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How Women Truly Live in Iran

The issue of the rights of women has over the years become a large one, both nationally and internationally. On the international scale more particularly, women face discriminatory laws everyday, which try to oppress and control them. This is especially the case in parts of the Middle East. In Iran, a revolution twenty-one years ago completely turned the nation around. It went from a very “western-influenced” country to an Islamic fundamentalist state. The Iranian Revolution, in the name of the Koran and Islam, had enormous effects on the treatment and lives of women in Iran.

The religion of Islam is a monotheistic one that is based on the teachings of Muhammad, a prophet of God, or Allah. The Islamic Caliphate, a large empire reigning in the eighth to fifteenth centuries was based on a government with no separation between church and state. It is a good example of what many Islamic Fundamentalists wanted Iran to become. It is important to understand the religion of Islam, as it is a crucial component to women’s rights. Many laws against women are attempted to be justified by the words of Muhammad. The Koran itself has many verses on the subject of women.

To the reader, it seems that the main purpose of the Koran is to protect and shelter them. The Koran states that Islam recognizes men and women as equals in the eyes of Allah (“Fact from Fiction”). The Koran also says in regard to women: “Treat them with kindness; for even if you dislike them, it may well be that you dislike a thing which God has meant for your own abundant good. ” (4:19). These few words speak thousands about how important Allah must have deemed women to be. It must also be noted, however, that the Koran does remark that “men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other,” (4:34).

Sabrina Hudda, author of “Defending Muhammad,” suggests that the Koran implies that “each sex, in general, has some preferential advantage over the other, though men have a degree over women. ” Some Muslims explain that this is mentioned in the Koran because in the effort of protecting them, men are expected to uphold more responsibilities than women. Religion’s impact has caused varying levels of what many “Westerners” would consider discrimination for women over the years. During the Persian Renaissance (9th-12th centuries), women were segregated and kept in the home, the only place where it was felt that they could be of use.

The same was true under the rule of the Safavids (12th-14th centuries), except for the ironic fact that women were taken to war and used in battle. The roles of women during both these time periods must not be assumed to be solely the effect of religious values. Moreover, they should be thought of as the result of a combination of simply the time period, and the sheltering feelings toward women expressed in the Koran. Christian missionaries in the late 18th century were the first to form schools for women. Men had believed that women were not capable of learning enough to uphold a respected professional job such as a doctor.

However, as the years passed on, it seemed that previous views of women because of religious beliefs were being changed as women proved their potential. In more modern times, but before the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the Iranian government basically had achieved a secular state. In 1972, Yahya Armajani writes in the book, Iran; “Mostly because of education, and especially as a result of the conscious attempt by the government, women have been given an important share in the social, economic, and political life of the country. ” (p. 7) In the early 1970’s, women were working in highly important positions.

One must still consider though, that many men did not believe that women could be useful additions to the workforce. These feelings have never been changed. Shah Reza Khan had opened more schools for both sexes and also developed the first adult education programs in Iran. Women’s rights, for once, were an actual concern of government leaders, especially the Shah. After the devastating loss of the Six-Day War to Israel in 1963, an already growing movement rapidly had taken hold. This movement, Islamic Fundamentalism, called for a return to traditional Islamic faiths and values.

Fundamentalists believed that the Western idea of separating Church and State was corrupting the moral values of Islamic communities (Middle East, p. 198). In regards to women, Fundamentalists believed that they should be strictly protected. In 1979, unrest sweeping the nation of Iran resulted in a large revolution against the government, ruled by the Shah. The Iranian Revolution was an example of very effective Islamic Fundamentalism. Ayatollah Khomeini gained control of Iran, and in turn changed Islamic theologies into state law. The Iranians says it best: “Ayatollah Khomeini and the men around him sought to characterize Iran only by Islam.

” (Mackey, p. 335) Iranian women were very supportive of the movement. They participated in various kinds of protests and demonstrations against the then-present government. The women, who had been used to wearing western-styled clothing like jeans and t-shirts, donned the chador, a bell-shaped garment, as a sign of support for the movement and to show that women were proud to uphold their family’s honor. The shahs had previously banned the chador, as it was a sign of “backwardness” for a nation. Little did most women know that their “temporary” practice was only the beginning of a very rough road ahead.

When the Iranian Revolution was over, Ayatollah Khomeini wasted no time in changing social laws, especially concerning the dress of women. The mandate of “hijab” requires every woman, regardless of religion to wear dark clothing that covers her whole body. (Mackey, p. 335) Scarves are required to be worn covering their heads so as no strand of hair is shown. This so-called veil is a controversial issue in many Islamic nations. Most women concede to wearing the veil more because of intimidation from men than anything else. They feel that by not wearing the veil, they would be the victims of great social pressure.

In addition, nationalistic pride persuades women to want to dress differently from Westerners. They believe that by wearing the veil their “honor, dignity, chastity, purity, and integrity are protected. (Abdul-Ati) Lastly, women know that male government leaders are very unlikely to release the strict enforcement of veil wearing, simply because it is the most apparent symbol of Muslim State Law. It is the last thing they would want to surrender. (Bogert) This is easy to understand, as incredibly conservative leaders attempt to keep their values alive in a progressively liberal world.

Specifically in Iran, sexual discrimination and violence is rampant, and its effects are unimaginable. Women play an incredibly small role in government affairs. In fact, discrimination is so bad, only 6% of Iranian women are employed. Some public facilities are segregated, and some professions are literally unavailable to females. Domestic abuse is sometimes considered a husband’s right when brought to court, and often, before a virgin woman is executed, a prison guard rapes her, in an effort to make sure she is unable to go to “paradise.

” (“Prime Victims”) Her crime may have been something as simple as trying to become more politically involved. Women are even turned against each other like the girl who set her divorced mother’s bed on fire after being told by her grandmother that her mom was destroying the honor of her family by dating (Prusher). Although it is clear to see that women desperately want to be a significant part of society, they are scared to try. The most disheartening part of the plight of women in Iran is the rapidly growing rate of suicide and infanticide.

Daily, women are abandoning their children because they have no means of supporting them. In an effort to please their husbands, they have conceived so many children, thus disregarding their health and the fact that there is no way that they can take care of each and every one. Simply resisting the opinion that a woman’s purpose in life is to produce and raise more Muslims has actually condemned women to death (Schemla). The physical and mental abuse has literally pushed thousands of women over the edge. No human being deserves to live in such conditions.

It is clear to see that the hardships and obstacles women face in Iran are the results of conservative teachings, a burning desire to live Allah’s will, and a revolution that will never be forgotten. However, one must question whether this was totally Allah’s plan. In regard to some of the quotes from the Koran mentioned earlier, if men have a “degree” over women, how could Allah have possibly declared them equal? Also, if the two genders are equal, how could a follower of Islam possibly place discriminatory laws against women to the great effect that they are?

It is necessary to question if the extent to which women are discriminated against truly is necessary. The boundaries that should be in place in every society have been crossed entirely too far. After years of discrimination, it can be sure that many women must believe that they are less capable than their male counterparts. It is very hard to have faith in the fact that all interpretations of the Koran by governmental leaders are correct, since the words of the Koran so often contradict the opinions of leaders in certain ways.

If men and women are equal, how could Allah and Muhammad possibly have also wanted women’s rights to be so few, and their abuse so great? That seems to be the problem with many religious-based governments. People who believe that it must be “their way or no way” often run them. Although quite possibly not the original intent of Khomeini, leaders can twist interpretations for their purposes. It is difficult to imagine how long an established regime like this would take to be turned around. It is my hope, however, that it will be – for the sake of mothers, daughters, and granddaughters especially born into these unjust societies.

It is my belief that no God, of any religion, would have wanted a child of his to be treated as it shouldn’t be.


Abdul-Ati, Hammuda. “The Status of Women in Islam. ” Internet. 26 October 2000. Armajani, Yahya. Iran. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. 1972. Bogert, Carroll. “Pushing Back the Veil. ” Newsweek. 9 April 1995. EBSCOHost. 4 November 2000. Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. “Women, Islam, & Equality – Prime Victims. ” Internet. 11 November 2000. Goldstein, Phyllis, Stephen Wasserstein, and Reeva S. Simon. The Middle East and North Africa. New Jersey: Globe Book Company. 1993.

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