Evolutionary Politics and Revolutionary Change: 1965-1978: Activities and Achievements of the Women's Organization of Iran

This article is about Iranian women's movement for their rights during the two decades before the Islamic revolution. It describes the structure and operations of the Women's Organization of Iran (WOI) as the main body leading the women's rights effort during this period. It focuses on the possibilities and limitations women encountered as they strove for their rights in Iran, where society was conservative and patriarchal, state modernist and authoritarian. Historically, the author argues, women's rights have been breached throughout the world across all cultures, ideologies, and religions. In Iran, WOI tried to define the ideological contours of the women's movement by initiating extensive dialogue and debate with women across the nation. Given the state's power and its defining role in contemporary societies of the third world, women need to enlist a modernizing state's support whenever state's engagement helps their cause.

As part of its mobilizing effort, WOI helped educate effective members of the state with regards to women's issues. On the other hand, given Iranian women's religious proclivities, it was careful to communicate with them within the bounds of national culture and local idiom. In many cases, to extend its dialogue with the grassroots, it sought and received support from the more enlightened clerics. WOI's most important legal achievements were the Family Protection Laws of 1967 and 1975 which substantially increased women's personal status rights. Its most important structural accomplishment was the launching of the National Plan of Action, in which a vast number of grassroots women participated, and which led to the establishment of structures and procedures within 12 ministries to monitor the gender impact of all governmental projects and programs. All of this, the author maintains, became possible because the women's movement in Iran was, and is, heir to nearly a century of struggle for rights waged by countless women from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Mahnaz Afkhami
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