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.
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