Iranian women launched their struggle for rights in the early 20th century in an undeveloped society dominated and defined by a rigid patriarchy. Their struggle had to be waged on two fronts: Before they changed men’s view of their social position they needed to educate themselves to the possibility of seeing the world beyond the patriarchal order. The concept of an equitable society, variegated and involved in implication, could not as yet be theorized. Rather, it was contained in and defined by the process of challenging the existing structures and norms; its dialectic forced men and women, caught between the past and the future, to choose their objectives piecemeal; its battles, never ending, was to be fought one by one as the circumstance permitted. It is within this framework that women’s achievement of rights between 1906 and 1978 should be considered and the cost of the reversal forced on the Iranian women by the Islamic Republic judged.
Women’s Milestones: Post-Revolution
1979 February 11
Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers take power after the revolution.
1979 February 26
Khomeini announces that the Family Protection Law (1967) is abrogated.
The state officially launches its cultural revolution, which involves the purging of all western influences from Iranian society. The Islamization of women’s status becomes the cornerstone of this program.
1979 March 3
Khomeini announces that women cannot be judges.
1979 March 6
Khomeini announces that women are to wear hejab in the workplace.
1979 March 8
Thousands of women demonstrate in the streets of Tehran against the state’s Islamic gender policy.
The protests are violently disbanded by radical Islamic forces, calling themselves Hezbollah (party of God). Although they were ultimately unsuccessful, these protests constitute the first civil society demand on the IRI.
1979 March 29
Khomeini announces that beaches and sports events are to be gender segregated.
1979 April 1
The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is proclaimed following a referendum.
1979 April 1
The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is proclaimed following a referendum.
The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is drafted. It designates Khomeini as the supreme leader with total control over judiciary, executive and legislative branches.
Family matters become the central focus of laws on women. Article 3 of the Constitution gives women the right to free education, employment, and equality before the law. However, these rights are made contingent on the realization of women’s primary role as mothers. This is indicated by the subjugation of these rights to the criteria of “conformity with Islamic law”.
President Banisadr’s cabinet proposes a bill that amends the Special Civil Courts Act of 1979 passed by the Guardian Council. The bill stated “In cases where there is no guidance on family matters either from the Majles or the Council, a Special Civil Court will base its judgment in relation to family disputes on Khomeini’s fatwas (religious injunctions).” This amendment gives the clergy total power in interpreting the Shari’a (Islamic Law).
Farrokhrou Parsa, the former Minister of Education and an outspoken supporter of women’s rights in Iran is executed after a summary and secret trial on charges of prostitution and being a Baha’i.
Khomeini announces the “administrative revolution” which requires women to wear the hejab in all governmental offices. Later, Bani-Sadr also asks women to comply in order to fight “the western consumer culture”.
Four women are elected to the first Majles (Parliament), including Gohar-ul-Sharieh Dastgheib, Azam Taleqani (daughter of Ayatollah Taleqani), Atefeh Rajai, and Maryam Behruzi. The women were elected based upon religious and revolutionary credentials rather than professional and educational merit.
1980 September 22
The Iran-Iraq war begins.
Fereshteh Hashemi, Shahin Tabatabai and Zahra Rahnavard establish the Women’s Society of Islamic Revolution (WSIR). The organization is created to raise women’s consciousness regarding their new roles as “authentic” and “true” Muslim women in the new society of Iran.
A bill proposed to the Majles on the right of mothers to have custody of minor children (boys until age 2 and girls until 7) after divorce is rejected on the grounds that it does not comply with the Sharia. (Below this age, a mother is permitted custody of the children. After reaching this age, custody is given to the father.)
Educational institutions with the exception of universities become gender segregated.
The state legislates the Qesas (the Bill of Retributions) which among other things, assigns 74 lashes to women who fail to observe veiling rules and lowers the official value of a woman to half that of a man, including in adultery cases that involve death sentences.
Legislation is passed to grant special loans to men and women who want to get married. This fund organized by the Martyrs’ Foundation, which deals with matters related to the veterans of the Iran-Iraq War, aims at easing the costs of marriages. Siqeh (temporary marriages) becomes legal according to a fatwa decreed by Khomeini’.
Seminars are held to ensure a unified interpretation of Shari’a as civil law. Zan-e Ruz, a woman’s journal, publishes discussions that highlight the necessity of having multiple interpretations of Shari’a.
The Majles drafts a bill concerning the status of “unprotected women”. The bill is designed to provide state support for war widows and orphans to become self-sufficient. It is not enacted until 1987.
The state mobilizes underprivileged women to form a special patrol officially referred to as the “guardians of orthodox Islamic culture”. This organization is charged with the responsibility of consolidating the IRI’s gender policies through the concurrent enforcement and indoctrination of its gender policies on nonconformist women.
The Women’s Religious Studies Center, also called the Society of Al-Zahra, is opened in Qom. This is the first time the holy city of Qom allows a religious center for women. However, in all institutions of high education over 140 fields of study remain closed to women. These majors include those leading to any profession that necessitates interaction between men and women, from management to engineering.
Khomeini gives a speech about the necessity of women’s participation in the Iran-Iraq War. The Society of AI-Zahra in Qom calls for a mass mobilization of women in support of his call to defend the nation in one of the bloodiest wars of modern history.
The Women’s Social and Cultural Council is set up in order to make policy recommendations regarding women.
Iran accepts a ceasefire agreement with Iraq following negotiations in Geneva under the aegis of the UN. The devastated post war economy and infrastructure compels the state to allow more women to enter the labor market. The doubling of the population in ten years compels the state to launch a rigorous family planning program to curtail the inflated birthrate.
Shahla Sherkat establishes Zanan (Women) magazine.
Fa’ezeh Hashemi initiates Asian games for Muslim women.
The Majles passes a law allowing women to become legal consultants in the Special Family Courts and Administrative Justice Courts. However they still cannot act as judges.
Shahla Habibi and Masoumeh Ebtekar are appointed organizers of the Iranian delegation to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. They conduct the first meeting of all-women NGOs in Tehran in preparation. The Beijing Conference coordinators recognize a total of 15 newly created Iranian women’s organizations. The majority of these organizations are dissolved after the conference. At the conference, the Iranian delegation allies with the Vatican and other conservative forces, like the government of Sudan to oppose progressive items in the conference especially those related to reproduction rights and family laws.
The fifth Majles elections take place. 179 women and 2,751 men compete for 290 seats. 14 women are elected with Fa’ezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani obtaining the second highest number of votes.
The first public sports event with women athletes takes place.
Iran’s poet Simin Behbahani is nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The International human rights organization Human Rights Watch gives an award to lawyer Shirin Ebadi for her efforts on behalf of women and children’s rights in Iran. She is the founder of the Iran non-profit Children’s rights committee.
Reformist candidate, Ayatollah Mohammad Khatami wins a landslide presidential victory. Khatami’s receipt of 65 percent of the female population’s vote secures women’s position as a key constituency for the reformist camp.
A bill is passed concerning women’s part-time work. Due to their domestic duties, women can now work 6 hours and get paid for 8 hours.
Khatami selects Zahra Shoja’i as his consultant on women’s issues. The hardliner Ayatollah Mazaheri objects to Iran joining the United Nations’ Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), claiming it does not comply with the Shari’a.
For the first time since the revolution, women in great numbers enter Azadi stadium to watch and encourage the Iranian soccer team in a game with the Australian team. They break down the gates and force their entry into the stadium despite the security guards’ presence.
At 18 Samira Makhmalbaf becomes the youngest director in the world participating in the Cannes Film Festival for her film entitled The Apple.
A bill concerning women’s work hours is passed, in which, in recognition of their familial responsibilities: 1) women working full time may, with the permission of their boss, work three-quarter time and have it considered full-time; and 2) women working part-time are protected by law from losing maternity and other benefits.
In Civil Code 1082, Mehrieh, the mandatory sum paid by the groom to the bride upon marriage, is amended so that the payment reflects inflation and its real value at the time of marriage.
Civil Code 1173 passes in Majles, requiring a female legal consultant to be present in the court during child custody cases.
Two provocative amendments are proposed to the Majles:
1) The use of women’s pictures deemed as denying “their dignity granted by Islam” is strictly forbidden in publications, movies and other media. An aim of the bill is to restrict new press freedoms created after the election of Khatami. It passes.
2) Gender segregation of hospitals and health clinics is introduced. The Guardian Council rejects it on the ground that it will be too expensive to enforce.
Saïd Mohsen Saïdzadeh, a well-regarded cleric and a graduate of Qom seminary, presents an alternate interpretation of Sharia, criticizing the proposed amendments on the grounds that they are in fact against Islamic law. He is imprisoned and defrocked two months later.
For the second time Samira Makhmalbaf participates in the competition section of the Cannes Film Festival as the youngest director in the world, this time winning the Jury Prize for her second feature film entitled The Blackboard.
2000 February 18
Elections are held for the Sixth Majles, with 5,723 candidates participating. . Of these candidates, 417 are women. Iranians come to the polls in unprecedented numbers.
2000 March 1
More than 600 female medical students of the all female University of Qom protest in front of the Ministry of Health in Tehran. The protesting students claim that they are deprived of proper medical training because there are not enough female doctors to teach them. The hardliners, however, claim that the University of Qom medical school for women has served as an ideal example of an Islamic institution, since it trains female doctors and all of their patients are women.
2000 March 8
Following the election of several liberal women to the Majles, there is debate about female representatives’ proper hejab. The first gathering of women since the revolution to celebrate International Women’s Day takes place in Tehran.
2000 April 7
The Heinrich Boll Institute holds the “Iran After the Elections” Conference in Berlin within which a cohort of Iranian intellectuals and activists including Mehrangiz Kar, Shahla Lahiji, and Shahla Sherkat gather to discuss the emerging Iranian reform movement with the permission of state authorities. During the conference Kar and Lahiji condemn the slow process of the reform movement and argued that religious domination over civil law is a serious threat to women’s rights.
2000 April 8
Upon their return from the Berlin conference, all participants are arrested and charged with “acting against the internal security of the state and disparaging the holy order of the Islamic Republic.” During the trial process there was significant disparity between the treatment of secular and religious participants. The lack of support for the secular participants by their religious counterparts significantly weakens the emerging alliance amongst an ideologically heterogeneous group of women activists.
2000 April 23
The judicial branch of the government shuts down at least 12 reformist publications.
2000 May 27
Six more news publications are closed, bringing the total to 18. During their term the female deputies of the sixth Majles introduced a proposal for Iran to become a signatory of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
President Khatami is re-elected.
Official statistics reveal that women constitute over 60 percent of university students, about double the figure in 1982.
Iranian lawyer and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in defending and promoting the rights of women, children, and refugees. She is the first Iranian, and the first Muslim woman to receive this honour.
2005 June 1
A coalition of religious and secularist women activists staged a sit-in in front of the president’s office to protest the ban on women running for president.
2005 June 9
Over one hundred young women activists gathered in front of Azadi Stadium during the Iran-Bahrain soccer game as an attempt to challenge the state’s gender apartheid, and succeeded in forcing their way in to watch the second half.
2005 June 12
A coalition of women’s rights activists rally for a constitutional revision demanding a ban on polygamy, equal rights to divorce for women, joint custody of children after divorce, equal rights in marriage, an increase in the minimum legal age of marriage for girls from 9 to 18, and equal rights for women as witnesses. The rally is violently disrupted by paramilitary forces.
2005 August 6
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Tehran’s ultra-conservative mayor, wins a run-off vote in presidential elections, defeating cleric and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. While the other candidates compete for the female vote, during his presidential campaign Ahmadinejad remains silent on women’s rights.
2005 September 25
The minister of culture and Islamic guidance issues a directive limiting women’s work outside the home to daylight hours. This measure is advertised as giving women time to fulfill their familial obligations.
Restrictions on celebrating March 8, which the reformists had relaxed, were reinstated.
2006 March 8
A few small-scale meetings take place, and the women’s commission of the Mosharekat party hold a seminar to mark International Women’s Day as on a par with the official Iranian Women’s Day, held on the (lunar) birthday of Fatima, the Prophet Mphammad’s daughter. Security forces break up the meeting organized by activists in a central Tehran park, where some women, including Simin Behbahani, were beaten.
Zohreh Tabibzadeh Nouri, advisor to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is appointed head of the Iranian Center for Women and Family Affairs. Upon taking office, she declared her philosophy, saying: “I do not deny that there are gaps in the [Iranian] law when it comes to protection of women’s rights… [However,] as long as I live and remain in charge of this center, I will not let anyone sign international charters, [including CEDAW], since we can [fix] the gaps and existing problems through the Islamic faith. I see no reason to follow the unsuccessful Western model.”
2006 August 27
Secular and Muslim activists unite and launch The Campaign for One Million Signatures for the reform of family laws.
The government prepares a new Family Protection Bill (FPB) that marks further regression of women’s rights.
Police raid and close the office of the human rights group led by the Nobel Laureate, Shirin Ebadi. Officials say the centre is acting as an illegal political organization.
the Press Supervisory Board of Iran backed by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, revokes the license of Zanan, Iran’s leading women’s magazine. The founder of the journal, Shahla Sherkat, is accused of “offering a dark picture of the Islamic Republi… and compromising the psyche and the mental health” of its readers by providing “morally questionable information.”
Women unite against the ratification of the 2007 FPB and ultimately succeed, postponing the Bills ratification pending further investigation.
During the presidential campaigns all three challengers to incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad make overtures to women in the hopes of securing their votes. Zahra Rahnavard the wife of reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi breaks with tradition and campaigns for her husband, Rahnavard uses the campaign as a platform to demand greater social freedoms for Iranian women and cites the ratification of CEDAW as one of her husband’s main goals.
2009 June 12
Ahmadinejad is re-elected. The rival candidates challenge the result, alleging vote rigging. The conflict sparks a frenzy of mass protests with women playing a central role.
2009 June 20
the Basij militia gun down 26 year-old Neda Agha-Soltan. The video of her death is captured by bystanders and circulated in Iran and around the world. She becomes an instant symbol of the women’s role in the protest.