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Guest Analyst

Iranian Women Activists: In It To Win It

In March 2007, in an unusual political act for Tehran, nearly a hundred women gathered without the Interior Ministry’s permission in front of a court building to protest the trial of five women activists who had participated in a rally in June 2006. Police and security agents beat and detained the protesters and sent 33 people to Evin Prison. Like other activists taking action against the government’s discriminatory and oppressive policies, the women were charged with threatening national security, agitating against the government and taking part in illegal actions.

The attendees of the March 2007 rally decried the oppressive policies of the Islamic government that punish women activists for speaking out about their views. Most of the detainees are the authors and original signatories of the “One Million Signatures Campaign,” which seeks to change discriminatory laws against Iranian women. This campaign hopes to break the impasse in legal reform through popular appeal to a government that claims to be the representative of the people, and give hope to women that together they can accomplish anything. No other Islamic nation in the male-dominated Middle East region has witnessed a movement solely pursued and lead by women to achieve women’s rights.

Iranian women played a central role in the reform movement of 1997-2000, the goal of which was to liberate Iranian society from the rigid lifestyle and monolithic thinking inflicted upon it by ruling clerics. Women in this movement, as opposed to the Islamic Revolution of 1979, played their role as women, not merely as part of an unshaped mass that could be manipulated by charismatic leaders.

Opposed to Islam as an ideology, as a set of canonical laws, as a critical component of identity, and as a set of myths, Iranian reformist women look at Islam as a source of spirituality and mysticism that has nothing to do with political authority, discrimination against different social groups and conflicts of civilizations. They have tried to present an alternative reading of Islam that is consistent with democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

By arresting peaceful advocates of women’s rights, the government demonstrated its intolerance for any civil action. Authorities commonly deny permission to dissident groups for any street event, and participants are routinely harassed by militia. Given the current thinking in the security-centered government of Ahmadinejad, the heavy-handedness of Khamenei against any dissidence and the threat of attack by foreign powers, especially the U.S., the government has enough motivation, and justification, to suppress and deny any alternative voices. The state media usually call dissidents mercenaries of the CIA and Western governments. Women are no exception.

Iranian women activist groups mainly consist of writers, editors, bloggers, poets, journalists, publishers and university students. As opposed to women who participated in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the new generation of activist women are careful where they put their efforts, and their hearts. Instead of the policies of “wait and hope” and “blame other reformists for defeats” adopted by most male reformists, Iranian reformist women have decided to take action against tyranny and discrimination. They know what they want and are beginning to think about how they can achieve their goals.

Majid Mohammadi is an International Policy Fellow at the Open Society Institute, as well as an adjunct professor of Near Eastern studies at Binghamton University and a correspondent for Radio France Internationale. He is the author of several books in Persian.

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Comments (4)


I have been a Muslim all my live and never have I being discriminated against by my religion. I know the teaching of Islam so when someone says something that I find discriminative I take the time to look it up. As any other religion there are different interpretations by different people and the best way to go about it is to interpret the meaning yourself. All the conflict is caused not by the religion but by the people. If any of you know your history you would know Islam introduced women’s right


Surely there is a way to be religious and progressive at the same time. But is this seen as a western (inspired) movement? Either way, it is encouraging as far as I am concerned.


Quote,No other islamic nation in the male-dominated Mid.East region...
It is a wrong idea,because Male Domination is the Nature and Character of islam.If you want to have civilized values,you should get rid of bedouin fanaticism.

Quote,Iranian reformists women look at islam as a source of spirituality and mysticism that has nothing to do with political authority,discrimination agaist different social groups and conflict of civilization.
Unfortunately,completely wrong.
Islam is the source of discrimination against women and islam the source of conflict between civilization and fanaticism,backwardness.

There are NOT civilizations but there is only ONE civilization on the earth.
Present civilization based on human rights,two plus two equals four and secularism.
For example,the term of islam civilization is empty and wrong.Islam is not a civilization.
Islam,in present form,is bedouin fanaticism and backwardness.
Terms of so called Islamic Feminist(whatever it means) and progressive muslim women are COMIC words.

If you like to be progressive and if you like to live in twentyfirst century,first of all you shall get rid of the chain on your head and bedouin backwardness.


Who cares.....

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