Role in the Iranian Society
The study of status of human rights in modern Iran is a burning
issue of our time. The status of human rights in Iran is a
controversial question which has controversial and paradox
sides. Despite great changes, which occurred in social order
of this country during the recent time, human right abuses
are still presented in the contemporary Iranian society. Such
abuses of women as summary executions, tortures, disappearances
and different kinds of physical abuse, including rape and
physical punishment can still be found in Iran.
In the contemporary society attitude to social minorities,
women and other not protected layers of the society can help
to make an opinion about the country. This is also true for
the Iranian society. Changes which occur in the Iranian society
and the minds of Iranian people are also reflected in the
attitude to women of this country. At the present time there
are several controversies concerning the place of women in
the Iran. From the one side after the revolution there appeared
a change in the attitudes towards women. From the other side
with the flow of time it became more and more evident that
this change was more formal and existed rather in mental perceptions
than in reality. There is also another question of great controversy.
Social and private life and roles of women differ greatly
in Iran. All these questions raise heated debates among the
specialists and ordinary people.
I believe that despite all changes, which occurred in the
Iranian society at the present moment women are still discriminated
in this country. Despite all claims the role of women in the
Iranian society has not changed greatly with the flow of time.
Women are still treated like objects of creatures of lower
class in this country. It is necessary to recognize that some
progress is made in this sphere. Iranian revolution promised
women equal rights and new opportunities but now we can see
that these promises did not come true and women are still
discriminated in this country.
Women took active part in the Iranian revolution. One of their
claims during the revolution was claim for equal rights and
many of them participated in the hope to get these rights.
Unfortunately soon after the revolution it became evident
that claims and promises made during the revolution will not
come true right at once. Expectations of equality, which made
many women to take active part in the revolution, did not
come true. Centuries of suppression and discrimination did
not pass forever in the past. Even after the revolution women
of Iran did not get equal rights and opportunities.
Changes which occurred during the revolution were not enough
in order to change the situation for women of this country.
From the one side results of the revolution were overwhelming.
For the first time in the Iranian history women of this country
got an opportunity to take part in social life and influence
political life of their country. Women got legal right to
take part in social and political processes. Formally rights
of women have been expanded but gender discrimination did
not end. Women are still treated like citizens of the second
class. This is explained by the historical role of women in
the country. Through the centuries women of the Arabian world
did not get opportunities for self-realization. Like in many
oriental countries, women in Iran have always been regarded
only as a supplementation of men. Women did not possess personal
freedom in this country. Women could not earn money, make
any important decisions. They could not even control their
Iranian society was always marked by dogmatism and connection
to traditions. Religion also had extremely important meaning
in the process of suppression of women. Originally revolution
aimed to change that status of Iran from the underdeveloped
country to developed and modernized one. The question of attitude
to women became one which very vividly showed how much county
is influenced by dogmatism and past traditions. History of
the country very closely connected with attitude to women.
Attitude to women significantly changed during different ruling
regimes in Iran. Reza Kahn came to power in 1921 with the
help of a coup. Under his reign the country made serious steps
to modernization and economical development. He also managed
to limit foreign influence to great extend. During the World
War Two Iran joined pro-Axis alliance. This resulted in Anglo-Russian
occupation in 1941. Reza Shah Pahlave was deprived of his
position for the favour of his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.
Under his rule a number of demonstrations and protests took
place. People protested against his authoritarian rule. Mohammed
Reza Pahlavi had to live the country in January 1979 and Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini re-established an Islamic theocracy. Ayatollah
put much effort trying to return to Islamic traditions and
way of life. During this time the rights of women became limited
again. Women were forced to wear veils and cover their heads.
Ayatollah also wanted to limit the Western influence by prohibiting
Western music, movies, and any other sources of information,
which could have brought people information about non-Islamic
way of life.
Political and social rights also became suppressed during
this time. Different political parties, which did not correspond
to state ideology were prohibited. Hostile policy towards
other countries resulted in the taking the staff of the U.S.
Embassy of Tehran as hostages in November 1979. This became
the beginning of withstanding between Iranian and American
government. The U.S. answered to taking Americans citizens
as hostages with the economical boycott and deportation of
the Iranian students from the U.S. All diplomatic relations
between the two countries were broken. Iranian government
demanded the U.S. to stop any kind of interference in all
affairs of the country. “As the first anniversary of
the embassy seizure neared, Khomeini and his followers insisted
on their original conditions: guarantee by the U.S. not to
interfere in Iran's affairs, cancellation of U.S. damage claims
against Iran, release of $8 billion in frozen Iranian assets,
an apology, and the return of the assets held by the former
imperial family” (Hitchcock 67).
Changes which occur in the Iran society at the present moment
influence all spheres of life. “The fact is that the
current economic, social and political conditions of Iranian
society have called upon women to play new roles that are
essentially different from what their status in a traditional
and underdeveloped social system would warrant” (Kar,
2000). Legal system, which exists in the country at the present
moment, roots from traditional values of the country. This
way this system again repeats attitudes of to women, which
existed in the country for centuries. Despite social, political
and economical systems of the country go through important
changes attitudes to the place of women in the society changes
very slowly. Legal system which reflects the past situation
can not reflect contemporary needs of the Iranian society
and especially of Iranian women. Unfortunately, at the present
moment women are less protected than men despite state authorities
firmly proclaim the doctrine of equal opportunities for men
and women. “Laws and orders legislated or issued after
the revolution and violent application of some of these laws
against women lend credit to that view, and it is on that
basis that the Iranian political system is judged by others”
(Kar, 2000). One of the main problems for the Iranian women
at the present moment is a difference between official claims
and equity and real state of events. World community can see
great changes in the legislative system of the state. Women
of Iran get more and more rights and freedoms. Officially
there exists no discrimination in the country. From the other
side women, who face this system from inside, know that there
is still a discrimination and despite all official laws women
still do not have equal rights and freedoms in the country.
Segregation was a common practice of the Iranian society before
the revolution. Women from upper and partially middle classes
made rare exceptions. Women in the country had to wear chadors
in public places or in the presence of men who did not belong
to their families. Traditional role of women was housekeeping
and providing all kind of care necessary for men. All public
spheres belonged to men. They occupied leading social and
political positions, earned money and took care of their families.
Attempts to change this habitual household were regarded by
the members of the society as a threat to the very institution
of family. Traditional values and family attitudes reflected
the mentality of the Iranian people. This situation was also
proved by social, education and other systems of the country.
There existed separate schools for boys and girls and they
were even taught different things. From the very birth girls
were prepared to be good and obedient wives and men were prepared
to take active life position and provide women with everything
The changes in the role of women in the Iranian society derived
from the upper classes. More tolerant attitude to women was
more widespread among upper and middle classes, where women
possessed more rights and freedoms. “During the Pahlavi
era the government was the main promoter of change in traditional
attitudes toward sexual segregation. It sought to discourage
veiling of women at official functions and encouraged mixed
participation in a variety of public gatherings” (Hitchcock,
178). Such position of the government was in conflict to the
religious authorities of the country who supported sexual
segregation by any means.
Those, who believe that there is not problem with suppression
and discrimination of women believe that despite changes are
slow, they still occur. They state that it is necessary to
take into account historical prophesy of the country and centuries
of relations which existed between men and women. These relations
were historically determined and served in order to save existing
social order. At the present moment changes occur in the society
but they are very slow. Those, who believe that there is no
such problem as sexual discrimination, speak about positive
changes, which expanded rights and freedoms of Iranian women.
Historical development of the country and interaction with
other countries of the world brought importance changes to
the mentality of people. Western influence finally resulted
in the change of the role of women in the society. The Pahlavi
government supported these changes. During this time women
were encouraged to get good education and take part in the
labour process. In 1936 wearing a veil was prohibited. Since
that time wearing a veil became a sign of oppression of women.
These changes did not come easy for everybody. Big part of
the society was not satisfied with the shift of female role
in the society. Just about the revolution the country was
split into two different camps who shared different views
on the role and position of women in the society. In the Oriental
Feminine Congress which took place in 1932 in Tehran women
demanded to expand their rights and freedoms. They demanded
to give them right to vote, the right to compulsory education
of boys and girls and equal salaries for men and women. They
also demanded to cancel polygyny. These demands were not satisfied
right at once. Women got right to vote and opportunity to
have their own business only in 1963 but still at the present
moment many demands are satisfied.
Changes in the mentality of the Iranian society was also reflected
in the switch of labours, which became available for women
after the revolution. Before the revolution only several kinds
of labour were available for women. First of all wealthy women
from upper class could work in different voluntary projects,
where they could entertain themselves and bring use to their
husbands. Women of upper and middle class did not have to
work because of necessity. They did it only to entertain themselves.
Women from lower classes had to work outside home because
of necessity. They worked in order to bring additional income
to the family. Participating in the revolution women demanded
equal job opportunities. Before the revolution professional
women could not get career opportunities equal with men. They
had to agree on worse job positions and lower salaries than
men. During the revolution female professionals had great
expectations concerning equal career opportunities. Revolution
changed the status of women. They got more job opportunities.
The role of women in the society was expanded and women got
the right to get same job positions as men.
So, attitude to women in the Iranian society is a controversial
question. Heated debates which arise around this questions
only underlines its great meaning and importance. For many
developed countries the attitude to human freedoms reflects
the level of development of the country. That is why Iranian
authorities try to make everything possible in order to persuade
world publicity that rights and freedoms of women are not
limited in the country. International observers who study
legislative system of the country can see positive changes
on this field. In modern Iran women got right to vote, to
possess their own business, to occupy high social and political
positions. All these changes definitely reflect positive changes
in the society. From the other side citizens of Iran, and
especially women, who see this system from inside underline
that changes are mostly formal. This means that formally women
possess rights and freedoms declared by different laws but
in reality they can not use them. Discrimination is still
presented in the society. Despite the laws men still run Iranian
society, decide all important questions. This can be explained
by the fact that changes in the legislation are not enough
to change the situation. Changes in the mentality of people
must occur in order for women to occupy equal position in
the society. These changes do not occur so quickly.
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Milani, A. Lost Wisdom: Rethinking Persian Modernity in Iran,
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Qian, S. Records of the Grand Historian, Translated by Burton
Watson, Columbia University Press, 1993.
Hitchcock, M., The Silver Kingdom: Iran in History and Prophecy,
Hearthstone Publishing, 1994.
Kar, Mehrangiz, Second class: The legal status of Iranian
women The Iranian, April 18, 2000