Women's rights in Iran
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- This article is primarily about the women's rights. For Iranian women's movement see Women's rights movement in Iran.
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|Women in society|
Women's rights for Iranian women and their legal status has changed during different political and historical eras. This includes Marriage law, divorce law, education rights, clothing and Hijab, health rights (like reproductive rights, family planning in Iran, and abortion law in Iran), right to vote, etc.
- 1 History
- 2 Education
- 3 Sports
- 4 Women's health
- 5 Women's rights movement in Iran
- 6 International influence and the women's movement
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
The Persian Constitutional Revolution
Iranian women played a significant role in the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1905–11, which became a turning point in their lives. They participated in large numbers in public affairs and held important positions in journalism and in schools and associations that flourished from 1911 to 1924. Prominent Iranian women who played a vital part in the revolution include Bibi Khatoon Astarabadi, Noor-ol-Hoda Mangeneh, Mohtaram Eskandari, Sediqeh Dowlatabadi, and Qamar ol-Molouk Vaziri.
At the turn of the 20th century, many educated Persian women were attracted to journalism and writing. Danesh (1907) was the first specialized journal focusing on women's issues. Later, Shokoufeh, Nameie Banovan, Alam e Nesvan, and Nesvan e Vatan Khah were published in Tehran. Moreover, Nesvan e Shargh in Bandar Anzali, Jahan e Zanan in Mashhad, Dokhtaran e Iran in Shiraz, and Peik e saadat in Rasht addressed women's issues throughout Persia (Iran). Although the defeat of the constitutionalists (1921–25) and the consolidation of power by Reza Shah (1925–41) destroyed the women's journals and groups, the state during these years implemented social reforms such as mass education and paid employment for women. Reza Shah also began his controversial policy of Kashf-e-Hijab, which banned the wearing of the Islamic hijab in public. But like other sectors of society in the years under Reza Shah's rule, women lost the right to express themselves, and dissent was repressed.
The shah's government began its "White Revolution" in 1962 and ratified important women's rights measures, including suffrage and the Family Protection Law of 1967, later amended more heavily in favor of women in 1975, which ended extrajudicial divorce and restricted polygamy. It also raised the minimum age of marriage of girls to 18 that had been 13-15.
Women and the Iranian Revolution
When the Iranian Revolution started, in 1977, many women protested by marching in frequented areas and women chose to wear chadors as a sign of protest. Because the first Pahlavi Shah banned the use of hijab, many women decided to show their favor for Ayatollah Khomeini, by wearing a chador, thinking that this would be the best way to show their support without having to be vocal. Many women that did not previously choose to wear the chador (before the banning of the hijab) only wore this extremely modest garb to show their high levels of support for the Ayatollah and aversion to the Shah. Another way the chador helped in Iranian society was it enabled women to be a unified force. Similar to many societies, women were separated into different social classes and by the use of the chador many would feel equality amongst all classes of women fighting for the same cause.
Not with-standing this, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini severely curtailed rights that women had become accustomed to under the shah. Within months of the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the 1967 Family Protection Law was repealed; female government workers were forced to observe Islamic dress code; women were barred from becoming judges; beaches and sports were sex-segregated; the legal age of marriage for girls was reduced to 9 (later raised to 13); and married women were barred from attending regular schools.
Almost immediately women protested these policies. The Islamic revolution is ideologically committed to inequality for women in inheritance and other areas of the civil code; and especially committed to segregation of the sexes. Many places, from "schoolrooms to ski slopes to public buses", are strictly segregated.
Hijab today in Iran includes the choice of a chador or roopoosh, and veil. The chador is a very modest, usually black or dark colored outfit that covers the top of a woman’s head and loosely covers her body and to her feet. The roopoosh or manteau, is a long top that sometimes looks similar to a trench coat. “The dress needs to be appropriate according to the Islamic custom of hejab (veil): women are not required to be veiled in from of mahram relatives such as husband, father, son, brother, but are required to be “modest” if they are likely to be seen by na-mahram males."  The distinction between private and public space often depends on a woman’s social class. There are places that have an obvious public distinction such as markets, offices, and streets that are public to all; but when homes are considered there is a difference. Many upper-class homes in Iran have a reception room where na-mahram guests are received and entertained. This room is usually very well decorated and women typically do not go in this room but stay in the rest of the house while a guest is over. A woman that does not have a reception room in her house would have to rush to get properly dressed before her husband would answer the door. If a woman is by herself or just in the company of other women in the home, the door would not be answered because na-mahram men and women would not have business together.
"Bad hijab" ― exposure of any part of the body other than hands and face – is subject to punishment of up to 70 lashes or 60 days imprisonment. In April 2007, the Tehran police, (which is under Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's supervision), began the most fierce crackdown on what is known as "bad hijab" in more than a decade. In the capital Tehran thousands of Iranian women were cautioned over their poor Islamic dress and several hundred arrested.
The early 1990s brought a marked increase in the number of women employed in Iran. Dramatic changes in the labor force might not have been possible if Khomeini had not broken the barriers to women entering into the public sphere unchaperoned. Women were also more likely to pursue higher education, a product of the free education and the literacy campaigns. Today, more women than men are pursuing higher education in Iran even though the Islamic Republic tries to limit women to domains exclusive to women. For example, the government has set quotas for female pediatricians and gynecologists and has made it difficult for women to become civil engineers.
In May 1997, the overwhelming majority of women voted for Mohammad Khatami, a reformist cleric who promised more political freedom. His election brought a period during which women became increasingly bold in expressing ideas, demands, and criticisms. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights and women's right activist, further emboldened women's rights activists inside Iran and cemented their relationships with Iranian feminists abroad.
During the Sixth Parliament, some of Iran's strongest advocates of women's rights emerged. Almost all of the 11 female lawmakers of the (at the time) 270-seat Majlis tried to change some of Iran's more conservative laws. However, during the elections for the Seventh Majlis, the all-male Council of Guardians banned the 11 women from running for office, and only conservative females were allowed to run. The Seventh Majlis reversed many of the laws passed by the reformist Sixth Majlis.
In 1997, it became legal to sign a new kind of prenuptial document in Iran, with the object of giving them more rights than regular marital contracts. Under the terms of this prenuptial contract, the groom forfeited rights to polygamy and unconditional divorce, and the bride acquired rights to initiate divorce, divide assets, claim joint custody of children, and receive child support. As most men would not sign such contracts, the possibility of signing had little practical effect. A small number of family courts have returned, and divorce is referred to these courts. Women can function as judges but do not have the title. Mahriyeh ("bridal treasures", a stipulated sum that a groom agrees to give or owe to his bride) is indexed and linked to inflation. Women have more legal options for initiating divorce than they had in the past.
In 2008, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration introduced a "family support bill" in the parliament that would have allowed men to marry a second wife without his first wife's permission, and put a tax on Mariyeh – which is seen by many women "as a financial safety net in the event a husband leaves the marriage and is not forced to pay alimony."  In September 2008, however, the bill for the tax was returned by Iran's judiciary to the legislative council with complaints about the polygamy and tax articles, and these were removed from the bill.
During the Ahmadinejad administration, the use of Siqeh, or temporary marriages (that can last from 30 minutes to a lifetime), was used, especially in response to the financial demands of prenuptial agreements. The temporary marriages, enacted by fatwa in 1983 under Khomeini, are heavily criticized as a form of legalized prostitution.
Divorce law in the Islamic republic of Iran was initially based upon the general rule in Shari'a law that gives men the sole right to end a marriage at any time. This is based on Article 1133 of the previous Civil Code (1928) that states: A man can divorce his wife whenever he wishes to do so.
This law in the Iranian constitution was modified in 1967 by the Family Protection Act which granted women more rights regarding divorce and established procedures that were mandatory regarding divorce. This also served as an amendment that made all private divorces illegal."
More divorce rights were given to women including the right to apply for a divorce under specific conditions, Article 1130 of the Civil Code which gave the court more power to grant a judicial divorce requested by a woman as well as specific circumstances in which the wife can attain power of attorney and expedite the divorce process.
The writer and activist Bibi Khatoon Astarabadi founded the first school for Persian girls in 1907. In this school, Iranian women could study a variety of subjects, including history, geography, law, calculus, religion, and cooking.
Iranian women rights activists determined that education was a key for Iranian women and society. They argued that giving women education was best for Iran, in that the mothers would raise better sons for their country.
As of 2006, women account for well over half of the university students in Iran and 70% of Iran's science and engineering students. Such education and social trends are increasingly viewed with alarm by the Iranian conservatives groups. A report by the Research Center of the Majlis (controlled by conservatives) warned that the large female enrollment could cause "social disparity and economic and cultural imbalances between men and women."
Many Iranian women have been influential in the sciences, such as Jaleh Amouzgar, Eliz Sanasarian, Janet Afary, and Alenush Terian. Maryam Mirzakhani won gold medals in the 1994 and 1995 International Mathematical Olympiads, and in 2014 her work on dynamics made her the first woman in the world to win the Fields medal, which is widely considered to be the most prestigious award in mathematics.
In 2001, Allameh Tabatabaii University, Tarbiat Modares University, and Azzahra University initiated a Women's Studies academic field at the Master of Arts level, and shortly thereafter Tehran University organized a similar program.
Today, Iranian schools offer sport for Iranian students, including girls. National Iranian women's teams take part in football (soccer), taekwondo, chess, and track and field events. Despite restrictions, Iran has many female athletes who have won medals in international competitions. In 2004, Zahra Asgardoun won a silver medal in the sanshou (sparring) competitions of the Asian women's wushu (martial arts) event. In December 2005, Iran won the Asian women's canoe polo crown.
On May 30, 2005, Farkhondeh Sadegh, a graphic designer, and Laleh Keshavarz, a dentist, became the first Muslim women to make a successful ascent of Mount Everest. In 2006, Iranian wushu athletes won five medals in the Third Grand International Wushu Festival in Warsaw, Poland. Iranian women's national team athlete, Elham Sadeqi, won three golds in taolu (wushu forms) events. Iran's top race car driver is Laleh Seddigh, who is skilled in both circuit and rally driving. However, in December 2007 it was reported that Seddigh, known as the "Schumacher of the East", was banned from racing for one year for allegedly tampering with her car's engine. "I did not commit any irregularities," said Seddigh, "They simply want to exclude me from racing because I'm a woman."
Acts of protest against sex segregation of women includes an event of the 1997 so-called "Football revolution" when an estimated 5000 women defied the ban on entering football stadiums and stormed the gates to join 120,000 men in celebration of Iran's national football team which had returned to the country from qualifying for the World Cup.
Female Iranian athletes are all but prevented from participation in the Olympic Games. In December 2007 the vice president of the Iranian Olympic Committee, Abdolreza Savar, issued a memorandum to all sporting federations about the "proper behavior of male and female athletes" and that "severe punishment will be meted out to those who do not follow Islamic rules during sporting competitions" both local and abroad. Men are not allowed to train or coach women. Iran's female volleyball team was once considered the best in Asia, but due to the lack of female coaches it has been prevented from international competition.
Iranian women are allowed to compete in sports that require removal of the hijab, but only in arenas that are all female. They are banned from public events if spectators include unrelated men. Thus, of the 53 Iranian athletes in the Beijing Olympics, there were only three women: Sara Khoshjamal Fekri (taekwondo), Najmeh Abtin (shooting) and Homa Hosseini (rowing).
Women may not wear Lycra as it is too form-fitting; when Homa Hosseini competes in rowing she must wear her hijab secured by a hat, a long-sleeved baggy top and tracksuit bottoms. If women do not conform to the dress code rules, they face severe punishment and a ban on participation in any future national or international competitions.
In 2000, Atousa Pourkashian became a world chess champion.
In the 20th century, female social activists, health workers, and non-governmental organizations promoted the health of women by stressing the importance of regular check-ups such as the Pap smear, mammography, and blood tests. Vitamin D and calcium supplementation and hormone replacement therapy were emphasized with the goal of preventing osteoporosis.
In 2005, the Iranian parliament approved abortions carried out before four months gestation if a woman's life was at risk or if the fetus was malformed. With technical support from the United Nations Population Fund, the government undertook literacy and family planning initiatives. The fund's specific contributions to the Literacy Movement Organization of Iran included training more than 7,000 teachers, developing a nine-episode television series on women's health issues (including family planning), and procuring computers and other equipment.
Women's rights movement in Iran
The Iranian women's movement involves the movement for women's rights and women's equality in Iran. The movement first emerged some time after the Iranian Constitutional Revolution. The first journal published by a woman in Iran was Danesh, started in 1910. The movement lasted until 1933 in which the last women’s association was dissolved by the Reza Shah’s government. It heightened again after the Iranian Revolution (1979).
Iran’s civil law system can be seen as very gender distinct, with numerous laws pertaining to favor men over women and usually never vice-versa. Iran follows strict Islamic laws, which is seen as very different. One of the civil laws that are recognized in Iran is the age of puberty. In Iran, children that reach the age of puberty also gain penal responsibility. Which means that once a child has surpassed the age of puberty, he or she is legally tried as an adult. This can be seen as disadvantageous towards women, as female children reach puberty around the age of ten and boys around the age of fourteen. This means that girls as young as the age of ten can be prosecuted as a criminal. This puts Iranian children in a cruel spot as punishments can vary from prison sentences to lashes and rarely, it can lead to the death penalty. 
Laws in Iran forces gender equality to be practically non-existent. Numerous women continue to face mistreatment, especially by the law enforcement officers. A good example would be the mass amount of violence that occurred towards women, during the 2009 Iranian presidential election, where many women were arrested for voting for Mir-Hossein Mousavi. One anonymous woman recollected what happened in the prison, and she said that one of the prison guards said, “I will do something you will never forget. I'll make it so you never want to leave your house again, so any time you hear my name, you will tremble." In the end, these women’s votes were never counted. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the election by a landslide and as a result, massive protests against this election occurred, saying that the election was a fraud, however, Ahmadinejad took office regardless. 
Soon after the 2009 elections, authorities of Iran censored many of the Internet applications, including Facebook due to high amount of outside influence. However, many Iranian resorted to the use of blogs to spread awareness. Shirin Ebadi used blogging for the purpose of defending human rights, especially towards women and children’s rights. She is highly criticized for disagreeing with Islam; however, she has won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her effectively starting human’s rights movement regarding Iran. Today, many Iranians use blogging for entertainment, sharing stories, and even to start a movement.
"My Stealthy Freedom Campaign"
Although, women’s rights in Iran are still very much patriarchal, both women and men are challenging it. With the help from social media applications, women and men are starting online social movements to change the patriarchal ways of Iran. A Journalist Masih Alinejad, used the hastage #MyStealthyFreedom, to encourage her fellow Iranians to take off the hijab. Iran follows strict Islamic law, which forces women to wear a hijab at all times. The purpose Alinejad’s movement was to spread awareness of choosing the right to freely express one’s bodies. Her Facebook page My Stealthy Freedom regarding this movement reached over a million followers. Even though major social media apps are forbidden in Iran, many Iranians still use alternative applications to spread awareness and personal ordeals. 
"One Million Signatures campaign"
On August 27, 2006, a new women's rights campaign was launched in Iran. The "One Million Signatures" campaign aims to end legal discrimination against women in Iranian laws by collecting a million signatures. Examples of such laws include one that gives lower value to legal testimony by women than to legal testimony by men, and one that limits punitive damages in cases of the wrongful injury or death of a woman to half of that of a man. The supporters of this campaign include many Iranian women's rights activists inside Iran and also international activists including many Nobel Peace Prize laureates. However, according to California State University professor Nayereh Tohidi, women collecting signatures were attacked and arrested, which has slowed the campaign and caused it to extend its two year target.
After the victory with the marriage bill in September 2008, a court sentenced four of the women leaders, all involved in the One Million Signatures campaign, to jail for contributing to banned websites. They were identified as Mariam Hossein-khah, Nahid Keshavarz, Jelveh Javaheri and Parvin Ardalan.
In 1992, Shahla Sherkat founded Zanan magazine (Women magazine), which focused on the concerns of Iranian women and tested the political waters with its edgy coverage of reform politics, domestic abuse, and sex. Zanan is the most important Iranian women's journal published after the Iranian revolution. Zanan criticized the Islamic legal code. Article topics covered controversial issues from domestic abuse to plastic surgery. It argued that gender equality was Islamic and that religious literature had been misread and misappropriated by misogynists. Mehangiz Kar, Shahla Lahiji, and Shahla Sherkat, the editor of Zanan, led the debate on women's rights and demanded reforms. The leadership did not respond but, for the first time since the revolution, it could not silence the movement. However, at the end of January 2008 the Iranian regime closed the magazine down as a “threat to the psychological security of the society” claiming it showed women in a “black light.” It had been the only Persian women's magazine.
International influence and the women's movement
The Persian cultural sphere
Women of modern Iran have close contacts with the women from the Iranian cultural sphere, that is, Persian-speaking countries, primarily Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and the Kurdish areas of Iraq and Central Asia. Many women's rights activists, artists, and literary figures in the region cross borders to assist each other. For example, Iranian journalist Jila Bani Yaghoub and filmmaker Samira Makhmalbaf have contributed to the culture of Afghanistan. Iranian intellectual Farah Karimi wrote a book entitled "Slagveld Afghanistan" that criticizes Dutch military policies in Afghanistan, and in 2006, she was appointed as the representative of the United Nations in Afghanistan affairs. In 2003, Sima Bina, the voice of Khorasan (a region of northeastern Iran), performed secular threnodies at the Théâtre du Soleil for the benefit of the "Afghanistan: one child one book" project created by the organization Open Asia. Moreover in 2004, the World Bank funded a "network of Persian women" for promoting the welfare of women in Persian-speaking lands.
- Afghanistan: Influential figures include:
Tajik women founded more than 100 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in recent decades to defend their rights and improve their quality of life. Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi acted as a role model for a new generation of Tajik women. Many Tajik businesswomen have economic ties with Iran. In 2005, a conference on poverty among women was organized in Iran, and a group of Tajik journalists, activists, university lecturers, and athletes were invited to Iran to exchange experiences.
In 2006 Anousheh Ansari, a woman whose family fled the country after the 1979 revolution was the first Iranian woman in space. The feat, undertaken in Kazakhstan, was reportedly an inspiration to many Iranian women.
Relationship with western feminism
Some suggest that only by accepting help from western feminists, whose progress has been recognized within western society, can the Iranian Women’s Movement be recognized. This perspective suggests that western feminism can offer freedom and opportunity to Iranian women that their own religious society cannot. In addition, advocates of this view argue that no matter what the Iranian Women’s Movement is able to achieve within Iranian society, the status of individual women within this society will always be less than what has been achieved by western feminists.
By contrast, others suggest that parochial movements of women will never be successful, and that until a global sisterhood made up of women from all nations and religions has been established, feminism has not truly arrived.
There is yet a third perspective suggesting that a global women’s movement will inevitably ignore and undermine the unique elements of indigenous Iranian feminism which have arisen as a result of their history and religion.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Women of Iran.|
- Despite Odds, Women's Movement Persists In Iran, National Public Radio, February 2009
- Starting at Home, Iran’s Women Fight for Rights , The New York Times, February 2009
- Portrayal of Women in Iranian Cinema: An historical overview by Shahla Lahiji
- One Million Signatures Campaign (we-change.org)
- The Iranian Camila Batmanghelidjh has won the UK's Women of the Year 2006 award. (BBC)
- Iran's Women's Rights Movement and the One Million Signatures Campaign
- The Iranian Women’s Movement: A Century Long Struggle
- Women Mayors in Iran
Websites and forums:
- Women's Field
- Zan (Persian)
- Iran-Dokht (Persian)
- Iran Women's Study Foundation
- Iran Women's Resources
- Iranian Feminist Tribune (Persian)
- Focus of Iranian Women (Persian)
- Islamic Republic of Iran Center for Affairs of Women's Participation