Women and the 1979 Revolution: Refusing Religion-Defined Womanhood

It was not the appeal of religious belief but the secular forces’ misperception of the true character of the Islamists’ agenda and their remarkable manipulative talents as well as their ability to use extraordinary violence against the opposition that led to their final triumph. The establishment of a religious autocracy was not inevitable in post-1979 Iran. It was the process that made Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini the unchallengeable, sacrosanct leader of the revolution leading to the formation of an absolutist clerical state. The progressive and the nationalist liberal forces bear a large share of responsibility for not forcefully resisting the Islamists’ offensive when they could have, which was possible as demonstrated, for example, by the regime’s retreat in the face of women’s mass anti-veil protests in March 1979.
Women not only have kept the issues of women’s rights firmly at the heart of Iranian politics, but they also have grabbed every small opportunity to challenge the  institutions and practices built on perceptions about God-given differences between  women’s and men’s capabilities. More important, they have introduced a new dynamism into the country’s secular political domain, specifically to leftist and nationalist political culture. 
Through building coalitions and organizing a collaborative and well-organized, though quiet, counteroffensive against the state’s gendered policies and practices, they have provided a remarkable example to other sections of the opposition showing that it is possible to work together on specific, urgent issues without demanding agreement or sameness on every minute detail of a political project.
This is especially timely and effective because the Islamists’ moral crusades have run out of steam as a significant part of the people, particularly the young, increasingly expresses its disapproval through any means possible, keeping alive the fight for the dreams and promises of the 1979 revolution. 
Women, through their continued struggle for justice in the face of Islamic injustice, are a major part of this opposition. The fate of their struggle is irrevocably linked to future international and internal political developments, as well as to the struggle for democracy and increasing demands for change from a regime that refuses to change itself.

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