Dossier 21: Women and Politics in Post-Islamist Iran: the Gender Conscious Drive to Change

Publication Author: 
Azadeh Kian
February 1999
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The implementation of the Shari’a and the institutionalization of gender inequality in the aftermath of the revolution led to the disillusionment of the gender-sensitive Islamist women and triggered their discontent. Through their involvement in politics they attempted to present a different reading of Islam and Islamic laws which would be more attentive to the condition of women. These endeavours failed, however, because on the one hand they were still largely based on traditionalist interpretations, and on the other hand, the condition of women did not constitute a priority for the political and religious elite during the Iraq-Iran War (1980-88). The end of the war and the implementation of ‘Reconstruction Policies’ provided an opportunity for a new generation of gender-conscious Islamist women to seek allies among secular women, to present a modern reading of Islam, and make radical demands for change in women’s status by using politics as a potent agent. This article, which is largely based on personal interviews with some of these vocal women, traces their aspirations and endeavours, their identity formation, and the outcomes of their mobilization.


What is the difference between the presidency of the Republic and the management of a government service? None. Both positions involve responsibilities in the executive branch. Therefore, why should a woman not lead the country when she can legitimately be at the head of a government service?[1] Faizeh Rafsanjani, the President of the Islamic Countries’ Sports Solidarity Council, and the younger daughter of the President of the Islamic Republic, gained the second highest number of Tehrani votes in the March-April 1996 legislative elections. She is part of a new generation of modernist-Islamist women who, though not feminist in the Western sense, are gender-conscious and have discovered politics as an agent for radical change in women’s status. As controversial by-products of the Islamic Republic, they are open to the outside world, and share a modern reading of Islam which accounts for the wholesale societal change marking the post-Islamist Iran. These women attempt to adapt Islam to the realities of a society in which women’s social, economic and political activities have become an integral part.

Islamist women’s collective political involvement dates back to the revolutionary upheavals of 1978-79. Their participation forced Khomeini to retract his previous stand and to endorse women’s political rights as a religious duty. Evidence of this may be seen in the following: Women have the right to intervene in politics. It is their duty... Islam is a political religion. In Islam, everything, even prayer, is political.[2] This shift marks a significant change in Khomeini’s perception on women’s roles in comparison with his position a decade and a half earlier, when the Shah’s decision to grant voting rights to women in 1963 created scandal in Qum among the leading clergy. Khomeini, the most vocal among them, had at that time criticized women’s involvement in politics as an anti-Islamic measure: By granting voting rights to women, the government has disregarded Islam and has caused anxiety among the Ulama and other Muslims.[3]

It was indeed unimaginable for the Ulama, who perceived women primarily as biological reproducers and houseworkers, to conceive of them also as politicians. To make their point, they referred to both the Islamic and the Constitutional Law of 1906: Women’s entrance in the two Majlis (chamber of representatives and the senate), the municipal and local councils, is against Islamic law... The granting of voting rights to women and their election... is against the second article of the amendment to the constitutional law... and abrogates the conditions Islam has set on voters and the elect.[4]

The Revolutionary Period (1979-86) and the Iraq-Iran War (1980-88)

In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, the Family Protection Law of 1967 was abrogated and the Islamic law implemented.[5] Thus, a series of regressions were imposed on women’s rights in both the public and the private realms: Islamic dress code was applied and the Islamic veil became compulsory, initially for active women and then more generally among the female population; important limitations were set for women in matters of divorce and child custody; the minimum age of marriage for girls was lowered to nine years; and women’s access to judiciary occupations was prohibited. At the same time, a nation-wide campaign aimed at ‘purifying’ the public and private sectors of secular women, or what Ayatollah Khomeini called ‘corrupt manifestations of the monarchical regime and the West’,[6] was orchestrated.[7]

In the words of one scholar concerned with women’s affairs: Following the revolution, everything which remained from the pre-revolutionary time was rejected... Under the pretext that the West and its model is evil, women were dismissed from the administrative system, and the home was considered the best and the most suitable place for them ...[8] Yet, secular women were not the sole targets of the traditionalist religious and political elite. Some Islamist women activists soon realized that these regressions concerned all women, regardless of their convictions. They thus engaged in social struggle against the type of gender segregational policies outlined here: A series of regressions were imposed on women’s rights, and even revolutionary [Islamist] women were thrust aside. The authorities only needed us to demonstrate in the streets but when the revolution triumphed they wanted to send us back to domestic work. I then realized that revolutionary social activity was meaningless when women were losing their rights, and started to defend women’s rights’.[9]

Contrary to the traditionalist clergy, Ayatollah Khomeini encouraged Islamist women’s activities in the public sphere and criticized the opposition of the traditionalists. He said that ‘God is satisfied with women’s great service, It is a sin to sabotage this [women’s activity in the public sphere].[10] By endorsing women’s political rights, however, and reiterating their political significance, Khomeini intended to obtain their unconditional allegiance to the Islamic regime. On the occasion of the referendum for the Islamic Republic he thus affirmed that ‘all of you [women] should vote.

Vote for the Islamic Republic. Not a word less, not a word more... You have priority over men’.[11] Indeed, he was persuaded that women’s loyalty would inevitably draw the support of their male family members for the regime. He added that ‘women have done more for the movement than men, for their participation doubles the power of men. Men can’t remain indifferent when women take part in the movement...[12] Thus, although the application of the Shari’a entailed women losing their civil rights,[13] they maintained their political rights. While the civil code and the penal laws promote gender inequality, men and women have equal political rights. For example, a woman’s legal evidence is not accepted unless it is corroborated by that of a man, whereas her vote is equal to a man’s vote. The Islamic Constitution reflects this contradiction by attributing religious and judicial leadership exclusively to men (articles 5, 107, 163), while remaining ambiguous on the issue of political leadership (article 115). Indeed, the word rajul, which is used in the latter article to define the prerequisite condition for assuming the post of the President of the Republic, denotes both a man and a well-known personality (which by definition can also be a woman).[14] As we shall see later, this ambiguity has allowed modernist-Islamist women to argue that the Constitutional Law authorizes women to run for presidential elections.

Women Parliamentarians During the Iraq-Iran War

The Iraq-Iran War (1980-88), which for eight years mobilized the country’s resources, was an impediment to the advancement of debate on the condition of women. Despite the active participation of Islamist women in war efforts and their recruitment by the pasdaran and the basij (volunteers), the image of the true Muslim woman during the war years was strictly limited to that of the mother and wife who sacrifices her sons and husband for the Islamic cause. Both television and cinema played an important role in perpetuating state ideology on women.[15] The plight of Islamist women social activists was also overshadowed by the predominant values of selfdenial, devotion and sacrifice, rooted in the Shi’a culture and internalised   by the young volunteers. Indeed, their attempts to highlight the sufferings of women caused by the overwhelming privileges granted to men by the Shari’a, were afforded scant attention by the state-controlled media.

Moreover, the clerical and political elite, who attributed all shortcomings and problems to the force of circumstances, used the war as a pretext to dismiss women’s social problems, as the following quotation demonstrates: During the war, the conditions for women were alarming. Not only were they losing their rights but they were also faced with immense social problems. Prostitution was increasing among the widows and orphans who had lost the heads of their households in the war. But each time we wanted to emphasize these social problems, the power elite restrained us under the pretext that the country was at war.[16]

Indeed, during the war, the government was devoid of specific economic, social, and cultural policies on women, to the extent that ‘women had no place in the First Plan, implemented during the war’.[17] The dominant state ideology was also largely shared by male parliamentarians of the first, second and third Majlis (parliament), convened respectively in 1979, 1983 and 1987. Women parliamentarians, on the other hand, who occupied 1.5% of the seats in all three Majlis and defended ‘women’s Islamic needs and rights’, were at a distinct disadvantage. Marziyyeh Dabbagh, who held responsibilities during the war as the head of women volunteers (basij) and the commander of the Pasdaran in Western Iran, affirms: in the second and third Majlis, each time we [women] wished to present motions [concerning the condition of women], we had to first talk to and persuade every single male member, then we had to take the motion to the commissions to convince the members of its validity before presenting it to the general assembly. But even those who had already agreed with our propositions in a given commission would, as a rule, vehemently oppose it once in the general assembly. For example, I, Mrs Rajayi and Dastghiyb worked diligently to prepare a motion relevant to women who had lost their heads of households.

We asked our brothers [male members] what they wanted to do with these women. We argued that we could not abandon them, and that the government should provide them with both material and moral assistance. But our male colleagues responded to our request by saying that each woman had a brother, a father or a son who should pay her alimony. We negotiated with them for several months to no avail. Eventually the same motion was passed by the fourth Majlis which was credited with its initiation.[18]

The majority of women parliamentarians of the first to third Majlis came from established religious families.[19] Gohar-al Shari’a Dasteghayb and ‘Atiqih Rajayi (members of the first to third Majlis), Marziyyeh Dabbagh (member of the second, third, and fifth Majlis), and Maryam Behruzi (member of the first to fourth Majlis) were candidates of the Islamic Republic Party and the traditionalist/conservative Tehran Society of the Combatant Clergy. Maryam Behruzi, who was a preacher prior to her election, leads the Ziynab Association, a politically influential religious group for women, and an offshoot of the Tehran Society of the Combatant Clergy. As fervent advocates of the rule of a jurisconsult (vilayat-i faqih), they participate in the traditionalist/conservative religious networks, and, with the exception of Dasteghayb who holds an MA in literature, they all have an elementary and religious education.[20]

Despite their divergent views, they shared some traits with their male counterparts. For instance, they all concurred that ‘following the teachings of Islam, the Islamic Republic has been attentive to women’s rights’.[21] Moreover, although they were not opposed to women’s outside activities, they viewed women primarily as houseworkers, child-bearers and childrearers. During this period, most of their efforts were focused on preparing motions to defend more adequately women’s Islamic rights in the private sphere of the family.[22] The divorce law thus became one of the controversial issues of the first Majlis.[23] However, the plight of employed women was largely overlooked until the foundation of the Social-Cultural Council of Women and the Office of Women’s Affairs. The shortage of day nurseries, kindergartens, and other child care facilities is one of the main problems facing employed women, especially those with young children.

Some of them lobbied unsuccessfully to have additional nurseries created. Women parliamentarians, however, were not mobilized to defend their cause. Maryam Behruzi even told the press that nurseries were not suitable places for children, and that children needed the presence of their mothers more than anything else.[24]

Azam Taliqani, who was elected to the first Majlis, differed from other omen parliamentarians. Contrary to the latter, who mainly addressed omen’s issues, Taliqani was more preoccupied with general political discussions, as she shows here: The first Majlis was unique in the Islamic Republic because different ideologies and viewpoints were represented and confronted. While I actively participated in heated debates along with my political allies, I had a rather individual activity with regard to women’s issues.[25]

Daughter of the radical cleric, Ayatollah Taliqani, she is a well-educated political activist who was a political prisoner under the Shah. Although she was more concerned with the promotion of her radical political stands than with women’s status, her quest for social justice brought her into contact with the plight of women.[26] She thus combined her gender sensitivity and political ambitions to found a political group called Women’s Society, a research group called the Iranian Islamic Women’s Institute, and to start publishing a magazine called Payam-i Hâjar in 1979. The following is a brief account of her involvement in all this:

The idea of founding an Islamist women’s organization goes back to when I was in prison. Back then I realized that leftist women were better organized and could thus attract the Islamist youth to their ideology. I was persuaded of our need for an organization to serve women who had both legal and economic problems... After the revolution, many women came to see us complaining about their condition. Their grievances made us realize that our women had specific problems under the new circumstances.[27]

It is worth pointing out that the majority of these problems facing women had been initiated by the abrogation of the Family Protection Law of 1967, and the implementation of a new civil code based on the Islamic law in which overwhelming privileges had been granted to men, particularly in matters of marriage, divorce and parental authority. Therefore, Payam-I Hâjar addressed mainly family issues, and was the first Islamist magazine to raise the question of the necessity for the reinterpretation of Islamic laws.

For this purpose, Ayatollah Taliqani’s teachings, popular among the Islamist left, were largely used. Azam Taliqani is one of the rare vocal activists who continues to advocate social justice by severely criticizing the consumerism of the elite, and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor in postwar Iran. She believes that ‘wealth is concentrated in the hands of a minority, including big merchants, while the majority, that is the middle classes, have been impoverished. This is against the very notion of Islamic justice’.[28] Likewise, in a response to a question about women’s achievements in post-revolutionary Iran, she bitterly told the press that ‘poverty and polygamy are the only things that poor women have obtained from the revolution’.[29]

The Post-war and the Post-Khomeini Era

With the end of the war in 1988, which the power elite had used as a pretext to justify all shortcomings, a new age called the ‘period of reconstruction’ began. Economic, social and demographic realities forced the power elite to adopt new strategies. For example, the 1986 national census of the population--the first under the Islamic Republic--revealed a population growth of about 15 million. Thus, despite the pro-birth traditions of Islam and Iranian culture, and the traditionalist Ulama’s disapproval, the government readopted family planning and birth control from 1988 onwards.[30] The values of devotion and self-denial, which dominated the previous period, began to weaken, and the population, exasperated by the eight-year war, aired economic, social, political and cultural demands. As a response, the government authorized a relative freedom of press. Thanks to Hujat ul Islam Muhammad Khatami, the liberal minded Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance (who was forced to resign in July 1992), several hundred new journals and magazines, including those for women, began to be published.[31]

Similarly, the scope of debates on the condition of women expanded, and conferences started to be organized on various aspects of women’s and family issues. In 1988, the High Council of Cultural Revolution, chaired by President Rafsanjani, founded the Social and Cultural Council of Women to promote women’s economic and social activity, and in 1992 the Office of Women’s Affairs, an offshoot of the presidential bureau, was created to ‘detect problems and shortcomings and to propose solutions to ameliorate women’s status and their economic, social, cultural and political role.[32] The emergence of new types of female social and political activists with modern discourses and agendas was yet another outcome of the post-war era and was tightly linked to broader transformations.

New economic and social policies were implemented to reconstruct the devastated infrastructures and to reorganise the economy. Investment of foreign capital in Iran was encouraged, and specialization (takhasus) and know-how gained increasing importance.[33] The growing significance of higher education and specialization is also reflected in the composition of the ruling elite, especially cabinet ministers, who are becoming increasingly better educated, though in terms of social and family origins they still belong overwhelmingly to traditional middle and lower classes. In 1988, 93% of the cabinet members had received a university education, and 42% held doctorates. Likewise, the proportion of highly educated Majlis deputies increased from 10% in the second Majlis (1983) to 47% in the third Majlis (1987).[34] The biographical data of a sample of 854 cabinet ministers, Majlis deputies, governors of provinces and districts, mayors, Imams of Friday prayers, commanders of the armed forces, directors of state agencies, highranking state cadres and directors of revolutionary organizations, for instance, show that 537 (or 62%) have a college degree, while 317 (38%) have a theological education.[35] Nonetheless, the proportion of highly educated deputies decreased in the fourth Majlis (1992) in which traditionalists, most of whom had received a theological education, predominated.[36] The proportion of highly educated representatives increased sharply in the fifth Majlis (1996). Of the 249 elected deputies, 69% are university graduates: this figure is made up of 35 PhDs, 42 MAs, and 94 BAs. From the remaining, 22 have a high-school diploma or are university students, 4 have less than a high-school diploma and 52 (or 21%) have theological education.[37]

The mounting importance of specialists in post-war Iran and the consolidation of their positions also meant the gradual thrusting aside of Hizbullah elements for whom devotion to the Islamic system (nizam) and to the leadership of a jurisconsult is more important than specialization.[38] Thus, if the professional credentials of the political elite are likely to narrow the gap between them and secular professionals--as illustrated in the support of the latter for the pro-Rafsanjani faction, called the Representatives of the Reconstruction of Iran, during the fifth Majlis elections--it has simultaneously deepened the lack of understanding between them and the Hizbullah.[39] In heated press debates, the Hizbullah have accused the professional elite of adhering to liberal and Westernoriented stands while the latter treat the former as incapable and outmoded.[40]

Women’s Participation in the Labour Force

In addition to the increasing importance of the Islamic professionals, the implementation of reconstruction policies also resulted in the return of secular women professionals who had been dismissed from their posts during the revolutionary period. Indeed, it was to recover the great shortage of professionals that the power elite was forced to concede to their skills. [41]Firuzeh Khal’atbari, a well-known economist at the Central Bank of Iran, said that ‘many educated women, who had been “purified”, seized the opportunity to regain their posts, while many others joined the professional activity for financial reasons’.[42] Indeed, the economic crisis of the post-war era has led to the decline in the real income of urban households, the majority of which relied on a single source of income.[43] Women, whose financial contribution proved essential, were thus compelled to participate in the labour force. As a result, the representation of women in the economic arena began to expand.[44]

As to the break down of women’s participation in the labour force, I argue that it increased the revolution and the war, the proportion of active women to the total female population had dropped sharply from 10.8% in 1976-77 to 6.1%, it increased to 8.7% in 1991.[45] According to one estimate, women’s participation in the labour force has tripled since 1986 to attain 18% in 1993.[46] Nonetheless, highly educated women are still one of the few categories of women to have been reintegrated into the formal economy. The 1991 census data demonstrate that the highest participation of women in the labour force (11 %) belongs to the educated women in the age group 24-49, residing in urban areas.

Likewise, Marziyyeh Siddiqi affirms that the highly educated constitute the bulk of active women.[47] It should be noted that women’s employment rate as reflected in official statistics is quite questionable: the data reflect legal participation of women in the labour force mainly in urban areas. Rural women, the majority of whom work in family enterprises, are categorized either as unpaid domestic workers or housewives. Thus, according to official statistics, the proportion of active rural women to the rural female population of ten years and above is 3.4%.[48] Moreover, the labour participation in the underground economy, which overwhelmingly employs less-educated women and has seen a remarkable increase of activity as a result of economic crisis, is not reflected in the statistics.[49]

Women Parliamentarians of the Post-war Era

The Fourth Majlis

Contrary to social and economic spheres where specialization and know-how constitute sufficient criteria for women’s participation, involvement in the political sphere necessitates the allegiance to the regime and to its leadership. Yet, Islamist women’s participation in the political sphere follows the general trend of social and economic spheres. Indeed, despite the sweeping victory of traditionalists in the fourth Majlis elections, convened in 1992, the number of women doubled to reach a total of nine (or 3.3%). In addition to their numerical increase, they were also more educated than their predecessors, some were active as professionals prior to their election, and their average age was lower (46 years as opposed to 55 for the previous women deputies). Moreover, for the first time, four women were elected from the provinces: Akhtar Dirakhshandih (high-school teacher) from Bakhtaran, Fakhrtaj Amirshaqaqi (BA in French language and literature), and Fatimeh Humayun-muqadam (BA in planning and educational management) from Tabriz, and Bibi Qudsiyyeh ‘Alavi (MD gynaecologist, and surgeon) from Mashhad. The five women elected from Tehran were candidates of the traditionalist/conservative right and included Maryam Behruzi (elementary, religious education), Nafiseh Fayyazbakhsh (MA in Islamic philosophy), Parvin Salihi (MA in mother and child health), Marziyyeh Vahid-Dastjirdi (MD gynaecologist), and Munireh Nawbakht (MA in Islamic philosophy).

The airing of demands by the female population, the flourishing of debates on the condition of women in women’s press, and the activities of the Office of Women’s Affairs and the Social-Cultural Council of Women, encouraged some women deputies of the fourth Majlis to address these issues, although not without reservations. Some, more sensitive to women’s problems, presented amendments to articles of personal status law and prepared motions ‘to fill the gaps’, accusing judicial authorities of ‘the nonexecution of the existent laws beneficial to women.’[50] Nonetheless, because they either adhered to the dominant ideology or did not want to be marginalized in the Majlis, they refrained from criticizing the traditionalist viewpoints which dominated the fourth Majlis.

One example is particularly revealing. Influenced by the activities of the Office for Women’s Affairs which had opened branches in the executive to evaluate and eventually meet the problems of active women, Nafiseh Fayyazbakhsh and Munireh Nawbakht presented a motion in January 1993 to create the Special Commission of Women’s Affairs. Several male deputies, who refused to admit that women encountered specific problems, spoke against the motion. They argued that Islamic laws granted full rights to women, that women and men shared the same problems, and that if such a motion were passed it would divide Muslims. Faced with this opposition, the women deputies, with one exception, preferred to allow some of their male colleagues who approved this motion to stand in their defence. This decision led to an opponent deputy stating ironically that ‘because women [deputies] preferred to delegate their power to men in the discussions relevant to this motion, they would also prefer that the men take care of them.’[51] Maryam Behruzi was the only woman who dared to make a speech, but instead of promoting the motion, she deferred, affirming that ‘Islam has been sufficiently attentive to women’s rights... We are fundamentally against the Western type of defence of women’s rights... We do not wish for women to rise up against men. Following Islam, we believe that men are protectors of women...[52]

The few initiatives of women members of the fourth Majlis to improve the condition of women by amending laws thus remained unfruitful. Moreover, their political ideology did not correspond to the growing dissatisfaction of women with the existing laws and the increasing social and economic activities of women.[53]

These circumstances triggered an unprecedented mobilization of gender-conscious Islamist women in the March-April 1996 legislative elections for the fifth Majlis. Many of the candidates were known to the female population for defending women’s rights and promoting the status of women. Often highly educated and vocal, they represent the new generation of Islamist women technocrats whose ongoing interaction with the Islamist state and an emerging civil society has led them to perceive politics as a potent and necessary activity towards the acquisition of women’s rights. During the electoral campaign, they disassociated themselves from the previous women parliamentarians by criticizing their lack of determination to tackle women’s problems. By so doing, they were responding to the demands aired by the female population who seek change in the civil code, a better access to women to employment opportunities, a better employment legislation, and the reform of laws to promote women’s status in both the private and the public spheres.[54]

Fatimeh Rafsanjani, the President’s older daughter, the founder of Women’s Solidarity Association, and the head of the Office of Women’s Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, thus maintained that ‘the fourth Majlis was not really preoccupied with women’s problems’. She also contended that ‘women’s rights are annihilated by the civil code, the courts and the society’, and that ‘women’s social, educational and cultural problems cannot be resolved as long as the number of conscious and active women remains slim in the Majlis’. She also pleaded that ‘half the seats of the Islamic Majlis should be occupied by these women’.[55] Faizeh, her younger sister, while running for the elections, maintained that ‘the fifth Majlis should resolve problems confronting women by revising the civil code and facilitating their access to key posts in the administrative and political institutions’. She argued that if women are given equal opportunities, they are capable of running for the presidential elections.[56]

Suhayla Jiludarzadeh, who for years has served as the director of the employment and social and economic affairs committee in the Social and Cultural Council of women, and who was elected from Tehran, affirms: A woman deputy should be particularly aware of the shortcomings and problems women are facing. As a woman, she should have an inner determination to promote their status. For this very reason, I believe that half of the deputies should be made up of thoughtful and specialist women who are aware of women’s sufferings. In countries where women’s rights are respected, a growing number of women are elected to the parliaments ...[57] Throughout the country, 305 women, of whom the majority ran as independent candidates were mostly refused qualification by the Council of Guardians (Shura-i Nigahban).

In Tehran, of a total of 419 candidates qualified by the Council of Guardians, 50 or 12% were women, among whom only 13 or 26% ran as candidates of the four major factions, namely the Representatives of the Reconstruction of Iran (RRI, modern right, close to President Rafsanjani), the Society of Combatant Clergy of Tehran (SCCT, traditionalist right, close to Khaminehï and Natiq-Nuri, president of the fourth and fifth Majlis and the candidate of the traditionalist right for the forthcoming presidential elections), the Coalition of the Line of Imam Groups (CLIG, Islamist left, close to Musavi, the former Prime Minister), and the Society for the Defence of the Values of the Islamic Revolution (SDVIR, traditionalist centre, led by Ray Shahri).[58]

These factions contained some candidates, yet among the ten women elected to the Majlis, Fatimeh Ramizanzadeh was the only joint candidate of three factions (RRI, CLIG, and SDVIR); Marziyyeh Vahid Dastjirdi, Nafiseh Fayyazbakhsh and Munireh Nawbakht were candidates of SCCT, and Faizeh Rafsanjani and Suhayla Jiludarzadeh were candidates of the RRI. Provincial candidates ran as independents, though some were endorsed by the leading factions. This was particularly the case of Marziyyeh Siddiqi, elected from Mashhad (the second largest city), who was supported by the four factions. Marziyyeh Dabbagh from Hamedan, Shahrbanu Amani-Angineh from Urumiyyeh, and Bibi Qodsiyyeh ‘Alavi from Mashhad were elected as independents. It should be noted that two other women, namely Nayyireh Akhavan-Bitaraf from Isfahan (the third largest city) and Ilaheh Rastgu from Malayir were elected during the first round, and Pishgahifard from Isfahan won the second largest number of votes, but the elections were nullified by the council of Guardians for no valid reason. A total number of eight constituencies with several women candidates saw their elections cancelled. As a result, the ten women elected constitute 4% of the total deputies.

Although Islamist women’s representation in the parliament remains slim, the five newly elected women are more vocal, much younger (with an average age of 37.2), and more experienced in women’s issues than their predecessors. In addition to their political attitude, which is overwhelmingly modern and moderate, another characteristic which they share is their passage from social to political activity.

Shahrbanu Amani-Angineh, a student in Public Management who encountered enormous problems with the traditionalists during her campaign,[59] has been in charge of women’s mutual aid and social affairs in Western Azarbayjan; Marziyyeh Siddiqi, who has an MA in engineering from the United States, is one of the founders of the Office of Women’s Affairs; Fatimeh Ramizanzadeh, who is an MD and a gynaecologist-surgeon, has been in charge of family planning, public health and medical education in the Ministry of Public Health; and Suhayla Jiludarzadeh, who has an MA in engineering, has had important responsibilities in the Social-Cultural Council of Women and the Office of Women’s Affairs. From a working-class background, she has been active in promoting the conditions of workers and is the only woman whose position is endorsed by the powerful Islamic Workers’ Association.

Faizeh Rafsanjani, who has a BA in political science and physical science, is the founder and the president of the Islamic Countries’ Solidarity Sport Council, the vice-president of the National Olympic Committee, and a member of the Islamic Republic’s High Council for Women’s Sport. In her own words, the reasons which triggered her interest in women’s sports are that ‘sporting activities have tremendous impact on women and prepare them for social activities. It offers them the courage they need to get involved in the country’s affairs’. She has recently gained extensive popularity among women, especially the youth, for courageously defending women’s outdoor cycling. In fact, her forthright views run contrary to the traditionalists whose opposition has politicized the issue: Women’s outdoor cycling is neither illegal nor illicit ... It has become a political issue because it was proposed during the legislative elections, and those who opposed it bestowed a political dimension on it. After all, their opposition was beneficial to outdoor cycling for now there is a significant demand for it.[60]

The increased participation of the young people in the fifth Majlis elections[61] was advantageous to these vocal women because ‘for the younger generation, the younger a deputy, the better she understands their problems.’[62] Faizeh Rafsanjani acknowledged the importance of the young people’s support for her candidacy when she said that ‘my efforts to promote women’s sporting activities led the younger generation to vote for me’. She is the only deputy who recognizes the specific problems faced by young people, and claims to have conceived of a programme to improve their condition. In her view, ‘despite the serious problems of young people, no one talks about them. There is no commission in the Majlis to think about these issues’. Through her analysis, she implicitly acknowledges the failure of the power elite to revolutionize and islamize this new generation: Our younger generation was born after the revolution and is devoid of revolutionary mentality. They were annexed to the revolution after its victory. Although courses are taught at schools on the revolution, they are not palpable for pupils and students who do not normally appreciate courses at school anyway ... Western cultural invasion is a very serious threat to our youth who are its main targets. If the younger generation, who are the future of our country, are not raised to proper values, how can they run this country in the future? To solve the problems of our youths, we should make them believe that they are important for this country. For if they increase their self-standing, they will no longer consume drugs, or watch satellite programmes or listen to rap music and the like. We cannot force them by means of laws and limitations. Not only will these laws fail to solve problems, but they will increase them. Since the revolution our social problems are increasing incessantly because they [the authorities] have wanted to solve them through intimidation. Well, coercion and violence have had negative results.[63]

With regard to her perception on women and women’s issues, she believes — contrary to her sister Fatimeh, and to Suhayla Jiludarzadeh, who are in favour of a system of quota for women — that: Women should attain scientific, technical, economic, political, social and cultural status which they deserve by themselves. The quota will have no positive results. On the contrary, it will make everybody distrust women. Yet a woman who obtains a post owing to her proficiency will undoubtedly leave a positive impact on society’s perception on women. With reference to the persistent social and cultural barriers that hamper the progress of women, some of which are created by women themselves, she argues that cultural change in their mentality will follow with the increase in women’s participation in the decision-making posts:

Women themselves often do not trust other women... Well, I believe that active women are highly competent. They are more motivated and can work more efficiently for women than men. One of our major impediments is that despite the existence of a sufficient number of women professionals, there is a lack of women’s representation in key posts where macro politics and planning are decided ... Thus, if we manage to appoint women specialists to relevant key posts, they can better defend women’s rights’.[64]

Fatimeh Ramizanzadeh intends to ‘reform laws in view of protecting women’s rights in the family, at work and in society, and to erase men’s erroneous belief that they are superior to women’.[65] Marziyyeh Siddiqi maintains that women’s education and awareness should be promoted, cultural programmes should be devised to eliminate false impressions of women, laws should be reformed to promote women’s status and to solve women’s problems.[66] Siddiqi, who is also the director of an international transportation company, agrees that the airing of demands by the female population in the past few years has influenced women deputies of the new Majlis who are now ‘far more vocal, courageous and determined’ than their predecessors. She also detects a changing mentality among the male deputies, whom she maintains have come to accept that women have specific problems: Women deputies now have more courage and determination to talk about shortcomings. An example of this courage is that for the first time we all stood as candidates for various responsibilities in the Majlis. For the first time in the Islamic Republic, several of us were elected members of permanent commissions: reporters, secretaries, vice presidents; whereas in the past a woman would have not dared to present her candidacy, and even if she did she would not have been elected ... But now we consider ourselves equal to men, and men vote for us because they trust our competence.[67]

The Impact of Religious-Reformist Discourses on Women’s Activities

The period of reconstruction also coincided with Khomeini’s death in June 1989, provoking the crisis of consensus both at the societal level and among the religious and political elite on the leadership of a jurisconsult (vali-yi faqih). Indeed, Khaminehyi, the current leader, does not possess the necessary criteria to assert his claim to authority. This lack of consensus has allowed the emergence or the enforcement of modernist interpretations of Islam by some religious intellectuals and clerics, including Abdulkarim Surush, a popular philosophy professor, surnamed the Luther of the Iranian Islam.[68] Surush, who claims to be anti-ideological (and therefore against political Islam) affirms that ‘we should not give a superficial, official, rigid and final interpretation of religion because religion is not an ideology ... If religion becomes ideology, it will be reduced at best to jurisprudence’.[69]

Following the constitutionalist cleric Mirza Muhammad Husayn Naïni (1860-1936),[70] these intellectuals and clerics attempt to reconcile Islam with democracy, and to separate religion from the state. Muhammad Mujtahid-Shabistari, a leading modernist cleric argues: A mujtahid [doctor in jurisprudence] can infer value principles from the Qu’ran and traditions. [But] political system, institutions, the functioning of the government, ... in short, everything which is relevant to the political sphere, should be dealt with through reason and human sciences. In this way boundaries are justifiably set.[71]

These religious intellectuals and modernist clerics also maintain that political power should acquire its legitimacy exclusively through founding its authority on the public will. They admit that concepts of Western political thought have entered Iran and have initiated significant change in the political culture of the post-revolutionary Iranians who now aspire to economic, social, political and cultural progress. In order to maintain this progress, they propose a synthesis of Islamic traditions and Western modernity.

Their intellectual endeavours have found tremendous support among educated Islamists, including gender-conscious women, who rely upon these modernist views to advocate change. The following statement by Shahla Shirkat, the editor in chief of Zanan, one of the leading women’s magazines, clearly reveals this influence: Radical legal changes are needed to solve women’s problems. Many articles of the civil code are based on the Shari’a, which must, therefore, be reinterpreted. Moreover, women should be involved in this undertaking. Our understanding of religion varies in each historical period, and religious interpretations should account for factors of time and space ...

Referring to Surush’s works, she affirms that ‘through their works, some religious intellectuals have posited the necessity of radical reforms in religious thought. If they succeed, these reforms will undoubtedly be expanded to women’s issues’.[72]

Women’s Press: A Forum for Protest Social Activity

New Islamist women’s magazines, especially Zanan and Farzaneh, to which secular women contribute, have begun to be published. Despite their divergent views, an unprecedented gender solidarity has emerged between secular and modernist-Islamist women, thus making their alliance possible.[73] Mahbubeh Ummi, the editor of Farzaneh said the following: Although secular women do not share our convictions, we can collaborate because we all work to promote women’s status. We [Islamist women] no longer consider ourselves to be the sole heirs of the revolution. We have realized that our sectarian views of the first post-revolutionary years led to the isolation of many competent seculars, which was to the detriment of all women. We now hope to compensate our errors.[74]

This view is also shared by Shahla Shirkat, the editor of Zanan, who said that ‘We should tolerate and respect each others’ convictions. Even though we do not share the same philosophy, belief and thought, we can and should work together’.[75] Mehrangiz Kar, a legal attorney, Shirin ‘Ibadi, a jurist, Nahid Musavi, a journalist, and Zhaleh Shaditalab, a sociology professor, are among secular women specialists who contribute to these magazines. Through their writings and interviews, secular lawyers, economists, sociologists, artists, historians, novelists, movie directors, etc. who are denied the right to publish their own magazines, have seized the opportunity to present their opinions and works and to raise demands for equal rights in the private and the public spheres.[76]

The aim of these magazines, which primarily attempt to reach both the educated women and the political and religious elite, is to promote women’s status through emphasizing legal, social and economic shortcomings, and to propose changes in civil and penal laws, the employment legislation and constitutional law.[77] They manage to exert pressure on the elite through civil society, especially through active women who have both professional and family networks. Yet their editors unanimously maintain that the inequality between men and women is not initiated by the Qu’ran, but rather by the interpretations of religious authorities of the divine laws. They thus argue that radical change in Islamic laws is essential. The editor in chief of Zanan maintains that: The Qur’an has not banned women from becoming a judge.

This prohibition was initiated in the history of jurisprudence and in the opinions of the previous religious authorities, whose ideas on women were probably shaped by the examples of their own wives or female relatives whom they generalized to the entire female population.’[78] In November-December 1992, shortly after its publication, Zanan published a series of articles in which the obstacles towards women’s authority in religious and judiciary institutions were examined. It was maintained that none of the main Islamic texts justify such prohibitions, that no consensus exists among religious authorities on the issue, and that in the past, several women in Iran and elsewhere in the Muslim world have reached the summit of religious authority. The author thus concludes that ‘a man has no natural privilege over a woman. If a man can become a judge so can a woman, and if a man can become a source of imitation, so can a woman’.[79]

Mahbubeh Ummi and Ma’sumeh Ibtikar, the editors of Farzaneh, hold the same position: We support the equality of rights between men and women and believe that according to the Qur’an, men and women are equal. We should make a distinction between Islam and patriarchal traditions. Our laws are largely founded on some unreliable hadith (remarks attributed to the prophet), narrated by religious authorities. Several articles of the civil code, including those concerning the right to divorce, guardianship of children after divorce and those prohibiting women’s access to judiciary are among them. Religious reformists examine the authenticity of these laws and purify the civil code from spurious articles’.[80]

Since its inauguration in Autumn 1993, Farzaneh has been printing articles to illustrate the prophet’s high esteem for some women as reflected in the Qur’an, and to highlight the political and religious roles that some women played during his lifetime. Based on such evidence, the magazine argues that an incompatibility exists between the Qur’an and existing religious interpretations.

Zan-i Ruz, the only women’s magazine which existed prior to the revolution and which continued publication through changes in owner, board of editors and journalists, has recently joined the general trend.

Although published by the traditionalist/conservative Keyhan press company, Zan-i Ruz, which is popular among less educated women for its cooking recipes, fashion, sewing and health care instructions, is being transformed into a vocal magazine. Contrary to Zanan and Farzaneh, which primarily communicate with the intelligentsia and the political elite, Zan-I Ruz, whose readers are ‘middle level women in terms of their education, social and economic status’, reaches a wider public including men.

Tayyibeh Iskandari, the new editor, is ‘determined to pose fundamental questions concerning the condition of women’. She believes that ‘if we really intend to solve women’s problems we should also reach men.’[81] Since the overwhelming majority of the decision makers are men, she, in common with editors of other women’s magazines, includes increasing contributions from modernist clerics and religious intellectuals, including Ayatollahs Yusif Sani’i and Bujnurdi, Hujat al Islams Muhsin Sa’id Zadeh and Muhaqiq-Damad, and Husayn Mihrpur and Ahmad Akuchakian. As specialists of Islamic law and jurisprudence, they attempt to reinterpret the Shari’a with a view to implementing change in the existing laws. It is interesting to note that political and religious authorities, who are aware of the significant social impact of these magazines, often respond to critical articles they publish. The office of Ayatollah Yazdi, the head of the judiciary, for example, has, on several occasions, reacted to articles published in Zanan and Zan-i Ruz which analyzed and criticized legal shortcomings.

The extent and multitude of queries by the female population has even led the Qum religious seminary to publish a women’s magazine called Payam-i Zan to address these issues. Yet contrary to other women’s magazines edited by women, the editorial board of Payam-i Zan is composed exclusively of men. These debates, initiated by women’s magazines, have also had an important impact on women political activists, including Faizeh Rafsanjani, who maintains that ‘it is not Islam but the clergy’s interpretations of its precepts which initiated the prohibition of women’s access to the judiciary’.[82]

Although women’s magazines have managed to interact with the more moderate power elite, they are also increasingly the subject of verbal attacks by the traditionalist press, including Keyhan and Subh, and physical attacks by the Hizbullah mobs, backed by the traditionalist clergy. The traditionalists protest against the gender-conscious women whom they call ‘Westernized feminists’. The defence of women’s rights is considered to be ‘an attempt to annihilate Islam and the revolution through accommodating Western cultural invasion’.[83]

What triggers the anger of the traditionalists is that in addition to the demands for legal changes, these magazines also publish views for and against the tchador (traditional Islamic veil), reports on women’s maltreatment by their husbands, the dramatic stories of women who have been divorced without their consent, those who could not obtain the guardianship of their children after divorce, and salary and status disparities among men and women at work, for example. These reports increase women’s awareness, and encourage them to be less tolerant of the claim of superiority by their husbands or male family members. They thus encourage women’s resistance against patriarchal traditions, which consequently provokes conflict within the family institution. At the same time, these magazines reach out to men and attempt to influence their attitudes towards women. As Tayyibeh Iskandari argues, ‘although it is women who buy these magazines, they take them home and their husbands read them too. A lot of men contact us to criticize us for the articles we publish, but it also happens that some make suggestions on how to improve the condition of women’.[84]

The mobilization of vocal women who are social and political activists on the one hand, and the demands uttered by the female population on the other, have led some traditionalist women to join the general trend, thus contributing to the polarization of the power elite into traditionalists and reformers. Munireh Nawbakht, who, though a traditionalist, seems to be receptive to recent transformations affirms that: the increasing social activity of women ... necessitates radical reforms in the existing laws to determine women’s rights and their social responsibilities... These issues should be discussed by the majority of the deputies and this will only be possible if women are members of different commissions ...’.[85]

Yet, some others rebuke the modernist aspirations of their fellow Islamist women. For instance, Maryam Behruzi severely criticized Faizeh Rafsanjani in public for having promoted women’s outdoor cycling and horse riding, which she maintains will assist the Western cultural invasion. Khaz’ali, member of the Social-Cultural Council of Women, reprimands the editors of Farzaneh for their feminist stands as illustrated in their articles published in a special issue of the magazine on the United Nations’ Beijing Conference on Women in September 1995.[86] Likewise, Zanan is increasingly a subject of traditionalist disapproval. The latter urges the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance to retract its authorization to publish. Recently, a petition was launched by Suraya Maknun, the chair of the women’s department in the Institute of Cultural Studies and Humanities, who did not appreciate Zanan publishing her life story along with those of forty other renowned women (most of them secular), in a special issue entitled “Women Talk About Men’s Impact on Their Lives”.[87]

The Outcomes of Women’s Struggles

The obstacles towards implementing radical change in conditions for women are as much intertwined with traditionalist impediments as they are with social, cultural and legal ones. Yet during the past few years, women have successfully lobbied for the modification of certain family laws to make it more difficult for men to divorce their wives. To prevent unjustified divorces and to protect divorced women, a new law called ujrat ul-misl was recently passed which stipulates that when a man files for divorce his wife can ask to be financially rewarded by her husband in return for the housework she has carried out without her consent during the marriage. To file for divorce, couples should now refer to civil courts which have recently been authorized to hire women judicial counsellors. In January 1996, the ministry of justice appointed 200 women judicial counsellors to preserve more satisfactorily women’s rights in courts. Their appearance can be regarded as a first step toward rehabilitating women judges in the judiciary. In fact, a conference was organized in September 1996 to discuss the works of Ayatollah Muqadas-Ardibili who issued a fatwa authorizing women to become judges. Following this conference, Ayatollah Muhammad Yazdi, the head of the judiciary, declared that ‘the question of the possibility for women to reoccupy this post is under study’.[88]

Concomitantly, and for the first time in the Islamic Republic, a woman was appointed the vice director general of Tehran’s justice department. Likewise, a woman was appointed vice minister (of public health). Marziyyeh Siddiqi estimates that several other women will be imminently assigned to similar posts and that there will be a woman cabinet minister in the future government.[89] In October 1996, the fifth Islamic Majlis approved a motion presented by women deputies to create the Special Commission of Women’s and Family’s Affairs composed of thirteen members, nine of which are women. This commission aims at reforming laws to improve the protection of women’s rights. Moreover, some newly elected women deputies, who argue that the dynamism of Islam should be reflected in the civil code, propose that women be granted equal rights to divorce and that they should obtain the exclusive guardianship of their children after divorce.[90] These propositions reflect the determination of these modernist-Islamist women to respond to the demands of female constituents.

Despite traditionalist attempts to contain women’s awareness, the process which was begun to construct women’s social identity is now irreversible. Today, both secular and Islamist women reject the institutionalized inequalities and demand a dynamic and adapted reading of Islam. Although seculars do not have access to the political sphere, vocal Islamist women, increasingly backed by civil society, are determined to implement conscious change through involvement in politics. The Islamic state has thus no other choice but to accommodate the participatory aspirations of moderate and modernist women whose partaking in politics will undoubtedly implement democratic change in the political system.

They are protagonists of a change which encompasses the entire society. Under the present circumstances where political Islam has demonstrated its limits, and the gap between civil society and the state is ever widening, only the opening of religion to modernity can avoid an ultimate rupture.

Acknowledgements: This paper was originally published in the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 24, No.1, 1997, pp. 75-96, and is reprinted with the permission of the author and the publishers.

British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
c/o Carfax Publishing Limited
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Abingdon, Oxfordshire
OX14 3UE


[1] Personal interview with Faizeh Rafsanjani, Tehran. July 1996.

[2] Ayatollah Khomeini’s sermon on 19 September 1979, in Sahifeh-i Nur, Vol. 9, p. 136.

[3] From Khomeini’s telegram sent to the Shah on 9 October 1962, in Sahifeh-i Nur. Vol. 22, p. 29.

[4] From Khomenei’s telegram sent to A. ‘Alam, the then Prime Minister on 20 October 1962, in Sahifeh-i Nur, Vol. 22, p. 30 A similar telegram, signed by nine highest ranking religions authorities was sent to ‘Alam in February-March 1963. They included Gulpayigani, Shari’atmadari, Zanjani, Tabatabai and Khomeini. See Sahifeh-i Nur, Vol. l, p. 29.

[5] For the Family Protection Law, see among others, Ilehnaz Pakizegi, ‘Legal and Social Positions of Iranian Women’, in Lois Beck and Nikki Keddie (eds), Women in the Muslim World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), pp. 216-27.

[6] Sahifeh-i Nur, Vol, 10, p. 234.

[7] Azadeh Kian, ‘Gendered Occupation and Women’s Status in Post-Revolutionary Iran’, Middle Eastern Studies, 31 (July 1995). pp. 407-421. See also Ziba Mir-Hosseini, ‘Divorce, Veiling and Feminism in Post-Khomeini Iran’, in Haleh Afshar (ed), Women and Politics in the Third World (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 149.

[8] Zhaleh Shaditalab, a professor of sociology at the Tehran University and a consultant to the Office of Women’s Affairs, interviewed by Firuzeh Sharifi, in ‘Muqi’iyyat-i zanan dar nizam-i idari-i Iran’, Zanan, I (February 1992), p. 7.

[9] Personal interview with an Islamist activist who prefers to remain anonymous. Tehran. September 1994.

[10] From Khomeini’s declaration issued on 12 March 1982, in Sahifeh-i Nur, Vol. 17, p. 211.

[11] From Khomeini’s sermon to a group of women in Qum, on 7 March 1980, in Sahifeh-I Nur, Vol. 5, p. 177.

[12] From Khomeini’s sermon to a group of women, members of the society of women of the Islamic Revolution, Shimiran, 12 July 1980, in Guzideh ha-i az Maqalat-i Payam-i Hâjar. No. l (Tehran: Jami’eh-i Zanan-i Inqilab-i Islami publications). (Autumn 1982), p. 6.

[13] See, Haleh Afshar, ‘Women, Marriage and the State in Iran’, in Haleh Afshar (ed.), Women, State and Ideology: Studies from Africa and Asia (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1987), pp. 70-86.

[14] See, Sayyid Mihdi Hashimi, Huquq-i Asasi-i Jumhuri-i Islami (The Constitutional Law of the Islamic Republic), (Tehran: Shahid Biheshti University, 1993) Vol. II. pp. 46, 362, 363.

[15] For a discussion on the subject see Hamid Naficy, ‘Zan va masa’il-i zan dar sinimay-I Iran ba’d az inqilab’. Nimeh-i Digar, 14 (Spring 1991), pp. 123-69.

[16] Personal interview with an Islamist activist, who prefers to remain anonymous. Tehran, September 1994.

[17] From Marziyyeh Siddiqi’s interview, in Riyhaneh, 2 September 1996. p. 11.

[18] Marziyych Dabbagh, ‘Zanan va naqsh-i anan dar majlis’ (Women and their role in the Majlis: a round table), Nida, 17-18 (Winter 1996), p. 9.

[19] Ziba Mir-Hosseini, op. cit., p. 150.

[20] G.Maliki, ‘Zanan dar majlis, az ibtida ta kunun’ (Women in the Majlis, from the Beginning until Now), Payam-i Zan, 51 (June 1996). pp. 30-36.

[21] See, among others, Maryam Behruzi’s interview in Jumhuri-i Islami. 28 Farvardin 1361 (17 April 1982), p. 7.

[22] To defend the cause of women they frequently re-interpreted Islamic laws. See, Haideh Moghissi, ‘Factionalism and Muslim Feminine Elite in Iran’, in Saeed Rahnema and Sohrab Behdad (eds), Iran After the Revolution (London: I. B. Tauris, 1996).

[23] For an in-depth account of these debates, see Haleh Esfandiari. ‘The Majles and Women’s Issues in the Islamic Republic of Iran’, in Mahnaz Afkhami and Erika Friedl (eds). In the Eye of the Storm: Women in Post-Revolutionary Iran (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1994).

[24] See, Ittila’at, 3 Isfand 1361 (22 February 1983), pp. 6 and 11.

[25] Personal interview with Azam Taliqani. Tehran, February 1996.

[26] For Azam Taliqani’s views, see, Azar Tabari and Nahid Yeganeh (eds), In the Shadow of Islam (London: Zed Press, 1982), pp. 171-200.

[27] Personal interview with Azam Taliqani, February 1996. Also see, Masa’il-i Zanan (Women’s Problems), Vol. II. (Tehran: Payam-i Hâjar Publications, 1991), pp. 6-8.

[28] Personal interview, February 1996.

[29]Ittila’at, 13 Isfand 1368 (3 March 1990), p. 4.

[30] For family planning, see, among others, Homa Hoodfar, ‘Devices and Desires, Population Policy and Gender Roles in the Islamic Republic’, Middle East Report (September-October 1994), pp, 11-17.

[31] Their number is now approximately 560.

[32] Personal interview with Marziyyeh Siddiqi, member of the fifth Majlis elected from Mashhad, and one of the founders of the Office of Women’s Affairs. Tehran, July 1996.

[33] Technical, technological and scientific knowledge proved indispensable to the implementation of reconstruction policies. Consequently, the government began to valorize professionals, especially medical doctors, engineers, architects and economists. The shortage of specialists even led the government to send envoys to persuade the educated diaspora to return.

[34] Ahmad Ashraf, ‘Theocracy and Charisma: New Men of Power in Iran’, International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, 4 (1990), pp. 128-9.

[35] Iran Who’s Who, 1993 (Tehran, April 1993).

[36] Salnameh-i Zan (Zan-i Ruz, February 1993), p. 82.

[37] Zan-i Ruz, No. 1559, p. 9.

[38] For a discussion on the Hizbullah, see Farhad Khosrokhavar, ‘Iran: de la revolution à l’islamisme hezbollah’, in Gilles Kepel (ed.), Les politiques de Dieu(Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1993), pp. 71-95; and, Shahin Gerami, ‘Privatization of Women’s Role in the Islamic Republic of Iran’, in Gustavo Benavides and M. W. Daly (eds), Religion and Political Power (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1989), pp. 99-118.

[39] For a detailed account, see Azadeh Kian, ‘Les enjeux des elections législatives en Iran post-islamiste’, Les Cahiers de l’Orient (forthcoming, January 1998).

[40] Keyhan, Risalat and Subh, close to Ayatollah Khaminehyi, usually advocate devotion, while Ittila’at, Iran, Hamshahri, Akhbar and Bahman, who are close to the professional ruling elite, argue for the crucial significance of specialization in the period of reconstruction. The weekly Bahman, edited by Muhajirani, the Vice-President in parliamentarian and juridical affairs, was the most vocal organ of the Islamist-professional elite. It was forced by the Tehran Society of the Combatant Clergy to cease publication in April 1996 and its editor was tried.

[41] Professionals are usually graduates of the higher educational institutes, and are composed of two groups: the salaried employees of the public and private sectors, and the liberal professionals. They include medical doctors, dentists, university professors, engineers, managers, technocrats, bureaucrats, and the like.

[42] Personal interview, December 1992, Paris.

[43] A. H. Mehryar, M. Tabibian and R. Gholipour, ‘Changing Pattern of Household Incomes, 1974-1993’, (Tehran: Institute for Research on Planning and Development, Working Paper No. 7, 1994).

[44] Controversy exists among specialists as to women’s participation in the labour force. For example, Fatemeh E. Moghadam (‘Commoditization of Sexuality and Female Labor Participation in Islam: Implications for Iran’, in In the Eye of the Storm), argues that their participation is lower compared to the pre-revolutionary Iran, while Val Moghadam (‘Women’s Employment Issues in Contemporary Iran: Problems and Prospects in the 1990s’, Iranian Studies, 28 (1995), pp. 175-200), maintains that official statistics show a higher participation.

[45]  ‘Natayei-i tafsili-i musharikat-i zanan dar niruy-i kar’. (‘The Participation of women in the Work Force’) Sarshumari-i umumi-i nufus va maskan, (Tehran: Markaz-i Amar-i Iran). October 1988, and September 1993.

[46] See, ‘Gam ha-i dar jahat-i tabyin-i jaygah-i zan dar iran’, Salnameh-i Zan. (February 1993), p. 23.

[47] From Miarziyyeh Siddiqi’s interview, in Riyhaneh (2 September 1996), p. 11.

[48] Fariddeh Sarhadi, Nahid Muti’, and Furugh Ihsani, ‘Naqsh-i zanan-i rusta-i dar Tawsi’ih, zarurat-i azish guzari’, Iqtisad-i Kishavarzi va Tawsi’ih (Quarterly Journal of Agricultural Economic Studies), 2 (1994), p. 135.

[49] See, Firuzeh Khal’atbari, ‘Iran: A Unique Underground Economy’, in Thierry Coville (ed.), L’économie de l’Iran islamique: entre l’Etat et le marché (Tehran: Institut Français de Recherche en Iran, 1994), pp, 113-131.

[50] See, among others, ‘Ujrat ul misl tasvib shud’, SaInameh-izan (February 1993), p, 28.

[51] See the speech of Hassan Aminlu in ‘Tarh-i Kumision-i vizheh-i umur-i zanan dar majlis’, (The Proposition for the Creation of Women’s Affairs Commission in the Majlis). Zan-i Ruz, 26 (February 1993), pp. l1-12.

[52] Ibid., p. 54.

[53] For middle class women’s aspirations, see Shahin Gerami. ‘The Role, Place, and Power of Middle Class Women in the Islamic Republic’, in Val Moghadam (ed.), Identity Politics and Women: Cultural Reassertions and Feminism in International Perspective (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994), pp. 329-48.

[54] For these demands see, among others, ‘Nimayandegan-i majlis va khasteh ha-i zanan’ (The Deputies of the fifth Majlis and Women’s Demands), Payam-i Zan. 52 (June 1996), pp. 4-7.

[55] Ittila’at, 15 January 1996, p. 3.

[56] Ittila’at, 22 January 1996, p, 2.

[57] ‘Zanan va naqsh-i anan dar majlis’ (Women and their Role in the Majlis), Round Table, Nida, 17-18 (Winter 1996), p. 12.

[58] For a detailed account see, Azadeh Kian, ‘Les enjeux des élections législatives en Iran post-islamiste’, Les Cahiers de l’Orient (forthcoming, January 1998).

[59] See Zanan, 29 (June 1996), p. 60.

[60] Personal interview, July 1996.

[61] The voting age is set at 16 under the Islamic Republic.

[62] G. Maliki, op. cit., p. 34.

[63] Personal interview, July 1996. Also see her interview with the Iranian press in Hamshahri, 26 June 1996, pp. 1-2; and Zan-i Ruz, 1563 (June 1996), pp. 4, 61.

[64] Personal interview, July 1996.

[65] Zan-i Ruz, 1559, 19 khordad 1375, p. 7.

[66] Ibid, p. 6.

[67] Personal interview, Tehran, July 1996.

[68] For a more detailed discussion, see Azadeh Kian, ‘L’islam est-il incompatible avec la démocratie?’, Etudes (September 1995), pp. 161-7.

[69] Abdulkarim Surush, ‘Farbeh tar az idioluzhi’, Kiyan, 14 (September 1993), pp. 9-11.

[70] Mirza Muhammad Husayn Naïni, Tanbih ul umma va tanzih ul milla (Tehran, 3rd edn, 1955).

[71] Muhammad Mujtahid-Shabistari, ‘Din va ‘aql, sukhan-i akhar’, Keyhan Farhangui (July- August 1989), p. 14.

[72] Personal interview with Shahla Shirkat, Tehran, September 1994. See also the editorial of Zanan, 1 (February 1992), pp. 2-3.

[73] For the alliance between secular and Islamist women, see, among others, Azadeh Kian, ‘Des femmes iraniennes contre le clergé: islamistes et laïques pour la première fois unies’. Le Monde Diplomatique, November 1996, p. 8; and Ziba Mir-Hosseini, ‘Stretching the Limits: A Feminist Reading of the Shari’a in Post-Khomeini Iran’, in Mai Yamani (ed.), Feminism and Islam: Legal and Literary Perspectives (London, Garnet, 1996), pp. 285-319.

[74] Personal interview with Mahbubeh Ummi, Tehran. September 1994.

[75] Personal interview with Shahla Shirkat, Tehran, September 1994.

[76] For a discussion on legal issues, see, Ziba Mir-Hosseini, ‘Stretching the limits...’, pp. 306-308.

[77] 77. Ibid.

[78] Personal interview with Shahla Shirkat, September 1994.

[79] Mina Yadigar Azadi, ‘Qizavat-i Zan’, (Women’s Judgment) Zanan. Vol. I. No. 5, p. 21; and ‘Ijtihad va marja’iyyat-i zanan’, (Women’s Religious Authority), Zanan. vol. I, No. 8, p. 24.

[80] Personal interviews with Mahbubeh Ummi, Tehran, September 1994, and with Ma’sumeh Ibtikar, Tehran, July 1996.

[81] Personal interview with Tayyibeh Iskandah, Tehran, July 1996.

[82] Personal interview, July 1996.

[83] See among others, the interview of Nasiri, the editor of Subh, in Subh, 2, 60 (July 1996). pp. 57-58. Also, ‘Zan-mard, tasavi ya tafavot’ (‘Woman, Man, Equality or Difference’), in Pasdar-i slam. May 1996.

[84] Personal interview, July 1996.

[85] Zan-i Ruz, No. 1559, 19 khordad 1375, p. 7.

[86] See, Subh, 2, 50, June 19, 1996, p. 7 and 2, 61, August-September 1996. For the special issue, see Farzaneh, No. 7 (Autumn-Winter 1996).

[87] Personal interview with Shahla Shirkat, Tehran, July 1996. For the special issue, see Zanan, No. 29, June 1996.

[88] Agence France Presse. 27 Octobre 1996.

[89] Personal interview, July 1996.

[90] See, among others, Fatimeh Ramizanzadeh, Suhayla Jiludarzadeh and Marziyyeh Siddiqi’s interview with Zan-i Ruz, No. 1577, 19 October 1996, pp. 18-19 and 60.