Free Woman Movement in Iran Essay Sample
Since 1941 Iran was governed by a constitutional monarchy under Reza Pahlavi, Iranian Shah or king, this was until 1979 when a popular revolution was successfully hatched and executed thereby ending the Shah's iron grip on the country's power. Although Iran was arguably the oldest kingdom, dating back two thousand and five hundred years, by 1900 it was on a serious decline. Bandits controlled large expanse of the land, literacy was at 1%, and women, under the outdated Islamic laws and dictates, had absolutely no rights.
The analysis that has been conducted in the paper concerning women and women rights in Iran is mainly aimed at highlighting the main changes that women and women rights have gone through. The time frame that has been used for studying the main features of women and women rights in Iran is mainly the 1979 Islamic Revolution. As a matter of fact, the paper discusses the real situation that surrounded women and their rights before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, how women contributed to 1979 Islamic Revolution and the state after the revolution.
Women in Iran Prior To the Islamic Revolution:
However, all these came to an end courtesy of the Shah intervention. Primarily by employing oil generated revenues, he (Iranian royalty were always male) modernized the state. He built infrastructure, libraries, postal services, and most importantly, empowered women in various fields. It was also during Shah Regime that the first women NGOs were established in Iran, the two, Association of Freedom and Women Secret Union, played a major part in subsequent struggles for women right (Shahidian, 2002). In fact they are credited for majority of the strides that women made during the Shah time. Also noteworthy during Shah's regime is the establishment of the first batch of girl primary school in the whole of Iran, schools which were funded by women NGOs (Shahidian, 2002). The Shah is also credited with establishing the first teacher education college and the publication of the first women magazines (Shokufe, Women's Language, and Danesh) to name but a few.
Another notable thing with Shah's time was the activeness of women NGOs and movements in the whole of Iran. This activeness was in form of funding schools, cultural activities, and women's health clinic for women (Afkhami, 2009). It was also during his time that women NGOs and movement pressed hard for women only schools, together with right to work and equal rights for divorce and marriage.
One of the reasons that as been attributed to Shah's success in empowering women is his close working relationship with the West, Shah was considered a serious ally of the West and a critic of the communist (Cronin, 2003). This was until he fell out with the western policy maker who together with the Iranian Mullah embarked on a smear campaign to malign his progressiveness. This smear campaign was further reinforced by the western press slander ultimately resulting to him being forced out in the so called Islamic revolution, something that ushered in the terror of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Unlike today where women have unequal status with their male counterparts, before the Islamic Revolution conservative clerics who today dictate the dictates of the Islamic laws were not accorded the special place that they occupy today. The suppression of women struggle which they have become synonymous with today was alien. In fact the women struggle almost always yielded something tangible to make them proud unlike today when it is highly prohibited by these conservative clerics. Before the Iranian Islamic revolution of the late 1970s, Iran was very much in the path of being a modern state. People essentially lived as they fashioned, meaning that their family life was their own direction. This basically meant that a family decided which way to follow, whether to be conservative, religious, or modern. As much as this decision was most made by the man in the family, the woman's input was crucial, this was because, by virtue of being more closer to the children she has the potential of sabotaging that direction that the husband wanted his family to take. This set up was closely related to the kind that western countries fashion, which is precisely what as come to constitute modernity, as we know it today. This all changed in 1985 after the forcing of the Shah, in that year the Penal Code based on Sharia was ratified, thereby changing completely the family set which at least accorded women a semblance of equality, something that was done away with by this piece of legislation (Cronin, 2003).
With the coming of the Islamic revolution in the 1979, majority of the gains that women had achieved with the Shah regime were reversed. Contrary to the situation before the Islamic revolution the household was expected to either fit into the Shia format or something else with less conservative set of values (Afkhami, 2009). Women who were key factors before the revolution show their role changed drastically during the revolution. What had been a bright and prosperous country went into a complete reversal with hitherto strong women reduced to chattel status while men made responsible for all decision affecting the household together with the lives in those households, decisions which were previously reserved for women (Isfandiyari, 1997).
One of the incidents that can clearly demonstrates the Shah willingness to accord women equal right with men, something that made him very unpopular with the religious conservatives, was the 1961 incident. In 1961, the Shah was forced to suspend the constitution and dissolve the legislature for him to proceed with among other things, giving voting right to women and an enormous rural literary program that benefited women most, something that was vehemently opposed to religious conservatives who parked the house of parliament.
The Hijab which was made compulsory after the fall of the Shah was, just like I have mentioned, something that women wore voluntarily without being forced which they were proud to wear because of the way it reminded them of their tradition. With the forced wearing of Hijab that was instituted by the Khomeini, the pride that it initially carried evaporated, thing that forced women folks to protest against that compulsory wearing in 1980.
Another of the negative things that the Islamic revolution has been blamed for is the reversal of women gain in the political, social, and religious fronts. What the revolution succeeded in doing was in leaving a purely male dominated society (Sedghi, 2007). It is therefore in order to say that the Iran world changed completely with the forcing out of the Shah. What had previously been a modern state with religious tolerance changed to a highly conservative one which strived to return the Iran to time long before western influences were even felt.
During Shah's time majority of their women demonstrations, which were comparably rare, resulted in a significant positive changes in the life of women. It was through these demonstrations that they acquired voting right and even right to protest. During these demonstrations they proudly wore veils apparently in support of their traditional values. According to Isfandiyari, (1997) "it might be that the veil was seen as a sign of solidarity which was to be discarded or worn at will after the fall of Shah." In fact, seeing women active part in opposing the Shah, Ayatollah Khomeini promised that women will be accorded more freedom of choice in the new republic.
Any illusions that women might have had about equality under the Ayatollah were hastily shattered the moment the Shah was forced out. Laws were legislated and passed rooting women more decisively in a "separate but equal" status with their male counterpart. Using the holy Koran as the authority, cleric in position of authority have since the revolution been enforcing laws that are primarily aimed at promoting women's domestic role.
It is ironical that women played a major part in the Islamic revolution which only helped in reversing the gains that they hand made prior to the revolution.
Women contribution to the Islamic revolution of 1979
In 1979, a revolution meant to bring down the Shah succeeded. The revolution was joined by most Iranians with the hopes of economic development, protection of the Iranian culture, gender equality and protection from the western culture. Iranian women joined the revolution against Shah; they came together to condemn Shah Leader over his statements that looked sex oriented and against women rights. Shah had said that only beautiful and lively women were important in mans' life. He continued to say that women were equal in the eyes of law but were lesser capable than. That was a statement that gave birth to a great revolution which brought down Shah. (Cronin, 2003).
Women participated in the revolution through planning and direct involvement. Apparently, the Shah government had been determined in modernizing Iranian women and the whole nation. During the revolution, women were the major component with the major part of the campaigns concentrating on withdrawal of western culture a circumstance that was framed to be spoiling the good morals among women. Earlier, Shah had promised to withdraw the use of hijab among women .the proposal did not go well among the conservative who could do anything to conserve the Islamic laws. They joined hands with women to bring down Shah. (Cronin, 2003).
Shah was an ally of the western; his reign witnessed a lot of manipulation of power through the army but His reign almost came to end when he escaped a planned assignation from the procommunist people. In 1963, he culminated the white Revolution; women were liberalized and western education put in place. During his reign, he was a dictator and he used the military to suppress his rivals. Despite his dictatorial life his leadership seemed to have been in favor of women than any other king in Iran. His reign collapsed following a widespread of uprising revolution (Afkhami, 2009).
Meanwhile revolution did not start only in 1979; the first sign of revolution was seen in 1963. There were rumors that the America was in control of Iran. The phenomena in which women started wearing hijab was a good sign to show the resistance there was building up amongst the Islamic faithful. Secret words from Iranian police report stated that there was a new trend in the street where women wore hijab and chador and seem there was a new religion in the country, such clothing had been rejected by king Shah. The clergy identified the situation in the country has sensitive and called the Iranians to topple a dictator and a corrupt society ethics. (Isfandiyari, 1997).
The Imams claimed that by women removing the hijab it was not pleasing in the eyes of Muslims and God. They termed the call for women freedom uncalled for and against the Islamic teachings. With no doubts, women were in the frontline against the withdrawal of hijab therefore they supported their clergy without resistance or doubting the scheme. The clergy later praised women for being radical in the revolution. Women led the way in the streets encouraging men to participate in the revolution. The revolutionary leaders praised women saying they were wonderful on their creation with bold capabilities. They added that Iranian revolution depended squarely on the capability of women and those women were the first pioneers of revolution in Iran. They praised confrontations women made on to the fallen king. Women could be dissociated with the heroes in the land for their faithful fight without retreat. Capability of women leading was direct evidence during the revolution. According to their leaders, they showed their power in leadership. They showed passion by outshining men by being caring and nursing the human race. (Sedghi, 2007)
A special day for women was reserved to show the government solidarity with women in their effort in bringing down a great dictator. The leaders promised women promulgation of a new constitution that could cater for their religious and personal rights. Laws were made to protect the society from degradation due to influence from the western culture. The aftermath of the revolution was marred by controversies giving birth to a new era full of intrigues to women in general. The laws created did not cater for their rights giving rise to new woman fighting for their rights instead of enjoying. (Sedghi, 2007)
Women's Movement Post- 1979 Islamic Revolution
It is actually a little more than thirty years since the Islamic Revolution had a triumph in Iran. Despite the fact that the Iranian people have stayed with the law for that long, it is still a bother that various contemporary issues remain to be a thorn in the flesh among the very people of Iran. For the sake of the objective of this paper, special interests are focused to the problems that are faced by women and women rights in the process of living through the Islamic Revolution. The 1979 Islamic Revolution brought with it several changes in the women's organization in Iran as will be evidently realized in the course of this paper. It is important though to take note of the fact that the revolution has still been paralyzed in addressing some of the strategic issues facing the women species in the 21st century. Issues like the lack of political power to take a seat in political issues is just but a glimpse of the inadequacies that have been faced by the law in the present day. Prior to looking at the specific issues that the 1979 Islamic Revolution altered in regard to the women movement, it is important that a brief overview is done on the main issues that touch on the protection and even legislation of the women and their rights in the Iranian society.
The constitution as was provided by the revolution that was passed by an overwhelming 98% of the population in Iran indicates that the family is actually the cornerstone from which the society is derived (Hooglund, 2002). The reasoning that is fully supported by the above statement can be used by women to argue against the idea that they are just taken as inanimate tools that are used to promote certain habits in the society. With this in consideration, it is a wonder why the very person who gives rise to the family by giving birth remains an inconsequential part of the society as is portrayed by certain aspects of the law. The law therefore goes a very long way in granting the women the dignity and value that they deserve the most from the society. Having this item in mind it is now the perfect opportunity to exploit some of the aspects of the society and their relation with women as has been provided in the 1979 Islamic Revolution legal structure.
Women in education and culture after the 1979 Islamic Revolution took a very sharp turn of events. The constitution is very categorical about having the provision of free education for all Iranians at the end of the intermediate level of education. A special provision for women in the constitution also puts it that women in Iran have the right to high learning standards al the way to the highest level of education. The 1979 Islamic Revolution was a mark of the education revival in Iran. The campaign to have as many Iranians as possible educated have achieved great strides of success with both men and women actually having almost equal chances in education. As a matter of fact, women are attending all the universities that are being attended by men without any form of discrimination and the case is only unique in universities where women are the only liable applicants. This means that after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, education of women have achieved a great stride of success. This is supported by the recent statistic which indicated that the literacy rate among men is 97% while that of women is 96.13% (Reinhard, 2002).
The social and political fronts in Iran have also been a very significant point of interpretation in the Iranian constitution after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. There has been very instrumental in calling for the participation of women in the social and even political spheres as have been provided. This though must be taken with a keen analysis as it is important to note that the Islamic religion in Iran is also considered a political front. It is due to this fact that women are encouraged to participate in virtually equal proportions to men in the political as well as the social fronts. While it is true that with the coming of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, women have considerably been incorporated in the Islamic Advisory Council, it is still not a wonder that the political front still remains a slippery item to the women in Iran. This is mainly due to the fact that the women are not allowed to have any political seats in the political arena (Isfandiyārī, 2007). It is shocking that with all the equality praise that the constitution has, to date, the unfair rule that was not even there prior to the coming of the 1979 Islamic Revolution still runes in place. The political front is very much unlike the social front that has seen women being appreciated more than ever in Iran. As a matter of fact, women are contributing almost in proportion to men in job areas, education, social issues, people organization and other many spheres in the political front.
On the economical front, it is important to note that the constitution of Iran offers everyone the right to engage in an economic activity or work which they are willing to be involved in as long as the work is in line with the Islam provisions and also has the interest of the other people in mind. It is in this regard that the 1979 Islamic Revolution has gone ahead to offer women very heavy rights in regard to their activities geared towards generating income. As a matter of fact, even though it may appear that women and men are favored by the constitution, it is even more evident that women have an upper hand in dealing with financial issues since they have special rights. It can therefore be said that the introduction of the 1979 Islamic Revolution offer women a brighter future in terms of economic development since women just like men are allowed the right to develop their economic activities.
As had earlier been highlighted in the previous part of the paper, it is very clear that the family offer the women a very good opportunity top become integral; part of the society. As a matter of fact, women have been offered rights within the 1979 Islamic Revolution so as to optimally serve in the family as women although for the good benefit of not only the family members but her too. rights such as maternal leave, exception from working abroad, having flexible working hours, early retirement among others plays a very important role in ensuring that the family develops as a unit with all the components of it being at their very best to support the growth of the family (Reinhard, 2002).
Women in Iran underwent revolution in three phases. First, they were taken through revolution by Shah's father, they were allowed to wear al sorts of clothing they could want to, secondly, they fought against the freedom instead they wanted the official Islamic clothing only and In the third revolution, they are fighting for rights of women that involves freedom of clothing and political positions. Iranian women would have bee a mile ahead if the 1979 set back was achieved. It is ironically to find the same women denied freedom and choose detention coming out loud against what they had advocated for in the previous regime. (Isfandiyari, 1997).
The speech immediately after the downfall of Shah witnessed ambitious and emotional promises to women but the irony part of it was the truth. Women were denied their rights even further with legislations done denying those privileges they had enjoyed in the previous regime. It is sorry to find women fighting for their right only to be denied. Iranian women are capable of fighting for their rights despite the twist they undergo whenever they get involved in fighting for their rights.