History of the Middle East
1 April 2013
Woman of Modern Iran
The Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 created a lasting affect on the societal role of women through modern day Iran. Women in Iran before the revolution were not entirely treated equal to men, but despite some cultural perceptions of women being inferior to men, they had made progress to become socially equal under the Shah. Several misconceptions and theories have been published and studied to show the inequality of women versus men because of Islam. However, contrasting theories have also been made to show that inequality has little to do with the religion, but instead with the forceful nature upon which it was implemented in the revolution. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the Islamic and political history of Iran and its social implications over Iranian women.
To understand the changing role of women starting during the Islamic Revolution, it is important to briefly review the lives of Iranian women and the role of Islam during the final years of the secular regime of the Shah. Mohammad Reza Shah was disliked by the majority of Iranian population, but his secular and prominent Western attitude allowed for some reforms of women’s rights in Iran. For example, in 1963 he created a reform program which would eventually be known as the “White Revolution,” which included suffrage for women (Beck and Nashat 114). This decision led to a violent reaction, especially from strong Islamic leaders such as Ayatollah Khomeini, whom would eventually play a pivotal role in the revolution and women’s rights. Although the Shah allowed for women’s reform, he was popularly known as a dictator and appeared to be in complete favor of maintaining a traditional patriarchal society. During the 1960s, during the rule of the Shah, The Women’s Organization of Iran was established to connect women of different socio and economic backgrounds and to initiate the first women’s movement in Iran. “Members agreed from the outset that neither Western models nor traditional Iranian concepts about the proper role of women offered a satisfactory conceptual framework for the Iranian women’s movement” (Beck and Nashat 116). While this organization sought to fight for social change on a national level, between the ten years of 1975-85, the WOI initiated proposals to send to the United Nations asking for improvement in the rights of women in all social sectors (Beck and Nashat 124). This organization would maintain a strong role as a feminist movement throughout the revolution and the years to follow. However, their progress, along with the social progress of the average Iranian woman, would be stipend and retracted during the early years of the revolution. The Islamic Revolution was more than just a religious movement to the Iranian people—it would drastically change the social and political atmosphere of the entire country. As the Shah’s policies and dictator-like leadership became increasingly intolerable to the people of Iran, the majority of the population sought a new ruler, a new government, a complete reform. Ayatollah Khomeini offered change and stability, and a government that would no longer be in a sense, economically and socially controlled by Western powers. The need for change was so great that perhaps the entirety of Khomeini’s supportive population was not fully aware of his plan to adopt a complete Islamic government or an implementation of Shari’a law to govern the people. Nonetheless, Khomeini and his party were the strongest oppositional party against the Shah and he succeeded in ruling the new state of Iran. With Khomeini in power by 1979, radical changes would be made in most aspects of Iranian life. Khomeini created an Islamic Constitution, and designated himself as Supreme Leader. In A History of Modern Iran by Ervand Abrahamian, he explains parts of the doctrine: “The preamble affirmed faith in God, Divine Justice, the...