Iranian Society

Women in pre-revolutionary, revolutionary and post-revolutionary Iran
By: Monique Girgis, 1996

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Chapter One: Pre-revolutionary Iran
Pre-revolutionary Iran was a complicated time, one that included much change and conflict. Reza Shah and his son, Mohammed Reza Shah, the leaders of the Pahlavi regime, were trying to introduce modernity into Iran, as Ataturk did in Turkey. Many of their reforms centered around women, placing them in the public eye. In this chapter I am going to be examining the social impact that the Pahlavi regime had on women's roles and on the women's movement in Iran. In order to understand women's changing roles, we need to investigate the nature of the two political paradigms (the Pahlavi regime and the Islamic Republic). This examination will encompass several different areas, including family life, veiling and socioeconomic factors.

Girl cadets of the police academy in graduation ceremony, circa 1972
Pre-revolutionary Iran saw a lot of modifications to both the structure and life-styles of the people. Reza Shah rose to power and took over the leadership of Iran between 1921 and 1925, ushering in the Pahlavi regime. Reza Shah's goal was to nationalize and secularize law in Iran and he was working towards more state control of all government functions. With the rise of Adolf Hitler in 1933, the Shah saw a possible ally. Unfortunately, Reza Shah's commitments to Germany ensnared him in the power conflicts of World War II, and he was forced to abdicate and leave Iran. Upon his abdication, his son, Muhammed Reza Shah, took over the leadership of Iran. During the duration of Muhammed Reza Shah's reign, Iran was transformed from a monarchy into a dictatorship, as the Shah controlled virtually all government operations. His control was manifested mainly through the Senate, his family, and the State Organization for Intelligence and Security (SAVAK).[1]

Mohammed Reza Shah's reign was characterized by corruption and internal conflict. He tried to salvage the existing social and economic structures (which were in shambles) established during his father's rule. With the economic crisis of the late 1950's, the Shah's American advisors advocated economic reforms, which came in the form of the White Revolution. The White Revolution was officially announced in 1963, which was basically a six part program including major land reforms, nationalization of forests, electoral changes to franchise women, the sale of state owned enterprises to private interests and profit sharing in industry. A significant part of the ulama were opposed to the land reforms, which was increased by the attempts of the Shah and the government to intimidate their religious opposition.[2] The reason that the certain sections of the ulama were unhappy with the White Revolution was because their own endowments of land were not exempt from the land reforms. Although Nesta Ramazani argues that there was actually a pragmatic section of the ulama that supported the more moderate reforms.[3]

Unfortunately the White Revolution didn't accomplish its goals of appeasing the discontent in Iran. It was actually detrimental to most of the classes it was intending to help, only benefiting the already wealthy landowners. The economic reforms gave few peasants any land, and even those that received land were not given any grain, farming tools or a foundation upon which to build an agricultural enterprise. The landowners, however, had their land bought out from them by the government and were able to invest in more lucrative fields.

Another piece of legislation that symbolized modernity on paper (but not actuality) was Iran's constitution. Even though the constitution was constantly referred to in speeches and bazaar debates, it had little effect upon the Iranian people. Rather, the constitution was used as a symbol of Westernism.[4] The constitution only influenced a handful of people, such as land owning aristocracy, merchants, urban intelligencia, and some religious leaders.

Throughout this period in Iran, the ulama remained outwardly neutral to the Shah's modernization policies, but often them in private.[5] Only a minority of the ulama publicly criticized the Shah, or participated in demonstrations. The ulama's backgrounds were very different, and they didn't represent a homogenous class. Their social origins ranged from rural workers to merchants and large landholders. With this variation in social backgrounds came one in income and education. Many of the clerics were in fact uneducated, or semi-educated.

Due to the misguided leadership of the Shah, Iranians grew increasingly dissatisfied with their government. As displeasure escalated, three men emerged as the leaders of the Islamic Fundamentalist movement that would soon take control of Iran. These three men were Ayatollah Khomeini, Ali Shariat'i and Morteza Motahari. Despite differences in these three mens' ideologies no distinction was made between their writings in the pre-revolutionary period. Khomeini stood for a very conservative approach to Islam, wanting to return to the old values and traditions of the Koran.

Shariati was a more liberal in his ideas than Khomeini. He was active in both the 1960's and 1970's and was one of the mechanisms behind the ideology of the Islamic Revolution. Shariati's writings had a particularly large impact on women and intellectuals. In an attempt to rethink Shi'a ideology he called for a new interpretation of Islam in sociological rather than metaphysical terms (whereas Khomeini favored religious preservation). Basic to Shariati's writing was the concept of human will, as opposed to the more commonly held idea of predestination. He believed that through knowledge a person becomes responsible for his or her actions. Shariati emphasized both a historical and religious approach to Islam, encouraging Muslims to learn the history of Islam in addition to the Koran. He viewed the Koran as something to be comprehended by each generation as time changed. Shariati condemned the reactionary segments of Islam, preferring to follow a reformist Islam. He tried to prove to the people of Iran that Islam could be progressive and that emancipation was possible for women in original Islam (as opposed to the more prevalent chauvinistic interpretations of Islam, Fatima Mernissi is a good example of this argument). Initially SAVAK allowed Shariati to preach, hoping that he would rid Iran of the ulama (the clergy), but once it became obvious that this wasn't going to happen, and Shariati had in fact become a threat to the monarchy, he was jailed. Four years later, in June of 1977, he was released and was sent into exile. Shariati died very soon thereafter in England. Many believed that he died from the torturing he was subjected to while in jail.

Motahari was one of the other great influences of this time. His writings were decidedly more conservative than Shariati's. Motahari also wrote of reasserting Islamic values in a changing social atmosphere and his writings were in response to reformist intellectuals who were pushing a Western lifestyle. Motahari used all the means possible to get his ideas across, from state-run publications to women's magazines and journals. He published articles in Zan-e Rooz (a leading Iranian magazine) condemning the FPA reforms of the 1960's and argued that the inherent physical, psychological and sexual differences between women and men inevitably translated into different obligations and rights, including different systems of sanctions and punishments. Women are weaker and more easily excited, whereas men are slaves to their sexual drives. Motahari also believed that the chadur (the veil) was indispensable for the good of society. The chadur strengthens the institute of marriage, for it encourages youth to marry young and fulfill their sexual desires by increasing sexual tension. The chadur also increases women's value and respect. Motahari is not against women's social and economic activities, provided the chadur is always present.

By the late 1970's it was becoming apparent that neither the Shah's reforms, nor SAVAK could control the rising discontent. Islamic Fundamentalism was growing rapidly, spreading across Iran. From late 1977 to 1979 latent confrontation between the ulama and the regime became more intense. The conflict finally came to a head in 1978, and mass urban demonstrations began in opposition to the regime. The nationalists felt humiliated by Iran's continued use of foreign advisors, and the ulama emphasized the moral decay Iran was undergoing, which later became the focal point of the Islamic revolution.[6] In 1979 the Shah decided to leave Iran on an "extended vacation". A mere three days after his departure, the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran. On April 1, 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced Iran under the jurisdiction of the Islamic Republic.

Women's Roles Under the Pahlavi Regime
With Reza Shah's introduction of both modern civil and penal codes in 1928 and with his replacement of religious judges and lawyers with secularly educated ones, the influence of shari'a (Islamic law) and the ulama in the courts was drastically reduced. Yet, the ulama's influence regarding marriage, divorce and child custody was still intact. The provisions for the first Iranian civil code, ratified in 1928, were taken mostly from shari'a law. The only difference was that marriages now had to be registered, the minimum marriage age for women was set at 15, and women were allowed to include the right to divorce in their marriage contracts. None of these changes questioned either the treatment of women or the cultural beliefs surrounding marriage. Reza Shah's policies had little effect on women's roles as most of his reforms were a compromise between the ulama and modernization. The Shah was not ready to risk the anger the ulama and religious factions of Iran by totally departing from Islamic law. Although a lot of legal changes were made during the Pahlavi era, as we will see they actually brought about little change to Iran, specifically women.

Akram Monfared Arya (Right) one of Iran's first female pilots, mid 1970's
Reza Shah's biggest accomplishment was his attempt to unveil the women of Iran. In 1929 the Shah issued a law forcing Iranians to wear more Western clothing, which was followed by another law in 1935 requiring European hats. Reza Shah took this law one step further in 1936, banning women from wearing the chadur. Reza Shah implemented his unveiling plan with caution, taking several steps to prepare the public for it. Although he had been toying with the idea of abolishing the chadur as far back as 1934, he waited until February 1, 1936 to proceed with his plan. Ataturk also enacted similar unveiling laws in Turkey, but the difference between the two was while the Shah used coercion and force to unveil women, Ataturk used a method of encouragement, requesting that women remove their chadur, not requiring it.[7]

A large segment of professional middle class women hailed the abolishment of the chadur as freedom from oppression. To these women it signified backwardness and subjugation. Several women's magazines invited debate on the topic, including Women's World in 1936, receiving an overwhelming response of both pro and con arguments about the unveiling. Generally the response was supportive of the Shah's unveiling policy.[8] It's important to remember, though, that the majority of women writing letters to the editors were generally well-educated, or at the very least, literate. The magazines were only publishing the opinions of one specific group of women.

For many women, however, the chadur was not a sign of oppression, but protection from strange eyes. The unveiling had negative effects for certain groups of Iranian women, especially older women. It was unthinkable for them to go out in public unveiled, and many women became isolated in their homes. Being unveiled, to them, was equal to nudity. They became dependent on their family members to run their errands and do all their tasks that required being in the public eye. The unveiling law was short lived, however, diminishing when the Shah left Iran in 1941. The women who chose to reveil did so for several reasons. For one, the waning of the law was not caused by a lack of enforcement, but rather a lack of a socialization process to discard the wearing of the veil.[9] Many women chose to reveil themselves because they had never come to accept the Shah's law. A second reason women chose to reveil themselves ties into the first. Many women were forced to reveil themselves because of the strong social pressures that had developed as the people of Iran never came to accept the unveiling policies that were implemented.

Family Law and the Family Protection Acts
When Mohammed Reza Shah took over after his father's abdication he continued to introduce modern legislation into the Republic of Iran. One of the largest and most controversial laws was the Family Protection Acts (FPA) of 1967, and the revised version of the Family Protection Acts of 1975. The legislation altered the legalities surrounding women's rights in the domestic sphere. The FPA was meant to put all family issues through the courts, rather than having them handled personally. It made changes in several different fields, including divorce, marriage and sigeh (temporary marriage). The FPA laws of 1967 did not expressly repeal any articles of the Civil Code, but prevailed when a conflict arouse.

One of the most radical changes that the FPA made was raising the minimum marriage age of men and women to twenty and eighteen respectively. However, looking at statistics, it's obvious that the minimum marriage age was rarely enforced, especially in more rural areas. According to a ten year study of the Iran Fertility Survey conducted in 1976, more than 50 percent of Iranian women marry before the age of 17 and the remaining 50 percent are mostly married by the age of 20.[10] A survey in Iran of rural women, published in July of 1971, reported that 37 percent of all females had married before or at the age of 13, and that 57 percent had been married between the ages of 14 and 18. Only 6 percent were married between the ages of 19 and 30.[11] These numbers show that the new minimum ages were not effectively enforced, especially in more remote areas of Iran.

Under Islamic law a man is allowed to take up to four wives, so long as he is able to treat his wives equally. The FPA made some slight amendments to this law. According to the FPA of 1967 a man could not take a second wife without the permission of the courts. In 1975 the revised FPA added a second stipulation, requiring the permission of the first wife also be obtained. The only exception was when a woman couldn't fulfill her wifely duties (such as child birth, sexual relations, etc). Under the FPA polygamy became a state more legally difficult to achieve, since men could no longer marry a second wife without the consent of the courts or his first wife. Although the laws look good on paper, they weren't nearly as effective in practice. This law had little impact on women for three reasons. The first is that the stipulation of obtaining a wife's permission could be easily avoided. The new FPA version of polygamy also did not differ all that much from Koranic law. Behnaz Pakizegi writes that,
Owing primarily to financial and social dependency, the first wife often feels that she has no choice but to consent. Through various threats and pressures, the husband often gets his way. The worst threat is often that he will divorce her to marry the other, and few women want to be divorced, left unsupported, and suffer the resulting social stigma.[12]
A wife often would not be able to protest to a husband's second marriage for fear of economic repercussions, or even divorce. The second reason that the restrictions on polygamy were ineffective is because polygamy was not widely practiced; in fact it was quite rare. The changes only affected a minute group of people in Iran. The third reason is that even though the FPA did make changes, the restrictions on polygamy in Article 15 of the FPA weren't all that progressive. They followed the Koran, IV, 3, which states, "if you fear you will not be equitable, then only one."[13] The only difference is that a man now needed to get permission of the court in order to take a second wife. The FPA also put more restrictions on sigeh. Since all marriages had to be registered under the new Family Protection Acts, any temporary marriages were not acknowledged.

Divorce was another important issue that was tackled. Under Koranic law Muslim men could unilaterally divorce their wives. Two witnesses had to be present at the divorce to try to reconcile the couple, but this practice was rarely enforced. Women, however, could only apply for divorce under very limited circumstances. Under the FPA laws divorce was only granted through the courts, and only when it was apparent that no reconciliation could be achieved. Five other stipulations for divorce were also added; imprisonment of either the husband or wife for a specific duration, addiction, remarriage of the husband without permission of the wife, abandonment, or a court decision that either spouse might hurt the family prestige on either side. Although this did add more grounds under which a woman could be divorced, the laws now also held true for husbands. This is an example of another area where the Shah was making a compromise. He was unwilling to give women any independent rights of men. Additionally, the first wife of a man could now legally ask for a divorce on the grounds of her husband's second marriage.

The FPA laws were also not very revolutionary, since they mimicked Islamic law. In articles 7 and 8 the FPA states that it is the court's duty to reconcile estranged spouses, which is also in accord with the Koran, IV, 39, which says, "if you fear a breach between the two, bring forth an arbiter from his people and an arbiter from her people."[14] It also makes use of the clause that imposes this duty on the two witnesses required for divorce. Article 16, of the 1967 FPA, is another law which was not altered to reflect the modernization that Reza Shah was looking for. The article states, "The husband may, with the court's sanction, restrain his wife from engaging in any sort of employment which will be incompatible with the family's best interests or his own or the wife's respectability."[15] This article was subsequently changed in the 1975 FPA to give women the same rights as men, but the Shah took care not to grant women any rights that men did not have. Laws were only altered within the confines of shari'a law.

Many hailed the FPA's clauses making divorce more difficult for men as a step towards equality. But the divorce statistics indicate otherwise.

Year Number of Divorces
( x 1000 )
Divorce Rate
(per 1000 marriages)
1966 25 165
1967-1976 17 100
1977 17 94
1978 25 81
1979 21 74
Table 1.1 : Number of Divorces and Divorce Rates In Iran[16]
The FPA also addressed women's role in the work force. In the past, a husband could forbid his wife from working if he felt it would endanger his reputation. The FPA, in article 18, stated that wives, too, could forbid their husbands from accepting jobs on the same grounds. The women's side did have an added stipulation; the court had to decide whether the family income would be seriously affected if the husband ceased to work. The law clearly did not give women the same rights as men, holding true to the Islamic notion that men are the primary breadwinners in the family.

Two other major legal issues were also tackled at this time. Mohammed Reza Shah decided to legalize abortion. He based his decision on a ten year study of the Women's Hospital of Iran which stated that sixty percent of miscarriages were actually self-induced abortions, demonstrating the problems that Iran was having with illegal abortions.[17] Married women needed to obtain the written consent of their spouses first, and unmarried women could have an abortion by their own request.

The other controversial law that was changed was the passport law. It originally stated that wives needed the written permission of their husbands in order to leave Iran. Many intellectual women opposed this law and the subject was debated upon for years in various forums, including women's magazines. In November of 1976 a new passport law was issued, stating that a husband's permission for a wife to travel outside of Iran was valid for six years. As with the Family Protection Acts, compromise with the old rules was the most important issue at hand. Shari'a law was not eliminated, it was merely modified.

Despite some of these legal advances, several of the most discriminatory laws were never changed. For example, in Article 1059 of the Civil Code, the marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man was prohibited by shari'a law, but men suffered no such restrictions.[18] The inheritance laws remained the same, where women only inheriting half of her male kin's share, and if widowed, a wife would only receive one eighth of her husband's estate. One other law that was never changed stated that if a man found his wife in a sexual relationship with another man and injured or murdered one or both of them, he was immune from prosecution. If he found his sister in the same situation he would, at best, receive a punishment of one to six months' imprisonment.

Under Mohammed Reza Shah advances in education were made for the entire population of Iran. Although the Shah does not deserve all the credit, for the increasing economic activity in Iran played a large role in the increase in education. With the increasing economy the job market opened up, creating new positions that needed to be filled. This larger market also led to an increased opportunity for women in the both the work force and education.

Despite the overall increase in literacy for women, formal education was still limited. Regional disparities show that education was not evenly distributed among the rural and urban people. The chart below shows the literacy rates based on both gender, and geographic location by year.

Total Urban Rural
1966 1976 1966 1976 1966 1976
Male 30.1 58.9 61.4 74.4 25.4 43.6
Female 17.9 35.5 38.3 55.6 4.3 17.3
Difference 12.2 23.4 23.1 18.8 21.1 26.3
Table 1.2 : Literacy Rates by Sex and Residence[19]
The statistics show that, although there were gains in literacy, there was still a huge discrepancy between rural and urban areas, and the female literacy rate in 1976 was only 35.5 percent.

The educational gains that women made were mainly at the elementary level. Limited access to higher education hindered women from radical changes in their economic activities and they remained dependent on their male kin. The education system also did little to change sex roles or women's perceptions of themselves, the curriculum supporting the socialization of girls into nurturing mothers and providers.

The Women's Movement and Public Politics
Reza Shah's policy towards the women's movement reflected his need for control of Iran. In the earlier years, from 1925 to the 1930s, the various women's movements supported the Shah's rule. But with the increasing state control and police repression, the activities of women's groups were repressed, and eventually banned in the mid 1930s. Even while quashing all women's groups, the Shah continued to present a pro-women's front. Iran hosted the Second Congress of Eastern Women in 1932, which brought Middle Eastern and South Asian women to Tehran. The Patriotic Women's League of Iran participated in the Congress, but a man was appointed to oversee them.[20] Unfortunately the Patriotic Women's League only lasted until 1932, and then it was dismantled by the government. Two years later, the Shah ordered the Kanoon-e Banavan (the Women's Center) to be formed. Kanoon-e Banavan was one of the first women's organizations to hold a close relationship with the government its main goals were to improve women's moral and mental education, provide housekeeping and child rearing instruction. Kanoon-e Banavan was mainly pro-charity orientated group, replacing the strong independent feminist groups like the Patriotic Women's League. The women's groups in Iran were tightly controlled by the government and not highly feminist. The changing nature of women's groups under the Shah are indicative of his true stance on women's rights. They grew more charity orientated as time progressed. Haideh Mughissi argues that the cooptation of these women's groups had far reaching effects, depoliticizing women activists and discrediting the women's movement. Women's organizations were given little respect or credibility in Iran due to their ties with the government.

An Air Force woman officer of Iranian Imperial Army, mid 1960's
With the allies removal of the Shah, the anti-religious atmosphere began to dissipate. The period saw a major reorganization of the political and democratic parties, allowing for the establishment of special branches for women. Many of these parties felt obligated to address women's rights, or at the least touch upon the issue. Kanoon-e Banavan still pursued its activities after the abdication of the Shah, re-emphasizing traditional stands on women's rights. Literacy, sewing and how to treat your husband were the main issues on the group's agenda, and the group published a newsletter entitled Zaban Zanan (Women's Voice) expressing their views. By 1945, however, membership only consisted of 60 people.[21]

The goverment-sponsored Kanoon-e Banavan was eventually disbanded and in its place rose two new parties; the Women's party, founded by Safiyeh Firouz and Jamiet Zanan (the Women's League). The Women's Party's goals were similiar to Kanoon-e Banavan, but it was less radical. Their goals were to educate and raise women's consciousness, and raise awareness about the different classes of women. Jamiet Zanan was founded in 1942, and its major objective was to improve the legal conditions of women. The group published its own newspaper called Zan Emrus (Today's Woman) between 1944 and 1945, printing news articles on the behalf of women's legal rights.

Women's organizations were a bit more independent between 1941 and 1952, the weakness of the Pahlavi government allowed for a little more freedom. The major characterization for women's parties during this time period was their inalienable ties to various political parties. Each group had allegiance with one particular party, and women's issues often played secondary roles. There was a lack of a coherent ideological unity, and a lot of strife existed between different parties. Women's groups began to attack each other along their party lines.[22]

By the 1950's the women's movement became more centralized and their activities became more compatible with the government's agenda. Mohammed Reza Shah's policy was a gradual co-optation of women's activities into the political system, so that they would all come under a central institution for women. The Shah, like his father, wanted state control of all women's organizations. In 1959 the Shah established the High Council of Iranian Women's Associations which incorporated seventeen other women's groups. Ashraf Pahlavi, the Shah's sister, was appointed honorary president of the organization. In 1966 the organization was renamed Sazeman-e Zanan-e Iran (The Women's Organization of Iran (WOI)). Up until the 1979 revolution, the WOI was the only women's group campaigning for legal reforms. Unfortunately, the WOI failed to garner the interest of the Iranian intelligentsia. Although its membership was estimated at 70,000, many of the members were actually participants of other organizations that belonged to the WOI. The WOI was not meant to be a feminist organization, its existence, in fact, was meant to prevent that very thing.

It's widely argued that the co-optation of these women's organizations was merely an attempt on the part of the Pahlavi regime to save the monarchy. In 1958, the monarchy in neighboring Iraq had been destroyed, which was of great concern to the Shah. In addition, President Kennedy had declared that the United States would offer aide only to those countries that were ready to help themselves.[23] Discontent was growing in Iran from the corruption in the government and charges of illegal election practices. It was becoming obvious that something needed to be done quickly. And that something was the White Revolution, an attempt to appease the masses. These women' s groups were merely window dressings for the regime.

Debates on women's suffrage continued to grow. In 1959 a huge debate took place on women's suffrage in the Majlis. In 1962, under the premiership of Assadollah Alam, a decree was issued giving women the right to vote and to run in provincial and town elections. However, under pressure from the ulama, the decree was withdrawn by the prime minister. Women, as a sign of protest, refused to commemorate the day of unveiling by the Shah. Women also staged a one-day strike by various professional women's organizations including teachers, civil servants and employees of private institutions. Two days after the strike, a ballot was taken to see if the Iranian people would support the six-point program of the Shah. Women cast their votes in separate ballot boxes. The women's votes had shown an overwhelming support for the Shah's decree, and on February 27, 1963 women were once again given the right to vote and run for office.

On September 17, 1963 elections took place and six women were elected to the Majlis as deputies. The Majlis, which was comprised of sixty members, contained two female representatives, although neither were elected but rather appointed by the Shah. In 1965, a woman was appointed minister for the first time. A special effort was made by the government to show that not only could women vote, but they also could become elected officials. The image Iran portrayed was one of progress and modernization.

Labor Force
Women's roles in the work force underwent some social and economical change between 1956 and 1978. The importance of agriculture was diminishing and labor moved from low to high productivity sectors and more capital intensive production.[24] The first national development plan was launched in 1949, and as time progressed direct and indirect investments made by the government became larger, compared to the national income. The government began to play a larger role in the oil revenues of Iran, which was important in the shaping of sectoral and personal wealth.

Between 1960 and 1972 the national income grew at an average annual compound rate of 8.7 percent. In 1973 and 1974 oil prices quadrupled, resulting in a 34 percent increase in the Gross National Product (GNP) over 1972's statistics. With all this economic progress, the gap between rural and urban grew.

Year Total GNP
millions of $
Per capita
Compound growth rate of per capita income(%)
1966 25 25 165
1966 25 25 165
1966 25 25 165
1966 25 25 165
1966 25 25 165
1966 25 25 165
1966 25 25 165
1966 25 25 165
1966 25 25 165
Table 1.3 : Gross National Product (in 1971 prices) [25]
Source: H. Askari & S. Majin “Recent Economic Growth in Iran”,
Middle Eastern Studies 12 (no 3, 1976):100
There were other developments that set off a chain of reactions reinforcing the economic gains of Iranian women, for which the Pahlavi regime deserves little credit. The developments were independent of any government action, and largely responsible for women's increased participation in the work force. One development was an accelerated rate of economic development due to oil. This acceleration created opportunities for women in several different ways. There was more opportunity for qualified women to join the work force of Iran. More women in the work force in turn caused some social changes, as men began to see that women could be productive and efficient.

During the twentieth century, society underwent a slow, but fundamental change. Traditionally Iranian women had low status jobs. In 1956 only 9.2 percent of women were working. In 1971 the number had risen to 12.5 percent.[27] However, many women often held jobs that were outside the official labor sphere, more 'feminine' jobs, such as domestic servants, and self-employed vendors. These women had no legal protections and were not subject to holidays or minimum wage laws.

The industrialization that Iran was undergoing required the passage of several labor laws. Many of the labor laws were revised in order to accommodate the new, larger working class of women. Women, except for nurses, were forbidden from working the night shift. Additionally, women were forbidden to do any work that could be harmful to them. Interestingly, these were the same laws that existed for children. In an indirect way the Shah was casting women into the same role as children regarding labor.

Unfortunately Reza Shah's ruthless tactics often undermined any progress he made. The brutal way in which Reza Shah enforced many of his policies failed to garner the support of the majority of women. A sense of moral degeneration and helplessness filled the people of Iran. His need for control prevented the women's movement from developing any independence, denying many women activists' political and cultural growth.

Many of Reza Shah's policies were not as liberating as they appeared on the surface. The Shah obviously was not a true believer in the reforms he was making for women. Most of the laws enacted were only superficial, and most didn't deviate far from shari'a law. Reza Shah himself was polygamous, having three wives- an indicator of how dedicated he was to pro-women rights. Mohammed Reza Shah said of his father in his book "Mission for My Country",
Reza Shah never advocated a complete break with the past, for he always assumed that out girls could find their best fulfillment in marriage and in the nurture of superior children. But he was convinced that a girl could be a better wife and mother, as well as a better citizen, if she received an education, and perhaps worked outside the home long enough to gain a sense of civic functions and responsibilities.[28]
The Shah was not encouraging women to join the work force and to become independent women. He was merely expanding on the Islamic notion of motherhood.

The Shah was much more concerned with modernizing and women's suffrage was one of the quickest ways he could show the outside world of Iran's progress. The Shah was not unique in this sense, as much of Ataturk's reforms also centered around women, like with the chadur, for example. That's not to say however, that Reza Shah's policies had no effect on women's roles, for that's untrue. But the effects were not as far reaching as one might believe. Especially since many of his policies were in writing, but often not enforced in practice.

In fact, in several areas, the government only served to hurt the women's movement. At this point in time, there was little faith or credibility in the government. The Women's Organization of Iran was never taken very seriously because of its associations with the Shah, and the regime refused to give women's organizations any liberty or freedom. They became puppets of the government. Whenever a women's group became too independent, it was disbanded immediately.

Although many of the legalities were altered in Iran to give women more rights, they were rarely known or used in practice.

What is beyond question, however, is that many of the reforms... remain only skin deep, and have not yet penetrated Moslem society as a whole. It is one thing to give women rights on paper, but it is a very different thing to make illiterate village women aware of their rights or to persuade them to exercise them.[29]

The Shah made no effort to help enact these laws through education or socialization. The Pahlavi regime was more interested in external appearances than the internal realities taking place in Iran.

  1. Don Peretz, The Middle East Today ( Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1994) 517.
  2. Martin Riesebrodt, Pious Pass: The Emergence of Modern Fundamentalism in the United States and Iran (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: U of California Press, 1993) 116.
  3. Nesta Ramazani, “Women in Iran: The Revolutionary Ebb and Flow” Middle East Journal 47 (1993): 409.
  4. Don Peretz, The Middle East Today ( Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1994) 518.
  5. Martin Riesebrodt, Pious Pass: The Emergence of Modern Fundamentalism in the United States and Iran (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: U of California Press, 1993) 148.
  6. Martin Riesebrodt, Pious Pass: The Emergence of Modern Fundamentalism in the United States and Iran (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: U of California Press, 1993) 125.
  7. Haideh Moghissi, Populism and Feminism in Iran: Women’s Struggle in a Male-Define Revolutionary Movement (Great Britain: The Macmillan Press LTC, 1994) 39.
  8. Eliz Sanasarian, The Women’s Right Movement in Iran: Mutiny Appeasement and Repression from 1900 to Khomeini (USA: Praeger Press, 1982) 63.
  9. Eliz Sanasarian, The Women’s Right Movement in Iran: Mutiny Appeasement and Repression from 1900 to Khomeini (USA: Praeger Press, 1982) 65.
  10. Mahnaz Afkhami, and Erika Friedl, In the Eye of the Storm: Women in Post-revolutionary Iran (Great Britain: Syracuse University Press, 1994) 48.
  11. Eliz Sanasarian, The Women’s Right Movement in Iran: Mutiny Appeasement and Repression from 1900 to Khomeini (USA: Praeger Press, 1982) 96.
  12. Eliz Sanasarian, The Women’s Right Movement in Iran: Mutiny Appeasement and Repression from 1900 to Khomeini (USA: Praeger Press, 1982) 8.
  13. C.E Bosworth, Iran and Islam (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1971) 65.
  14. C.E Bosworth, Iran and Islam (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1971) 58.
  15. C.E Bosworth, Iran and Islam (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1971) 64.
  16. Akbir Aghajanian, “Some Notes on Divorce in Iran,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 48 (1986): 730.
  17. Eliz Sanasarian, The Women’s Right Movement in Iran: Mutiny Appeasement and Repression from 1900 to Khomeini (USA: Praeger Press, 1982) 99.
  18. C.E Bosworth, Iran and Islam (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1971) 67.
  19. Mahnaz Afkhami, and Erika Friedl, In the Eye of the Storm: Women in Post-revolutionary Iran (Great Britain: Syracuse University Press, 1994) 23.
  20. Montclair State University Department of Economics and Finance, Theocracy, Human Rights and Women: The Iranian Experience: Proceedings of a One-day Conference (Upper Montclair, NY: Montclair State University, 1993) 40.
  21. Eliz Sanasarian, The Women’s Right Movement in Iran: Mutiny Appeasement and Repression from 1900 to Khomeini (USA: Praeger Press, 1982) 72.
  22. Eliz Sanasarian, The Women’s Right Movement in Iran: Mutiny Appeasement and Repression from 1900 to Khomeini (USA: Praeger Press, 1982) 73.
  23. Martin Riesebrodt, Pious Passion: The Emergence of Modern Fundamentalism in the United State and Iran (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1993) 130.
  24. Guity Nashat, Women and Revolution in Iran (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983) 69.
  25. Guity Nashat, Women and Revolution in Iran (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983) 70.
  26. Eliz Sanasarian, The Women’s Right Movement in Iran: Mutiny Appeasement and Repression from 1900 to Khomeini (USA: Praeger Press, 1982) 71.
  27. Guity Nashat, Women and Revolution in Iran (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983) 76.
  28. Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Mission for My Country. (USA: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1961) 231.
  29. Eliz Sanasarian, The Women’s Right Movement in Iran: Mutiny Appeasement and Repression from 1900 to Khomeini (USA: Praeger Press, 1982) 97.