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Silencing the Women's Rights Movement in Iran

The Women's Rights Movement in Iran

The women's rights movement in Iran has a long history. At times, it has succeeded in reforming discriminatory laws and practices. During long periods, it has been brutally suppressed. This long and difficult history has led the women of Iran to create strong but flexible organizational structures that weathered the first four years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency and emerged as a threat to the regime's power leading up to and following the June 12, 2009 presidential election.

1.1 Before the Islamic Republic

The women's rights movement was born during Iran 's Constitutional Revolution at the turn of the last century. During confrontations with authority, including strikes and demonstrations, women often assisted or sheltered their male counterparts.2 While some criticized the practices of veiling, polygamy and divorce by repudiation, women's rights advocates at the time focused on support for education for girls, scientific domesticity and companionate marriage.3

In 1906, women activists held a meeting where they decided, among other things, that girls' schools would be established, and that "onerous dowries" (considered to be obstacles to funding of girls' education) should be abolished.4 A couple of months later, the Women's Freedom Society (Anjuman-i Azadi-yi Zanan) began holding meetings at which men and women discussed politics and social issues.5 After holding only a few sessions, the Women's Freedom Society barely escaped a mob attack when news of its activities reached conservative clerics in the bazaar. Students and teachers of girls' schools were harassed and attacked on the streets, and several schools were shut down within weeks of opening.6 In Isfahan, mobs attacked a girls school founded by Sediqeh Dowlatabadi-a prominent activist until her death in 1961. The authorities imprisoned the headmistress for three months and beat Dowlatabadi.7

In 1922, another prominent activist, Mohtaram Eskandari, helped found the Patriotic Women League. The League sought to spread women's literacy and help develop national industries through seminars and writings that targeted women and girl's schools. Clerics condemned the League, and the authorities arrested Eskandari and burned her house." 8

The ascent in 1925 of Reza Pahlavi to the throne of Iran and the founding of the Pahlavi dynasty ushered in a new phase for women's rights. Many demands of the women's movement became part of the Shah's drive to modernize Iran . In 1932, he disbanded the independent Patriotic Women's League in favor of the government-sponsored Ladies' Center, nominally headed by his daughter but directed by Dowlatabadi." 9 The state established secondary and vocational schools for girls, and in 1936, admitted women to the newly-established Tehran University. 10

[2] Janet Afary, The Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1906-1911 178 (1996).
[3] Janet Afary, Sexual Politics in modern Iran 126-27, 131-34 (2009). Scientific domesticity stressed the role of motherhood in education and selectively advocated for progress. Id.
[4] Afary, supra note 2, at 182.
[5] Parvin Paidar, Women and the political process in twentieth-Century Iran 67-68 (1995).
[6] Afary, supra note 2, at 185, 190. Paidar, supra note 5, at 67-70.
[7] Paidar, supra note 5, at 93.
[8] Paidar, supra note 5, at 95-96. Mansoureh Ettehadieh, The Origins and Development of the Women's Movement in Iran, 1906-41, in Women in Iran: From 1800 to the Islamic Republic 90, (Lois Beck and Guity Nashat ed., 2004).
[9] Afary, supra note 3, at 151.
[10] Ettehadieh, supra note 8, at 95.

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Sexual Violence, Gender Rights, Death Penalty, Political Killings, Executions, Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, Punishment, Personal Liberty, Arbitrary Detention, Travel Restrictions, Due Process, Right to an Attorney, Illegal Search and Seizure, Free Speech, Right to Protest, Protests, Free Association, Child Rights, Political Freedom, Equality Before the Law, Discrimination