With the end of the war in 1988, which the power elite had used as a pretext to justify all shortcomings, a new age called the ‘period of reconstruction’ began. Economic, social and demographic realities forced the power elite to adopt new strategies. For example, the 1986 national census of the population--the first under the Islamic Republic--revealed a population growth of about 15 million. Thus, despite the pro-birth traditions of Islam and Iranian culture, and the traditionalist Ulama’s disapproval, the government readopted family planning and birth control from 1988 onwards.30 The values of devotion and self-denial, which dominated the previous period, began to weaken, and the population, exasperated by the eight-year war, aired economic, social, political and cultural demands. As a response, the government authorized a relative freedom of press. Thanks to Hujat ul Islam Muhammad Khatami, the liberal minded Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance (who was forced to resign in July 1992), several hundred new journals and magazines, including those for women, began to be published.31
Similarly, the scope of debates on the condition of women expanded, and conferences started to be organized on various aspects of women’s and family issues. In 1988, the High Council of Cultural Revolution, chaired by President Rafsanjani, founded the Social and Cultural Council of Women to promote women’s economic and social activity, and in 1992 the Office of Women’s Affairs, an offshoot of the presidential bureau, was created to ‘detect problems and shortcomings and to propose solutions to ameliorate women’s status and their economic, social, cultural and political role.32 The emergence of new types of female social and political activists with modern discourses and agendas was yet another outcome of the post-war era and was tightly linked to broader transformations.
New economic and social policies were implemented to reconstruct the devastated infrastructures and to reorganise the economy. Investment of foreign capital in Iran was encouraged, and specialization (takhasus) and know-how gained increasing importance.33 The growing significance of higher education and specialization is also reflected in the composition of the ruling elite, especially cabinet ministers, who are becoming increasingly better educated, though in terms of social and family origins they still belong overwhelmingly to traditional middle and lower classes. In 1988, 93% of the cabinet members had received a university education, and 42% held doctorates. Likewise, the proportion of highly educated Majlis deputies increased from 10% in the second Majlis (1983) to 47% in the third Majlis (1987).34 The biographical data of a sample of 854 cabinet ministers, Majlis deputies, governors of provinces and districts, mayors, Imams of Friday prayers, commanders of the armed forces, directors of state agencies, highranking state cadres and directors of revolutionary organizations, for instance, show that 537 (or 62%) have a college degree, while 317 (38%) have a theological education.35 Nonetheless, the proportion of highly educated deputies decreased in the fourth Majlis (1992) in which traditionalists, most of whom had received a theological education, predominated.36 The proportion of highly educated representatives increased sharply in the fifth Majlis (1996). Of the 249 elected deputies, 69% are university graduates: this figure is made up of 35 PhDs, 42 MAs, and 94 BAs. From the remaining, 22 have a high-school diploma or are university students, 4 have less than a high-school diploma and 52 (or 21%) have theological education.37 The mounting importance of specialists in post-war Iran and the consolidation of their positions also meant the gradual thrusting aside of Hizbullah elements for whom devotion to the Islamic system (nizam) and to the leadership of a jurisconsult is more important than specialization.38 Thus, if the professional credentials of the political elite are likely to narrow the gap between them and secular professionals--as illustrated in the support of the latter for the pro-Rafsanjani faction, called the
Representatives of the Reconstruction of Iran, during the fifth Majlis elections--it has simultaneously deepened the lack of understanding between them and the Hizbullah.39 In heated press debates, the Hizbullah have accused the professional elite of adhering to liberal and Westernoriented stands while the latter treat the former as incapable and outmoded.40
Women’s Participation in the Labour Force
In addition to the increasing importance of the Islamic professionals, the implementation of reconstruction policies also resulted in the return of secular women professionals who had been dismissed from their posts during the revolutionary period. Indeed, it was to recover the great shortage of professionals that the power elite was forced to concede to their skills. 41Firuzeh Khal’atbari, a well-known economist at the Central Bank of Iran, said that ‘many educated women, who had been “purified”, seized the opportunity to regain their posts, while many others joined the professional activity for financial reasons’.42 Indeed, the economic crisis of the post-war era has led to the decline in the real income of urban households, the majority of which relied on a single source of income.43 Women, whose financial contribution proved essential, were thus compelled to participate in the labour force. As a result, the representation of women in the economic arena began to expand.44
As to the break down of women’s participation in the labour force, I argue that it increased
the revolution and the war, the proportion of active women to the total female population had dropped sharply from 10.8% in 1976-77 to 6.1%, it increased to 8.7% in 1991.45 According to one estimate, women’s participation in the labour force has tripled since 1986 to attain 18% in 1993.46 Nonetheless, highly educated women are still one of the few categories of women to have been reintegrated into the formal economy. The 1991 census data demonstrate that the highest participation of women in the labour force (11 %) belongs to the educated women in the age group 24-49, residing in urban areas.
Likewise, Marziyyeh Siddiqi affirms that the highly educated constitute the bulk of active women.47 It should be noted that women’s employment rate as reflected in official statistics is quite questionable: the data reflect legal participation of women in the labour force mainly in urban areas. Rural women, the majority of whom work in family enterprises, are categorized either as unpaid domestic workers or housewives. Thus, according to official statistics, the proportion of active rural women to the rural female population of ten years and above is 3.4%.48 Moreover, the labour participation in the underground economy, which overwhelmingly employs less-educated women and has seen a remarkable increase of activity as a result of economic crisis, is not reflected in the statistics.49