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article imageThe Status of Women in Iran

By Brandon McPhail     Jun 16, 2009 in World
It has been proven that when a society’s women are well-educated and prosperous, the society as a whole only stands to gain. Women’s education rates and legal rights before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution are essentially unchanged in Iran.
The West has it in its collective conceptualization of women’s rights in the Middle East that when governments were sympathetic to the West, somehow it meant the lives of women were better.
Under the American-backed Shah, Sharia Law was implemented in 1970. While each country that implements Sharia Law does so with its own interpretation, just as western nations interpret democracy differently, all forms of the law put men well ahead of women.
Recent outrage in Iran’s capital Tehran has been centered around the University of Tehran over what many students are saying was the invalid re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Reports from around the world have shown women have taken a front seat in the protests. It makes sense that female students would be at the forefront of these protests as they comprise a majority of the student body in some faculties. The University of Tehran is a bastion of relative equality in a country where women’s rights go no further than having their husband ask permission before he takes additional wives.
In 1963, Prime Minister Assadullah ‘Alam issued a decree giving women the right to vote. As a result, eight women were elected to office and a woman was appointed ambassador to Algeria.
This led to the first Women’s Conference in 1965 where issues of women's education and marriage laws were discussed by 2,000 attendees. With increased popularity in women’s groups, the government conglomerated all women’s groups into one pro-government group called the Women’s Organization of Iran (WOI).
By 1975, the WOI had established 349 branches and 120 centres throughout the country. Organization and education made the WOI a driving force behind the 1979 Revolution that eventually led to the gradual decline in women’s rights. By 1983 the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution banned women from studying engineering, science, technology and agricultural studies.
The WOI remained a force throughout the 1980’s, eventually leading to the repeal of limits on women’s education in 1986 when women were once again permitted to pursue studies in their chosen field.
By the early 1990’s, women made up approximately half the student population at the University of Tehran, with 58 per cent of students in Natural Sciences being women.
By 2009, 65 per cent of the student population are women. As grassroots religious fundamentalism spread throughout Muslim nations in response to wars fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980’s, and later against America and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, men gradually made up fewer numbers at the University of Tehran.
Today, women in Iran live in a perpetual state of rights acquisition and disillusion. The Iranian government has created female police brigades, allowed for female news reporters and have female government representatives at English news conferences.
At the same time, since the conservative resurgence in 2004 and the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a woman can still receive 74 lashes for going out in public without a Hijab.
Recently defeated presidential hopeful Mir-Hossein Mousavi had promised to make women’s rights a part of a new Iranian constitution had he been elected.
Moussavi, who is married to Zahra Rahnavard who served as a political advisor to former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, has also promised to appoint female cabinet ministers.
With Ayatollah Khamenei currently reviewing Friday’s election results, women’s rights in Iran are once again in a state of purgatory.
More about Iran, Women rights, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
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