Camilla Ibragimova, Brandi Jeanis, Lee Browning, Rose Sampley
Feminism in the Western world has long been a debatable topic. It has become a growing trend for women to post pictures on the internet with signs saying “I don’t need feminism because…” Their responses stretch from reasons like “I love men and value their human rights” to “I enjoy makeup and feeling pretty.” Many of these responses are due to a misunderstanding of the feminist movement which is, by definition, “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” An increasingly large portion of our society believes the feminist movement is about “burning bras” and “hating men”. This is, of course, not the case. It is simply a movement attempting to achieve equality among the sexes.
Currently in the Western world, even income is unequal among the sexes. In America, a white woman can expect to earn 78% of what a white man with the same education in the same job position will make. In Canada, the rate is 79% and in Germany it is 71%. These rates all drop for women of color, making the pay gap even wider. This is just a small glimpse into how even the Western world has not achieved equality. In other regions like the Middle East, conditions for women are only worse. In countries like Iran, feminism is a crime punishable by jail time, suffering lashes, or even a death sentence.
The stories of women suffering abuse in the Middle East are endless. Du’a Khalil Aswad was stoned to death for falling in love with a man outside of her tribe. Shawbo Ali Rauf was shot seven times by her father after he found an unfamiliar number in her phone. Fakhra Khar’s husband poured acid on her face after she left him. Tasleem Solangi was chased by dogs before being shot by her father-in-law all because of a false accusation of immorality. All of these personal cases and more happen every day with no retribution. These crimes are considered just in areas of the world like Iran. There was a time, however, before the Islamic Republic, when rights were not so broken for Iranian women.
Before the Islamic Republic, Iran was an autocratic monarchy. In 1906, a women’s movement began which encouraged schools to be built for girls (who were not allowed an education previously). Most of these schools established were burned and destroyed. By 1922 the Patriotic Women’s League was founded, which spread women’s literacy and promoted education for girls. The PWL was disbanded in 1932 when the leader Reza Pahlavi created the government-sponsored Ladies’ Center, run by his own daughter. Women were allowed to attend school with men for the first time in 1936 at the Tehran University. During this same year, Reza Pahlavi ordered all women to unveil. He was attempting to make Iran more “Western”. During this time it was illegal for a woman to be veiled. By the 1950s, however, the chador (a looser veil) began to reappear. Women wanted the right to veil for their religion if they chose to do so. By 1963, women earned the right to vote and run for parliament. Soon after, the Woman’s organization of Iran was established followed by the creation of Family Protection Laws. These laws gave women the right to ask for a divorce, raised the marriage age from 9 to 13 and then eventually to 18, as well as gave them a fighting chance in civil disputes. By 1978 women were judges, diplomats, cabinet officers, mayors, governors, and twenty-two women sat in Parliament.
Then 1979 happened. People were not happy with Reva Pahlavi (the previous Shah’s son) and his promotion of Westernization. He was over thrown and the government became the Islamic Republic. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had been banned from the country for almost a decade, was asked to return and rule by Islamic Jurists. Within days, women’s rights fell apart. On February 26th, Family Protection laws were disbanded. March 3rd, women could no longer serve as judges. March 4th, women were banned from initiating divorce proceedings. March 6th, they were no longer allowed to serve in the army. March 7th, all female government employees were required to wear their hijab in the workplace. On March 9th, they could no longer participate in sports. Past 1983, all women were ordered to wear their hijab outside of their homes. The punishment for not doing this would be 74 lashes. In the thirty years since, any budge towards fixing the inequality has been quickly taken back. The marriage age has bumped back and forth from 9 to 13 to 15, then back to 13. For each mile the equality movement has run, they have gained an inch.
The hijab laws have continued to be confusing since the Qur’an never orders women to cover their hair or shroud their entire bodies. It merely suggests that women guard their modesty by veiling their bosoms and reserving their zeenah (charms or beauty) for their husbands. This idea in the Qur’an has been interpreted in many different ways. The laws have adapted the strictest interpretations, despite the basic ideas being to just act modestly, dress modestly, and not draw too much attention to one’s self.
Women’s rights in Iran today have provided very little change. Men are still considered heads of the household, giving him power over the wife’s right to work and travel. Domestic violence is a hush-hush issue swept under the rug. Any laws put in place to promote equality are rarely enforced or followed. Women’s rights in Iran remain among the most restricted in the world. There are more Iranian women in the work force today than five years ago, but few ever advance beyond entry-level positions. Many Iranians believe women are only hired to fill government quotas. Women continue to earn significantly less than men in the same level of work with the same level of education and experience. While more women are receiving educations in Iran today, they are encouraged to follow traditionally feminine disciplines such as nursing or teaching younger children. Women are required to have higher grade point averages than men to attend the same schools. Most families promote their daughters and wives to stay at home.
The lack of Women’s rights in Iran affects them through cultural globalization, political globalization, and even economic globalization. In all three, Iran lacks the ability to globalize due to their inequality of the sexes. Culturally, it is difficult for women of other regions to feel safe coming to Iran. It also creates barriers among Iranians and the rest of the world, since Iranians struggle to respect women. This can be difficult with international jobs and opportunities. Politically, it is hard for the rest of the world to work with Iran when female world leaders can not achieve enough respect to properly communicate. Economically, the country lacks in the workforce many able-bodied women who are discouraged from working. This leaves a shortage of jobs filled and limits the maximum capacity at which the economy can function. Inequality in Iran has built a wall around them, preventing all types of globalization.
There are multiple solutions to the lack of women’s rights in Iran. The first would of course be finding an alternative to the Islamic Republic. As all countries shift forms of government in hopes of finding a better one, it is time Iran make such a shift. Another solution, is of course education. The rest of the world needs to be aware of the inequality occurring in the Middle East. On a personal level, one may help the problem by being aware why women migrate to other countries in search of education or freedom to marry who they choose. If the rest of the world can pressure countries like Iran to change their ways, we are giving voices to the women of Iran who cannot speak up. Our government can help the problem by making it easier for women in the Middle East to come to countries like America to receive an education. Ignorance of the issue would be the greatest disservice we could do.
“We need feminism because some women don’t have a voice.”