Women’s 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.

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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 lives.

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 economic 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 necessary.

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 prophecy 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 important 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.

Work Cited
Price, M. Article on “History of ancient Medicine in Mesopotamia and Iran”, 2001.
Milani, A. Lost Wisdom: Rethinking Persian Modernity in Iran, ed., Mage Publishers, 2004. .
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
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