Iran’s Future Now in Women’s Hands

It’s no secret that the regime in Iran, by being Islamic in nature, is overwhelmingly patriarchal and oppressive to women. Women may have equal rights as far as voting is concerned but the equality between genders pretty much ends here since the main basis for law in Iran is based on the Islamic Sharia laws. Women are discriminated and not equal in court, in the workplace, in social welfare programs, in higher education, in marriages and divorce, in custody laws, in inheritance laws, in access to public areas, in the rights to leave the country, in clothing laws, in political leadership and in public service. Furthermore, the oppression of women is not enforced only by legal entities but by hardline fundamentalists controlled by the Basij, a paramilitary volunteer militia.

The regime in Tehran wants women to stay at home. As wives and mothers, they are respected and even revered but their presence out of the home creates many problems for the religious hardliners. They must be covered in order to not “excite” men, they cannot perform on stage with other men nor can they cheer their sports teams at arenas or in coffee shops.

Of course, the Iranian regime is not oppressive only against women but they are, by far, the largest group of oppressed people in Iran and that makes them a force to be reckoned with if and when they decide to instigate changes and enhance their rights.


The timing is (nearly) perfect

The time for Iranian women to voice their calls for equality is now for several reasons:

  • Growing awareness: Iranian women have become more aware of their inequality in the past few years than ever before through a mixture of international media, social media, word of mouth and the promises of their leaders. Tehran is notorious for blocking content that may run counter to the ideals of the regime but the regime is unable to block all the content that is exposed on the internet.
  • Young and secular: Younger Iranians are slowly and painfully moving away from the strictly religious laws and ideals that fueled the Islamic Revolution in 1979. While older Iranians might be uncomfortable but compliant to the Islamic ideals, younger Iranians are open to change just as all younger generations are. These “baby-boomers” represent a large portion of the population (60% of Iranians are under 30) and can become an unstoppable force if they decide to create a secular movement.
  • Social media campaigns: Campaigns such as MyStealthyFreedom are a great example of how campaigns to empower women are mainstreaming. By focusing on a symbol of oppression, the forced use of hijab that is meant to ensure the decency of women, MyStealthyFreedom calls on Iranian women to upload pictures of themselves without hijabs and the response is enormous. Not only have thousands of brave Iranian women shared their hijab-less pictures but hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) have supported them with their likes, shares and supportive comments. Another great example is an Instagram campaign called the ID Card Challenge which asked people to post a picture of their ID card next to an updated picture of themselves – unfortunately, the campaign has since been blocked by the regime.
  • Male support: Many younger and more emancipated men are beginning to voice their support for their spouses’ emancipation. They do so either legally by signing pre-nuptial agreements and though social media such as, once again, MyStealthyFreedom, which called on men to upload pictures of them supporting their spouses or even pictures of a couple kissing.
  • Rouhani promised: During his elections campaign, Rouhani promised more equality for women. This promise was left to linger at the bottom of the pile of all of Rouhani’s promises as he focused on signing a nuclear deal which would abolish the crippling sanctions. Now that the deal is being implemented and Rouhani’s popularity is soaring, he should be held accountable to fulfil his promises.
  • Parliamentary elections: The upcoming parliamentary elections are another reason to push for gender equality since this a chance to introduce more women into parliament. Such a move would probably be supported by Rouhani himself since women tend to be less extreme in their male hardliners. There are currently only 9 women in parliament (out of 290) and women are now gearing themselves to increase this number to 50.

All these circumstances are creating an opportunity for Iranian women to challenge the regime and to finally demand their equality. Unfortunately, they are being blocked by a predominantly male regime which wants to maintain the status quo as long as possible.


Take the fight outside the system

The regime in Tehran wants women to stay at home. As wives and mothers, they are respected and even revered but their presence out of the home creates many problems for the religious hardliners. They must be covered in order to not “excite” men, they cannot perform on stage with other men nor can they cheer their sports teams at arenas or in coffee shops.

The regime wants to retain the status quo with women as it wants to retain the status quo in all other areas of society and luckily for the regime, it has the power to do so…for now. Islamic institutions such as the Supreme Leader, the Guardian Council, the Assembly of Experts and the IRGC are all thoroughly undemocratic in nature and represent only the regime itself and are built to resist change:

  • The Guardian Council: This organization is made up of 12 men, half lawyers and half clerics, who are in charge of accepting or disqualifying political candidates in elections to parliament and the Assembly of Experts but since they are chosen by the regime (the clerics are chosen by the Supreme Leader and the lawyers are chosen by the head of the Judicial), they are usually supportive of the regime. Last week, the Guardian Council solidified its loyalty to the regime by disqualifying 99% of all reformist candidates while disqualifying only 60% of all the candidates.
  • The Assembly of Experts: This organization is a group of 99 Islamic theologians. As was noted, the candidates who want to be elected have to first be accepted by the Guardian Council and are therefore mostly hardliners to begin with. In the last round of disqualifications, Khomeini’s own grandson was disqualified as a result of his criticism of the regime. These men have the responsibility to elect, supervise and even fire the Supreme Leader but since they owe their allegiance to the regime, firing Khamenei or even criticizing his behavior is not a valid option.
  • The Supreme Leader: Ali Khamenei, Iran’s current Supreme Leader can “legally” stifle reformists and moderates like President Hassan Rouhani by simply dictating an agenda or by looking the other way. Khamenei’s power is, as his title states, Supreme and he is a revolutionary who places the ideals of the Islamic Revolution before the welfare of the Iranian people. When Khamenei felt that the negotiating teams in the nuclear deal were getting too soft, he issued his “red lines“. When he felt that Rouhani was too pro-US, he banned negotiations with the US and overtook the implementation of the nuclear deal and of the foreign office. When hardliners attacked Rouhani he allowed them to do so even though he could have shut them up with one word.
  • The Majlis (parliament): Iran’s current parliament is definitely controlled by hardliners and conservatives. The “Principlists” hold 169 seats (58%), the “Independents” (also hardliners) hold 88 seats (30%) while the “Reformists” hold only 26 seats (9%). Once again, the pre-selection of the Guardian Council ensures that the hardliners can remain in power indefinitely since anyone who is critical of the regime, in any way, is automatically disqualified.

In order for women to succeed in breaking the gender gap, they will have to fight outside of the system itself since the system is definitely against any form of change and specifically against change in the status of women. They must rely on their unity and the support of their husbands, brothers, fathers and boys.


Some ideas for Iranian women

Here are a few ideas which might help Iranian women to develop empowering campaigns:

  • Free Hijab Day: Turn the International Women’s Day on March 8th to a day where women will wear hijab only out of choice
  • Women Vote For Women: Convince Iranian women to vote for women candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections
  • Women Record & Upload: Motivate women to record and upload movies of harassment based on gender
  • Million Women March: Organize a march by women in Tehran as a platform to call for change
  • Green & Purple Week: Encourage women to wear green-purple items (or to die their hair green-purple) in show of solidarity to the Green movement and to Rouhani
  • Behind Every Brave Woman: Campaign designed to increase the support of Iranian men for the women in their lives
  • Female Heroes of Iran: Social media campaign based on Iranian women who are activists and brave enough to fight the regime

Of course, there must be millions of great ideas out there but without the unity of women, they will all be doomed to failure.

Iranian women have to choose whether to continue to play an uneven game in which the odds are stacked against them because of a harshly patriarchal regime or even the game up by standing up for equality for women and for minimizing the gender gap.


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