past few decades before the Islamic Revolution were completely
lost once the clerics assumed power. In no time in Iranian history
have women been so abused or their rights so violated than under
the 16 years of the clerical miss-rule.
THE NEED TO ORGANIZE A GRASS ROOTS MOVEMENT
We need to organize a movement to re-educate the Iranian Society.
This is a very essential step and should not be mistaken for a
political tactic. This movement must lay the foundation for the
dissemination of news and information concerning the women's rights
in our society. It can form the basis for an educational campaign
aimed at disclosing and discussing the prejudices and the maltreatment
Centuries ago, women became rulers in Persia. Today, it is up
to them to reclaim their rightful position in their society. After
the revolution, thousands of Iranian women chose or were forced
to live in Europe and the U.S. By far the majority have become
apolitical, and seem to have forgotten the plight of their mothers
and sisters in Iran. In the social gatherings, the subject of
the miserable condition of women in Iran hardly ever comes up.
They have become fatalistic, and seem to have accepted those conditions
as normal. There are a very few active Iranian women who have
tried for years to carry the torch. But unfortunately, there numbers
are very limited. It is this apathy towards political and substantive
events that has weakened the position of our women even more.
This apathy breeds pessimism and fear - fear of our own capabilities
(or lack thereof), fear of others, fear of whatever is foreign,
fear of communications, etc. In the Iranian Society, group thinking
and group working - communal cooperation in general - has been
obliterated by fear and distrust. It is this state of mind that
has eaten into the Iranian psyche like termites. It is this weakness
that is seized upon by usurper governments, and emboldens them
to subjugate and control the masses. The Iranian Woman must emerge
once again as the champion and the guide of our society. It is
up to the Iranian women, in coordination and cooperation with
the Iranian men, to unite to regain not only their rights, but
to liberate the Nation from the yoke and the shame of the clerical
Women must emerge from this apathetic state, and must become
active in reclaiming their rights and liberties. They must not
only join, but lead the struggle to uproot the clerical regime
• Women must have the right to economic independence, and
complete equality with man.
Women must have the right of full and equal participation
in the political process.
Women must have the right to choose any profession and
hold any position they desire or are capable of.
In the 16 years of the rule of the ") jurisprudent" of
the Islamic Republic, women's rights have been completely violated,
but with a few exceptions, our women have been inactive, apathetic
and silent. Today the woman in Iran is a second class citizen
with hardly any legal or political rights, and are subject to
constant harassment and pressure. At the dawn of the Twenty First
century, this is an unbearable, untenable situation bordering
on national suicide. We must become active and unite to regain
the rights of our women.
-There should be no special laws restricting the legal, social
or economical rights of women.
The world is witnessing a serious struggle for the control of
knowledge, information and raw materials. We cannot afford to
be left behind. We, the Iranian women and men, must unite, cooperate
and coordinate our movements, organizations, and policies, in
order to help free our land and people. We must help prepare our
nation for the 21st century.