Wluml dossier 21 September 1998 dossier 21

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The Outcomes of Women’s Struggles

The obstacles towards implementing radical change in conditions for women are as much intertwined with traditionalist impediments as they are with social, cultural and legal ones. Yet during the past few years, women have successfully lobbied for the modification of certain family laws to make it more difficult for men to divorce their wives. To prevent unjustified divorces and to protect divorced women, a new law called ujrat ul-misl was recently passed which stipulates that when a man files for divorce his wife can ask to be financially rewarded by her husband in return for the housework she has carried out without her consent during the marriage. To file for divorce, couples should now refer to civil courts which have recently been authorized to hire women judicial counsellors. In January 1996, the ministry of justice appointed 200 women judicial counsellors to preserve more satisfactorily women’s rights in courts. Their appearance can be regarded as a first step toward rehabilitating women judges in the judiciary. In fact, a conference was organized in September 1996 to discuss the works of Ayatollah Muqadas-Ardibili who issued a fatwa authorizing women to become judges. Following this conference, Ayatollah Muhammad Yazdi, the head of the judiciary, declared that ‘the question of the possibility for women to reoccupy this post is under study’.88

Concomitantly, and for the first time in the Islamic Republic, a woman was appointed the vice director general of Tehran’s justice department. Likewise, a woman was appointed vice minister (of public health). Marziyyeh Siddiqi estimates that several other women will be imminently assigned to similar posts and that there will be a woman cabinet minister in the future government.89 In October 1996, the fifth Islamic Majlis approved a motion presented by women deputies to create the Special Commission of Women’s and Family’s Affairs composed of thirteen members, nine of which are women. This commission aims at reforming laws to improve the protection of women’s rights. Moreover, some newly elected women deputies, who argue that the dynamism of Islam should be reflected in the civil code, propose that women be granted equal rights to divorce and that they should obtain the exclusive guardianship of their children after divorce.90 These propositions reflect the determination of these modernist-Islamist women to respond to the demands of female constituents.
Despite traditionalist attempts to contain women’s awareness, the process which was begun to construct women’s social identity is now irreversible. Today, both secular and Islamist women reject the institutionalized inequalities and demand a dynamic and adapted reading of Islam. Although seculars do not have access to the political sphere, vocal Islamist women, increasingly backed by civil society, are determined to implement conscious change through involvement in politics. The Islamic state has thus no other choice but to accommodate the participatory aspirations of moderate and modernist women whose partaking in politics will undoubtedly implement democratic change in the political system.
They are protagonists of a change which encompasses the entire society. Under the present circumstances where political Islam has demonstrated its limits, and the gap between civil society and the state is ever widening, only the opening of religion to modernity can avoid an ultimate rupture.
Acknowledgements: This paper was originally published in the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 24, No.1, 1997, pp. 75-96, and is reprinted with the permission of the author and the publishers.
British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies

c/o Carfax Publishing Limited

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Abingdon, Oxfordshire

OX14 3UE


1 Personal interview with Faizeh Rafsanjani, Tehran. July 1996.

2 Ayatollah Khomeini’s sermon on 19 September 1979, in Sahifeh-i Nur, Vol. 9, p. 136.

3 From Khomeini’s telegram sent to the Shah on 9 October 1962, in Sahifeh-i Nur. Vol. 22, p. 29.

4 From Khomenei’s telegram sent to A. ‘Alam, the then Prime Minister on 20 October 1962, in Sahifeh-i Nur, Vol. 22, p. 30 A similar telegram, signed by nine highest ranking religions authorities was sent to ‘Alam in February-March 1963. They included Gulpayigani, Shari’atmadari, Zanjani, Tabatabai and Khomeini. See Sahifeh-i Nur, Vol. l, p. 29.

5 For the Family Protection Law, see among others, Ilehnaz Pakizegi, ‘Legal and Social Positions of Iranian Women’, in Lois Beck and Nikki Keddie (eds), Women in the Muslim World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), pp. 216-27.

6 Sahifeh-i Nur, Vol, 10, p. 234.

7 Azadeh Kian, ‘Gendered Occupation and Women’s Status in Post-Revolutionary Iran’, Middle Eastern Studies, 31 (July 1995). pp. 407-421. See also Ziba Mir-Hosseini, ‘Divorce, Veiling and Feminism in Post-Khomeini Iran’, in Haleh Afshar (ed), Women and Politics in the Third World (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 149.

8 Zhaleh Shaditalab, a professor of sociology at the Tehran University and a consultant to the Office of Women’s Affairs, interviewed by Firuzeh Sharifi, in ‘Muqi’iyyat-i zanan dar nizam-i idari-i Iran’, Zanan, I (February 1992), p. 7.

9 Personal interview with an Islamist activist who prefers to remain anonymous. Tehran. September 1994.

10 From Khomeini’s declaration issued on 12 March 1982, in Sahifeh-i Nur, Vol. 17, p. 211.

11 From Khomeini’s sermon to a group of women in Qum, on 7 March 1980, in Sahifeh-I Nur, Vol. 5, p. 177.

12 From Khomeini’s sermon to a group of women, members of the society of women of the Islamic Revolution, Shimiran, 12 July 1980, in Guzideh ha-i az Maqalat-i Payam-i Hâjar. No. l (Tehran: Jami’eh-i Zanan-i Inqilab-i Islami publications). (Autumn 1982), p. 6.

13 See, Haleh Afshar, ‘Women, Marriage and the State in Iran’, in Haleh Afshar (ed.), Women, State and Ideology: Studies from Africa and Asia (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1987), pp. 70-86.

14 See, Sayyid Mihdi Hashimi, Huquq-i Asasi-i Jumhuri-i Islami (The Constitutional Law of the Islamic Republic), (Tehran: Shahid Biheshti University, 1993) Vol. II. pp. 46, 362, 363.

15 For a discussion on the subject see Hamid Naficy, ‘Zan va masa’il-i zan dar sinimay-I Iran ba’d az inqilab’. Nimeh-i Digar, 14 (Spring 1991), pp. 123-69.

16 Personal interview with an Islamist activist, who prefers to remain anonymous. Tehran, September 1994.

17 From Marziyyeh Siddiqi’s interview, in Riyhaneh, 2 September 1996. p. 11.

18 Marziyych Dabbagh, ‘Zanan va naqsh-i anan dar majlis’ (Women and their role in the Majlis: a round table), Nida, 17-18 (Winter 1996), p. 9.

19 Ziba Mir-Hosseini, op. cit., p. 150.

20 G.Maliki, ‘Zanan dar majlis, az ibtida ta kunun’ (Women in the Majlis, from the Beginning until Now), Payam-i Zan, 51 (June 1996). pp. 30-36.

21 See, among others, Maryam Behruzi’s interview in Jumhuri-i Islami. 28 Farvardin 1361 (17 April 1982), p. 7.

22 To defend the cause of women they frequently re-interpreted Islamic laws. See, Haideh Moghissi, ‘Factionalism and Muslim Feminine Elite in Iran’, in Saeed Rahnema and Sohrab Behdad (eds), Iran After the Revolution (London: I. B. Tauris, 1996).

23 For an in-depth account of these debates, see Haleh Esfandiari. ‘The Majles and Women’s Issues in the Islamic Republic of Iran’, in Mahnaz Afkhami and Erika Friedl (eds). In the Eye of the Storm: Women in Post-Revolutionary Iran (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1994).

24 See, Ittila’at, 3 Isfand 1361 (22 February 1983), pp. 6 and 11.

25 Personal interview with Azam Taliqani. Tehran, February 1996.

26 For Azam Taliqani’s views, see, Azar Tabari and Nahid Yeganeh (eds), In the Shadow of Islam (London: Zed Press, 1982), pp. 171-200.

27 Personal interview with Azam Taliqani, February 1996. Also see, Masa’il-i Zanan (Women’s Problems), Vol. II. (Tehran: Payam-i Hâjar Publications, 1991), pp. 6-8.

28 Personal interview, February 1996.

29 Ittila’at, 13 Isfand 1368 (3 March 1990), p. 4.

30 For family planning, see, among others, Homa Hoodfar, ‘Devices and Desires, Population Policy and Gender Roles in the Islamic Republic’, Middle East Report (September-October 1994), pp, 11-17.

31 Their number is now approximately 560.

32 Personal interview with Marziyyeh Siddiqi, member of the fifth Majlis elected from Mashhad, and one of the founders of the Office of Women’s Affairs. Tehran, July 1996.

33 Technical, technological and scientific knowledge proved indispensable to the implementation of reconstruction policies. Consequently, the government began to valorize professionals, especially medical doctors, engineers, architects and economists. The shortage of specialists even led the government to send envoys to persuade the educated diaspora to return.

34 Ahmad Ashraf, ‘Theocracy and Charisma: New Men of Power in Iran’, International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, 4 (1990), pp. 128-9.

35 Iran Who’s Who, 1993 (Tehran, April 1993).

36 Salnameh-i Zan (Zan-i Ruz, February 1993), p. 82.

37 Zan-i Ruz, No. 1559, p. 9.

38 For a discussion on the Hizbullah, see Farhad Khosrokhavar, ‘Iran: de la revolution à l’islamisme hezbollah’, in Gilles Kepel (ed.), Les politiques de Dieu (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1993), pp. 71-95; and, Shahin Gerami, ‘Privatization of Women’s Role in the Islamic Republic of Iran’, in Gustavo Benavides and M. W. Daly (eds), Religion and Political Power (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1989), pp. 99-118.

39 For a detailed account, see Azadeh Kian, ‘Les enjeux des elections législatives en Iran post-islamiste’, Les Cahiers de l’Orient (forthcoming, January 1998).

40 Keyhan, Risalat and Subh, close to Ayatollah Khaminehyi, usually advocate devotion, while Ittila’at, Iran, Hamshahri, Akhbar and Bahman, who are close to the professional ruling elite, argue for the crucial significance of specialization in the period of reconstruction. The weekly Bahman, edited by Muhajirani, the Vice-President in parliamentarian and juridical affairs, was the most vocal organ of the Islamist-professional elite. It was forced by the Tehran Society of the Combatant Clergy to cease publication in April 1996 and its editor was tried.

41 Professionals are usually graduates of the higher educational institutes, and are composed of two groups: the salaried employees of the public and private sectors, and the liberal professionals. They include medical doctors, dentists, university professors, engineers, managers, technocrats, bureaucrats, and the like.

42 Personal interview, December 1992, Paris.

43 A. H. Mehryar, M. Tabibian and R. Gholipour, ‘Changing Pattern of Household Incomes, 1974-1993’, (Tehran: Institute for Research on Planning and Development, Working Paper No. 7, 1994).

44 Controversy exists among specialists as to women’s participation in the labour force. For example, Fatemeh E. Moghadam (‘Commoditization of Sexuality and Female Labor Participation in Islam: Implications for Iran’, in In the Eye of the Storm), argues that their participation is lower compared to the pre-revolutionary Iran, while Val Moghadam (‘Women’s Employment Issues in Contemporary Iran: Problems and Prospects in the 1990s’, Iranian Studies, 28 (1995), pp. 175-200), maintains that official statistics show a higher participation.

45 ‘Natayei-i tafsili-i musharikat-i zanan dar niruy-i kar’. (‘The Participation of women in the Work Force’) Sarshumari-i umumi-i nufus va maskan, (Tehran: Markaz-i Amar-i Iran). October 1988, and September 1993.

46 See, ‘Gam ha-i dar jahat-i tabyin-i jaygah-i zan dar iran’, Salnameh-i Zan. (February 1993), p. 23.

47 From Miarziyyeh Siddiqi’s interview, in Riyhaneh (2 September 1996), p. 11.

48 Fariddeh Sarhadi, Nahid Muti’, and Furugh Ihsani, ‘Naqsh-i zanan-i rusta-i dar Tawsi’ih, zarurat-i azish guzari’, Iqtisad-i Kishavarzi va Tawsi’ih (Quarterly Journal of Agricultural Economic Studies), 2 (1994), p. 135.

49 See, Firuzeh Khal’atbari, ‘Iran: A Unique Underground Economy’, in Thierry Coville (ed.), L’économie de l’Iran islamique: entre l’Etat et le marché (Tehran: Institut Français de Recherche en Iran, 1994), pp, 113-131.

50 See, among others, ‘Ujrat ul misl tasvib shud’, SaInameh-izan (February 1993), p, 28.

51 See the speech of Hassan Aminlu in ‘Tarh-i Kumision-i vizheh-i umur-i zanan dar majlis’, (The Proposition for the Creation of Women’s Affairs Commission in the Majlis). Zan-i Ruz, 26 (February 1993), pp. l1-12.

52 Ibid., p. 54.

53 For middle class women’s aspirations, see Shahin Gerami. ‘The Role, Place, and Power of Middle Class Women in the Islamic Republic’, in Val Moghadam (ed.), Identity Politics and Women: Cultural Reassertions and Feminism in International Perspective (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994), pp. 329-48.

54 For these demands see, among others, ‘Nimayandegan-i majlis va khasteh ha-i zanan’ (The Deputies of the fifth Majlis and Women’s Demands), Payam-i Zan. 52 (June 1996), pp. 4-7.

55 Ittila’at, 15 January 1996, p. 3.

56 Ittila’at, 22 January 1996, p, 2.

57 ‘Zanan va naqsh-i anan dar majlis’ (Women and their Role in the Majlis), Round Table, Nida, 17-18 (Winter 1996), p. 12.

58 For a detailed account see, Azadeh Kian, ‘Les enjeux des élections législatives en Iran post-islamiste’, Les Cahiers de l’Orient (forthcoming, January 1998).

59 See Zanan, 29 (June 1996), p. 60.

60 Personal interview, July 1996.

61 The voting age is set at 16 under the Islamic Republic.

62 G. Maliki, op. cit., p. 34.

63 Personal interview, July 1996. Also see her interview with the Iranian press in Hamshahri, 26 June 1996, pp. 1-2; and Zan-i Ruz, 1563 (June 1996), pp. 4, 61.

64 Personal interview, July 1996.

65 Zan-i Ruz, 1559, 19 khordad 1375, p. 7.

66 Ibid, p. 6.

67 Personal interview, Tehran, July 1996.

68 For a more detailed discussion, see Azadeh Kian, ‘L’islam est-il incompatible avec la démocratie?’, Etudes (September 1995), pp. 161-7.

69 Abdulkarim Surush, ‘Farbeh tar az idioluzhi’, Kiyan, 14 (September 1993), pp. 9-11.

70 Mirza Muhammad Husayn Naïni, Tanbih ul umma va tanzih ul milla (Tehran, 3rd edn, 1955).

71 Muhammad Mujtahid-Shabistari, ‘Din va ‘aql, sukhan-i akhar’, Keyhan Farhangui (July- August 1989), p. 14.

72 Personal interview with Shahla Shirkat, Tehran, September 1994. See also the editorial of Zanan, 1 (February 1992), pp. 2-3.

73 For the alliance between secular and Islamist women, see, among others, Azadeh Kian, ‘Des femmes iraniennes contre le clergé: islamistes et laïques pour la première fois unies’. Le Monde Diplomatique, November 1996, p. 8; and Ziba Mir-Hosseini, ‘Stretching the Limits: A Feminist Reading of the Shari’a in Post-Khomeini Iran’, in Mai Yamani (ed.), Feminism and Islam: Legal and Literary Perspectives (London, Garnet, 1996), pp. 285-319.

74 Personal interview with Mahbubeh Ummi, Tehran. September 1994.

75 Personal interview with Shahla Shirkat, Tehran, September 1994.

76 For a discussion on legal issues, see, Ziba Mir-Hosseini, ‘Stretching the limits...’, pp. 306-308.

77 77. Ibid.

78 Personal interview with Shahla Shirkat, September 1994.

79 Mina Yadigar Azadi, ‘Qizavat-i Zan’, (Women’s Judgment) Zanan. Vol. I. No. 5, p. 21; and ‘Ijtihad va marja’iyyat-i zanan’, (Women’s Religious Authority), Zanan. vol. I, No. 8, p. 24.

80 Personal interviews with Mahbubeh Ummi, Tehran, September 1994, and with Ma’sumeh Ibtikar, Tehran, July 1996.

81 Personal interview with Tayyibeh Iskandah, Tehran, July 1996.

82 Personal interview, July 1996.

83 See among others, the interview of Nasiri, the editor of Subh, in Subh, 2, 60 (July 1996). pp. 57-58. Also, ‘Zan-mard, tasavi ya tafavot’ (‘Woman, Man, Equality or Difference’), in Pasdar-i slam. May 1996.

84 Personal interview, July 1996.

85 Zan-i Ruz, No. 1559, 19 khordad 1375, p. 7.

86 See, Subh, 2, 50, June 19, 1996, p. 7 and 2, 61, August-September 1996. For the special issue, see Farzaneh, No. 7 (Autumn-Winter 1996).

87 Personal interview with Shahla Shirkat, Tehran, July 1996. For the special issue, see Zanan, No. 29, June 1996.

88 Agence France Presse. 27 Octobre 1996.

89 Personal interview, July 1996.

90 See, among others, Fatimeh Ramizanzadeh, Suhayla Jiludarzadeh and Marziyyeh Siddiqi’s interview with Zan-i Ruz, No. 1577, 19 October 1996, pp. 18-19 and 60.

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