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
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
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
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
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
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
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 than men.
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
Straight to the 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 of women.
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 rule.
• 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 ruling Iran.
• 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.