Page last updated at 11:19 GMT, Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Iran's women on the frontline

A female student takes part in the revolution of 1979

By Soodabeh Javadi
BBC Persian

During the Iranian revolution of 1979, millions of women from all walks of life took part in rallies and strikes - helping to topple the Shah's regime.

They joined the revolutionary tide for a number of reasons.

Some had their own religious and/or political demands, while others were simply supporting their husbands and brothers. Even those women from traditional or poor families who previously had no opportunity to engage in social activities were motivated to play a part.

These women, who had been mostly deprived of education and employment opportunities and were learning about politics for the first time, became politically active in mosques and other religious centres.

There, as pious women were hailed, they discovered a new identity. Their demands differed from those of their modern, urban and educated counterparts who were fighting for more liberties and equal rights.


"Women joined the revolutionary forces without any partisan or organisational affiliations," says Farideh Ghayrat, a Tehran-based lawyer and female activist, who had first-hand experiences of those days.

"Iranian men and women had the same demands: regime change thorough dethroning the Shah. They believed men and women would enjoy equal rights and liberties after the revolution. Of course, there were some women recruited by militant groups, but they were few."

Shirin Ebadi
[Women] felt their freedom and independence would be guaranteed when the country shifted to an Islamic Republic
Shirin Ebadi
Those educated and employed women who could already vote and had some of their demands met under the Family Law, simply thought that the revolution would pave the way for getting more equality and freedom.

The Family Law, passed under the Shah, made it compulsory for men who wanted a second wife to get approval by a court and get the permission of the first wife.

They failed, however, to gain rights commensurate with a modern woman's needs, says Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi.

"Women took part in the revolution beside men. They felt their freedom and independence would be guaranteed when the country shifted into an Islamic Republic. Unfortunately, they did not obtain the freedom worthy of an Iranian woman. They are still victims of discrimination, such as having their blood money worth just half of men's and needing two female witnesses in courts to equal only one male witness."

Religious regime

Giti Pourfazel, a lawyer and female activist, believes those liberty-seeking women who supported the Islamic revolution were unaware of the true nature of a religious state.

"Some women felt they would stand a better chance of achieving their demands if they could emancipate themselves from political entanglements, but it was too late when they realised that a religious regime, due to its boundaries, could hardly deal with women's issues intellectually.

"Women had already hit home some of their demands but lost them after the revolution, such as the Family Law, which was annulled immediately after the revolution. The reason was women were rallying under a religious flag, which had other priorities and ignored female rights."

But the huge turnout of women during the Iranian Revolution of 1979 encouraged many of them to engage in social activity for the very first time. Studies by sociologists in recent years show that women are becoming increasingly aware of how the law discriminates against them.

Women are also increasingly opting to study at university, and now make up 64% of all Iranian university students. And in recent years, Iranian women have made great achievements in the field of science.

The latest round of female activism, particularly the Campaign for One Million Signatures in supporting equal rights, indicates that the battle continues, 30 years after the revolution.

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