How the religion of the Iranian revolution affected women's rights and what they have done trying to gain them back.
Once a theocracy came to power in Iran, it destroyed human rights for women. Before and during the rule of Mohammad Reza, rights for women in Iran would improve to new heights never experienced in that area of the world before. They would fight for and gain many liberties to bring them closer to equality in their country. After a successful religious revolution in 1979, women were forced to comply with religious laws under threats of harsh penalties. These new conditions would leave them struggling to find ways to protest for their equality and fundamental human rights. Desperate times gave rise to strong and resilient women willing to risk everything for a mere whisper of hope that their voices may one day again advance towards equality and freedom.
Before the revolution, The Family Protection Law restricted a man's absolute right to divorce their wife and granted women equal rights for divorce, custody of children, marriage settlements, and limited guardianship rights. The legal age of marriage for women changed from 15 to 18, and he created restrictions on polygamy. Under Mohammad Reza, women were able to be judges, deputies to the Iranian parliament, and members of his Cabinet.
A well-spoken, zealous religious figure named Ruhollah Khomeini gained popularity and demolished the progress women in Iran made in their struggle to gain equal status within their home nation. Women against Mohammad Reza fell victim to theology under false pretenses, which got in the way of any real opportunity for women to advance. Some women believed the revolution would further equality and fundamental human rights. Still, less than two weeks after the success of the Islamic revolution, celebrations quickly turned into protests as Iranian women learned the oppression they would face under Islamic law. Haleh Esfandiari was forced to flee Iran upon realizing her disillusionment. Haleh said ¨I remember those days in Iran, too; the revolution created a sense of participation among men and women from all classes. In the marches that led to the revolution, there were professional women without scarves and women from traditional backgrounds wearing the traditional black veil; there were women from lower- and middle-class families with their children. All these women walked shoulder to shoulder, hoping that the revolution would bring for them an improvement in their economic status and an improvement in their social status, and most of all, an improvement in their legal status¨. As they protested, they chanted, "We did not have a revolution to go backward.".
From 1976 to 1986, women's employment decreased to 6.8 percent. Most of the women in the public service sector lost their jobs because of their appearance. The legal age of marriage for women dropped to 13 years old, and the rate of female representation in parliament dropped to 1.5 percent. Many women were imprisoned, executed, or exiled for their previous positions in government, their point of view, or how they dressed.
Despite the oppression women face, their will to fight for equality remains. As the media does not usually cover political demonstrations, those who participate are often beaten, killed, and arrested. With the suppression of women trending towards the extreme and harsh punishments for dissenters, new strategies would need devising. Iranian women created the ¨One Million Signatures¨ campaign to collect signatures from supporters in hopes of petitioning the government for equal marriage rights and inheritance rights, ending polygamy once again, and create strict punishments for honor killings. Although these Iranian women believe their goals align appropriately with the regime, they are still careful in their pursuit of signatures, and many of the movement's leaders have been arrested.
Sadly reward is not the only product of risk. Another campaign took a bold and more dangerous approach. Iranian women post photos on Facebook and other social media sites showing themselves without headscarves in a protest against the Hijab laws imposed by the theocracy. The ¨my stealthy freedom¨ campaign has over a million likes on Facebook and has gained worldwide news coverage. Iranian security forces have not released many details, but at least 15 ¨my stealthy freedom¨ protesters have been imprisoned and given harsh sentences.
Peaceful coexistence between the West and Iran will require the cooperation of both sides, while the freedom of expression enjoyed in the Western world is diminishing the potential for peaceful coexistence. Words like Islamophobia should not cause one to withdraw. The women in Iran and other religious theocracies have diminished voices, but they have not been silenced. "When you see corruption, when you see injustice, you speak up. You don't just shut up and say it's none of my business." -Manal Al-Sharif. The Western world still has steps towards true equality. Still, the West is a global leader that can affect change globally and should continue to lead and pressure nations that use their religious beliefs to subjugate women and minorities.