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Women Studies Final Paper


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This research paper includes scholars analysis of gender inequality in Iran. The sacred text of the Koran and the Islamic religion are contributing factors to patriarchal structures. Iranian women have protested through demonstrations and demanded reforms to traditional laws.

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Women Studies Final Paper

  1. 1. 1 Dehumanization of women and male hegemony remain a social problem for Iranian women. In general, women have endured a long history of discrimination and abuse but Iranian women remain excluded from political affairs. Islamic Traditionalist and Fundamentalist continue to uphold past male centered ideologies to assert their control. Although women continue to face harsh treatment, strong feminist advocates have risen to enlighten the public on women’s issues and have turned to powerful sources such as the media for assistance in their project in making the subjugation of Iranian women a global issue. They have not only faced discrimination but have received criticism from non-Islamic institutions and radical feminist on the issue of the “hijab.” Non-Islamic institutions and modernist see the veil as a form of female oppression and a reminder of an autocratic regime. In performing this research, I was intrigued in investigating the importance of the hijab to Muslim women and men. It is important to look at history to grasp a better understanding of continuing social problems and to enlighten oneself on issues. Before forming an assumption, it is absolutely essential to have performed research on the topic. The struggle of women’s rights has been one of the main sources of conflict between modernist and conservative traditionalist in Iranian politics and society. The Reformist Movement of 1997 was a conflict between the absolutist autocratic form of Islam and the second is a tolerant Islam that promotes human rights and women’s rights. For Islamic fundamentalist, Women’s liberation and equality is considered dangerous, indication of treason, and collusion with treason. In the Reform Movement of the 1990’s, modernist approached a liberal view on Islam and seeks to accommodate Islam into modern world. . Islam has been attributed as the source that ignited discrimination towards women and as a promotion for the ideology of male superiority. This perception does not provide a concrete reason why women are perceived as inferior to religious fundamentalist. Women’s struggle with equality and roles in societies has been central topics of discussion for religious and political discourses in the Muslim World. ( Hosseini 30)
  2. 2. 2 Women’s participation in politics and society goes against the Islamic faith. In response to their exclusion of politics and regulations enforced, women have formed organizations and have protested against the compulsory ruling of the hijab. For their brave stance against the repressive forces, they face imprisonment, rape, and murder. Although women have become more powerful in the Muslim community, religious fundamentalist and clerics hold on to past mental conceptions on women’s role. Muslim women are embraced to follow the example of purity and self sexual restraint. She is urged to spend her life in worship and her primary obligations are to remain loyal wife and dedicated mother. Islamic fundamentalist urge followers to ignore non-Islamic institutions.. Traditionalist and fundamentalist fail to address the changing perceptions of gender roles and refuse to amend traditional ideologies. ( Farideh 320) Traditionalist and religious fundamentalist seek to undermine the role of women in society to advance Picture from Wikimedia.ORg their power in the community. Sacred text of the Koran has been invoked as the final source of authority and stand for legitimacy for ideologies on women’s rights and, gender roles and relations. .Religious clerics select sacred text from the Koran and hadith as evidence that women are considered inferior. Koran urges men to manage household affairs and encourage women to remain obedient to their husbands. The Koran verse 38 declares that men are the managers of the affairs of women and women’s obligations include remaining obedient to their husband’s will. Polygamy is encouraged in the Koran. In reference to the author of the book titled Islam and Gender by Masoud , she mentions that in the Koran there is no limit to the number of wives a man can have. Prophet Mohammed had more than 13 wives, and at least 3 concubines. Masoud argues that before the rise of Islam, women asserted their independence by fighting in battle, women held the right to divorce their husbands. (Kazemzadeh 85)
  3. 3. 3 Conservatives(fundamentalist) advocated a close adherence to Islamic laws and traditions. They enforced strict codes of dress and dictated how women should behave in public, limited women’s employment Picture from opportunities and access to public education. During Ayatollah Khomeini’s rule 1979- News 1989 , conservatives became dominant in Iranian politics. They projected a theocratic El vision and called themselves the “followers of Khomeni’s line. Fundamentalism enforces protection of the patriarchal structure and opposition of male authority is perceived as treason. (Gerami & Lehnerer 557) According to scholars Marshall and Zuhur, Islamic fundamentalist leaders focus on maintaining gender segregation. Fundamentalist believe in compulsory veiling for all women, women’s return to the home, and restrict women’s presence in public . Women’s participation in public is seen as a violation against Islamic order. ( Tabari 25) Traditional Islam opposes any form of modernization which is considered an Picture from attempt to abolish traditions. Religious intellectuals insist on the biological difference www.sullivan- between men and women and offer history as evidence for the inequality. The rules introduced into Islamic law favor male polygamy, control, and enforce monogamy for women. Under traditionalist point of view, it is men who must provide a say in rulings for the day. Men are used for judgment and reasoning. Women’s inherent nature to deliberate compassion is perceived as weakness. . (Ashraf& Banuazizi 239) In reference to Elaheh Povey, she includes a feminist remark on the evolution of patriarchy. , “women’s perception of themselves and men’s perception of women have created the historical system of patriarchy.” Women felt an obligation to follow the traditional norms they grew up with. Patriarchal norms and traditions, and gender constructions are a factors as well as women’s pledge to their religion.
  4. 4. 4 Middle class women supported the Islamic state. Scholar Elaheh Rostami Povey argues that the loyalty of middle class women to the autocratic state served as a factor in undermining the women’s movement in Iran. The division between Muslim feminist and secular feminist who remained loyal to the Islamic state . Muslim feminist looked for an interpretation of Islamic laws. Muslim feminist argue that the real issue of gender equality is gender consciousness spread among men and women. ( Povey 46) Islam mentions two defects of women, their love for luxury and display and their lack of reasoning which henceforth means that they are incapable of making decisions. According to traditional followers, men are the decision makers and women’s mercy and compassion is an impediment for invoking punishment to wrongdoers. Islamitist believe that the guilty must be punished and there should be no compassion for their crime. It is women’s nature to be only intimate with one man and her moral obligation is to stay home and take care of the family. The husband is the breadwinner and has an obligation to supervise his wife. He observes the way she dresses and her appearance outside the home must be very conservative. Under Islamic dress code, a women must wear the chador and be covered from head to toe. She must not expose herself to the eyes of unrelated men. She must not be a subject for the male gaze. Women who leaves her home not sufficiently dressed or without the chador is regarded as indecent and compared to a prostitute.( Golley 526) Under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi rule from 1960-1979, there was an increase in women’s employment. Women entered fields in teaching, nursing and clerical work. Nevertheless, women joined Islamicist rally against the Shah support turned to Ayatollah Khomeini. Industrialization was not growing fast enough to provide employment for the urban poor peasants. An evident income disparity and rise of www.teachersparadi impoverished farmers caused discontent among the masses. The shah became ruthless by censoring hah.jpg newspaper articles and books. Torture and imprisonment became prevalent measure to suppress opposition towards his policies. Many female activists were imprisoned and tortured. In the late 1970’s
  5. 5. 5 Khomeini’s charisma and vocation of equality garnered support from both men and women. Khomeni was able to unify opposition against the Shah and forced him into exile. In 1979, Khomeni’s Islamic republic came into power. Khomeni turned on his female supporters by ignoring their pleas for equality and justice. He promised female mobilization to win his way into power but practiced a different position when he was in power. (Bahramitah 555) The new Islamic state followed a model of conservative religious interpretation. New Islamic ideology promoted female domesticity and emphasized women’s roles as mothers and devoted wives. Under new regime, women who held professional positions were forced to leave their jobs. It was the imposition of the veil within the workforce that led women of middle and upper class backgrounds to leave their jobs. Shari’s Law was constructed to undermine the status of women and elevate men’s position. Under the law, Women are presumed to be irrational beings worth less than men. A man under Shia Islam may have four permanent wives and unlimited temporary wives. (Kazemzadeh 31) The Khomeini period of 1979-1989 undermined the rights of women which resulted in demonstrations, political struggles, and challenged the authority of religious clerics. The new codes enforced by Khomeni threatened action towards those who opposed his policies. Khomeni’s view on women is based on the Koran’s interpretation where women are the source of disorder and the cause of seduction. He believed that the female should cover herself and affirmed that without a women’s hejab there could be no Islamic society. Women judges were barred from practice and told to look for administrative jobs in the judiciary. Although Khomeni exercised a theocratic oppressive regime, one important success from his rules the increase of literacy for women. His commitment to eradicate illiteracy brought women into local mosques as volunteers to educate illiterate women. (Tabari 21)
  6. 6. 6 Ayatollah Khomeini’s death and the end of Iran-Iraq War in 1988 marked the beginning of the Reformist Movement. Women were able to force a law which enabled women to claim wages for household work in 1992. By early 1990’s secular and Muslim feminist united to pursue their interest in contesting the institutionalized privileges of men. Director of Zan publication Rouznamen Zan publicized the position of women during the election of local councils in 1999. She addresses her moral obligation to bring awareness to the brave plight and unity of women. She includes in her article, “ Because, these women were standing for the local election, competing with men in a male dominated society and therefore my duty was to introduce them to the public.” Women actively party in their mission to reform laws in favor of women’s rights by participating in the presidential election in 2000 and the presidential election in 2001. Women were determined to change Shari’a oppressive laws and changed article 115 of the constitution which declared that women could not become president. Despite this law, in the 1997 presidential election, nine women stood as a form of protest forcing the state to confront its oppressive limitation to women. Reformist aimed at reconciling Islam with democracy and human rights which brought into discussion the construction of gender rights in shari’a law. Mohammad Khatami won the election and announced publicly that women’s aspirations should be acknowledged. Under Khatami, restrictions on women’s education on studying abroad were removed, family planning and divorce laws were amended and women were appointed as judges. (Gerami & Lehnerer 560) Image: http://www.huffingtonpost. com/2009/02/08/mohamm ad-khatami In 1998, feminist newspaper Rouzanamen Zan founded by Fazeh Hashemi waged a campaign to encourage women to stand for election competing with 368 men. Ten women competed but were rejected. The 1990’s presented women as active participants as both voters and candidates. Women candidates concentrated on the democratization of women’s issues and the creation of a civic society (Povey 49-50) Women activist in the media contributed to the cause. Reformers called for a free press, a judicial system
  7. 7. 7 that respected the rights of all citizens, and focused on limiting the power of the clergy. Women rights activist pressed for women to become judges or investigative judges which would be a reversal of the 1980’s Khomeni’s regulations on the removal of women from esteemed intellectual positions. Modifications were called for on institutions of mahr or bride pride which were beneficial for poor women. The aim was to limit men’s easy access to divorce by instituting a fee which a man has to pay to his wife if he wishes to divorce her. In 2000, there were 137 indigenous women non-governmental institutions which worked on poverty alleviation in particularly female headed households. The presidential election of 1997 and the parliamentary election of 2000 placed an end to conservative rule. There have been discussions on determining the meaning of the concept of feminism. According to Fazeh Hashemi, feminism is about defending women’s rights and fighting for the equal rights of men and women. “ Women’ movement in Iran aimed at terminating gender discrimination and creating civic society of equal opportunities for both men and women. (Povey 63) Feminist activist and reformers were threatened by conservatives. Reformers were disqualified in elections and accused of belonging to anti-revolutionary organizations and not being committed to the principles of the Islamic state. In May 2000, conservatives feared the potential massive influence the reformers had on the public and decided to close more than twenty reformist newspapers. Conservatives attacked feminist by defining feminism as female domination, unrestrained behavior and lesbianism. In March 2001, over forty members of the National Religious tendency were charged with attempt to overthrow the regime and the punishment was the death penalty.( Hosseni 48) Female candidate Vahideh Taleghani, supporter of the reformers who campaigned for gender equality argued. “Until now, women’s rights were denied in Iran and it is our role and our obligation to restore these rights.” (Povey 51) They demanded wages and forced their way into positions. The judiciary succumbed to pressure feminist activist and allowed women to become judges and lawyers. A huge demand for teachers and the idea of gender segregation paved the way for an increased demand for female labor. Women were
  8. 8. 8 encouraged to become pediatricians, gynecologist, and teachers. They became actively involved in the formation of volunteer community work in dealing with environmental problems. (Bahramitash 560 ) The veil serves as a symbol for Iranian’s women political struggle. The public debate over the Image from website veil has its roots in the policies of the ancient regime under Reza Shah, the first or.jpg Phalavi monarch who promoted unveiling. Unveiling became a part of his modernization campaign in following the European civilized advanced example. In 1936, a law was enforced that prevented women from wearing the traditional Iranian cover. In 1983, it was compulsory to wear the veil. Appearing in public without the veil was punishable of up to seventy four lashes. During the 1977-79 revolution, women wore the veil in defiance against the Shah’s regime and as a sign of devotion to their Islamic identity. The Shah’s pronouncement that women ought to wear the veil outside the home angered many women. Women poured into the streets shouting, “Freedom does not impose rules and regulations.” Women took to the streets protesting the Shah’s suspension of the Family Protection Law which made it possible for women to apply for divorce. (Tabari 19) Prophet’s great granddaughter Sukayna discarded the veil and exposed her beauty to emphasize women’s position in Arab society. The veil has been deemed as a tool for empowerment when worn with personal choice. The veil is worn by some women as a means of protection in the streets and workforce. A woman who does not wear the veil is subjected to verbal and sexual harassment. An unveiled woman is supposed to feel powerless with no means of protection. She is seen as women who are influenced by the west and its corrupt capitalistic ideology which exploits women. (Tabari 41-42) The veil is regarded as a mechanism that contains and controls female sexuality, For Iranian modernist, the veil symbolized backwardness. Some modernists see the veil as a marker of cultural difference which has caused gender segregation and leads to men performing homosexual acts. Men
  9. 9. 9 marry women without seeing their physical appearance since they are covered up from head to toe. Modernist promote unveiling to eradicate same sex practices. The hijab is recognized as a tool that shields women from the lustful gaze of men and serves as protection for women’s chastity. The purpose of the hijab is so women cannot see men and men cannot see women. Women who do not wear the hijab are not suitable partners for the Muslim men.. An unveiled woman is deemed as representing anti-shah and as a rebel to secular and Islamic discourses. (Najmabadi 151-153) According to Shahin Gerami, Iranian women have managed to maneuver the system of fundamentalism through four strategies- subversion, co-option, acqueiescence, and collaboration. Some women collaborated with the regime and others yielded to family demands and state authority. They supported state policies that were in favor of reinstituting women as domestic. These women served the Ayatollah and the revolution by volunteer work, education, and prayer. They sewed uniforms and most importantly they served as spies. They spied on opposition groups and reported on non believers. They enforced the dress code of hijab. They co-opted by embracing their role as wife and mother and referred to verses of the Koran to justify their domesticity and role in society. By conforming to the demands of fundamentalist, they were able to facilitate their admission to state run universities. (Gerami & Lehnerer 58) Women participation during the Iran-Iraq War contributed to gender consciousness and the result was large numbers of women were politicized. Women actively participated in street demonstrations, produced food communally and provided medical aid for soldiers. War widows challenged the states regulation on financial rights of wives. According to Shari’a law, when a husband/father dies, the custody rights and financial rights go to the male kin. Women demanded the right to keep their children and their husband’s salary without interference of the male kin. (Povey 37)
  10. 10. 10 Reform movement called for the participation of women and promoted changes in the legal status of women. Legal expert Kambiz Norouzi says, “The issue is not the recognition of women’s rights but women’s capabilities.. The period 1999-2001 marks the period of a growing awareness to gender consciousness and democracy movement. Iranian feminist defied court rulings, discriminatory legislation, and religious edicts by asserting their fundamental rights as citizens and placing an emphasis on Islam’s egalitarian ideas. The problems of women in Iran are a manifestation of how tradition struggles to transform itself into moden forms. Having an extensive understanding in Islamic law is the criterion by which the administration is based. The collective efforts and unity between women non-government associations, women’s media and lawyers demonstrates the strong connection between elite women and poorer women. In the 1980’s the Islamic conservatives were dominant and the suppression of women was at the heart of the state. From 1999-2002 activist reformers and modernist demanded re-interpretation and modification of the Islamic law. Women’s newspapers and magazines advocated the challenge to Islamic laws and regulations in marriage, divorce, and inheritance law. Zan newspaper took an important step towards relating women’s issues to a growing democracy movement. The magazine challenged the established view that women cannot become judges. It is an important part of Iran’s media today. Women’s newspapers and magazine discuss women’s issues over feminism and patriarchy, law, and education. Female film makers produce films which reveal to the audience the image of women as workers, mothers, lovers, politicians, etc. ( Farideh, 332-4) Iranian women have endured a history of discrimination from conservative religious clerics who refuse to amend Islamic laws. The choice of ignoring changes within the state and changes in ways of thinking is detrimental to the state. Openness to reform and new ideas will enhance the construction of laws and equality for all. Similarly to Western Christian religions, Koran evokes elements of patriarchy, which demonstrates that the Koran is not the main source of the problem. Patriarchal text such as the Koran advocate male domination in society and the strict implementation are esteemed as texts which should not be amended. It is crucial to examine the facts and history of Iranian women’s mission to
  11. 11. 11 eliminate gender in equality. This issue is a global issue which demands recognition and attention. Women around the world share similar interest whether it’s becoming a mother, professional, wife, etc. Her dreams and aspirations should not be limited. We do live in a patriarchal society but that does not mean that women cannot rise up and claim their place. Women’s roles as mothers and bearers of the nation should be recognized and esteemed. Iran has transitioned from a strict conservative regime of the 1990’s to a more modern reformed regime. Women are exercising their voice in demonstrations and demanding their place in politics. Muslim women should have a choice in wearing the veil. It should not be compulsory to the wear the veil. As women, we should not fear in revealing our sexuality and identify it as a form of beauty and a gift from God. The biological and physiological nature of women as weaker than men has categorized women as weak beings because of their lack of physical strength in comparison to a man’s. It is simply just a view of the outer appearance but what makes someone strong is a person’s inner self. Although women appear physically weaker than men, she has proved just as strong by taking part in battle, fighting for rights, and challenging those in authority. Women have endured severe punishments, and ostracization from society and deemed less reasonable and incapable of forming decisions. All those assumptions declared by patriarchal men are proved wrong. She has demonstrated her strength and her rationality by pursuing her dreams in politics and education. The adherence to sacred text and traditional ways of thinking and strict policies enforced by traditionalist has not hampered the interest of women, reformers, and feminist around the world. Although conservative will attempt to derail reformist efforts, the strong will for the woman’s cause will remain and eventually will prevail. The sky is the limit and there have been major accomplishments in the struggle.