Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /afs/ir.stanford.edu/group/womenscourage/cgi-bin/blogs/wpmu-settings.php on line 45
Women's Rights in Iran » Women's Courage

Women's Rights in Iran

February 18th, 2011 by ayflores Leave a reply »

Araceli Y. Flores

Over the course of this blog, I hope to shed light on the gap between the rights “guaranteed” by legal institutions and the very disparate reality that women face in accessing and attaining these rights on the ground. Bangladesh, as presented in my previous posts, fits this mold perfectly: Over the years, its constitution, constitutional amendments, and legal frameworks have worked to promote a progressively more liberal view of women’s rights and freedoms. While there are an infinite number of offenses to these rights, a commitment exists, at the very least, in written form.

This week, I would like to address a completing different, grimmer set of circumstances in which the government itself perpetrates abuses of women’s rights and justifies these abuses through the nation’s legal code. Iran presents a unique case in the study of women’s rights. Since the end of the twentieth century, the world has seen the advent of globalization and a general trend toward increased democratization and economic liberalization. With these two forces working hand in hand, societies are often pushed toward increased openness and challenged to protect the rights of their citizens. Instead of progress, however, Iran has seen a reversal of the rights provided to women: On February 11, 1979 the pro-Western Iranian constitutional monarchy was overthrown and the nation became the Islamic Republic of Iran. The new, theocratic leadership rolled back much of the progress made by the women’s movement under the Iranian monarchy. Ironically, many women initially supported the Iranian Revolution because they believed its promises of greater “Independence and Freedom” would help advance equity for all citizens. [1]

Sadly, the women’s rights gained under the Shah regime were systematically removed and denied under the new government. Even before the Revolutionary Council had indoctrinated a constitution for the “new” Iran, they passed a series of laws directed toward effacing women’s basic marital and family rights: The revolutionary regime passed laws allowing men to take multiple wives and granting men full custody of children in all divorce situations [2]. Just last year, a new bill was passed allowing men to marry new wives without consent of their current wife. The bill also places greater restrictions on women’s access to alimony post-divorce, and places taxes on alimony that is received. [3]

Interestingly, women in Iran have greater access to basic political freedoms, such as the right to vote, run for Parliament, and travel freely than they do to social freedoms and bodily protections: Women are subject to police beatings and torture for violating perceived social norms, such as immodest dress in public. Moreover, women’s protections within the private space, the home, are even more tenuous—many women are silent suffers of domestic violence. [4]

A recent petition to revoke Iran’s status as member of the UN Women’s Commission captures the social status of women perfectly: “Women lack the ability to choose their husbands, have no independent right to education after marriage, no right to divorce, no right to child custody, have no protection from violent treatment in public spaces, are restricted by quotas for women’s admission at universities, and are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for peacefully seeking change of such laws.” [5]

These realities paint a grim picture of the status of women’s rights in Iran. Next week, I hope to explore the ways in which different women’s movements within civil society are challenging the social norms and restrictions placed on them by their government.



[1] “Women’s rights under Iran’s revolution” BBC NEWS (2009): http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7879797.stm

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Iranians Protest Bill on Rights of Women” New York Times (2010) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/18/world/middleeast/18iran.html

[4] “EXCLUSIVE: U.N. Elects Iran to Commission on Women’s Rights” FoxNew.com (2010): http://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/04/29/elects-iran-commission-womens-rights/#ixzz1EHxP6llC

[5] Ibid.



  1. kjewett says:

    The book I’m reading for our book report will greatly interest you. “Journey From the Land of No” by Roya Hakakian recalls a young girl’s childhood in revolutionary Iran and the experiences of cultural repression. I have found her memoir to be remarkable because she accounts how the revolution presented such a crossroads for various progressive movements. In the case of women’s rights, can we truly observe these overthrown governments as presenting an opportunity for progression? Or, must they always be constructed as grassroots movements, especially when up and coming leaders make false promises? This book is particularly moving because women in Iran are so limited in their rights, and yet Ms. Hakakian offers such a beautiful, brave perspective of Iranian women’s rights now that she can safely look back and critically evaluate the situation. Your post is provokes many interesting thoughts, and I encourage you to look into this fascinating period in history more!

  2. wsallman says:

    When you mentioned that many women supported the Iranian Revolution in 1979, I was highly surprised. I wonder what sort of propaganda or misinformation the revolutionary leaders disseminated that encouraged women to join the movement. It seems like the general revolutionary ideas of freedom and self-determination did not have the male-centered focus during the inception of the movement but shifted once the new leaders were in power. I am also confused how political freedoms are allowed when personal freedoms are highly restricted. Does this happen because when personal lives are regulated it becomes difficult to exercise one’s political rights fully? Both of these issues raise interesting questions more generally and I applaud your post for bringing these ideas forward.

  3. vaughanbagley says:

    Wow. Well, correct me if I am wrong but it seems to me that there are important connections in Iran between your two points: 1) the initial that many countries have laws in principle that are not followed in practice and 2) countries, such as Iran, have laws that blatantly restrict women’s rights. I say this because you mentioned that women have more basic political freedoms than they do social liberties, and yet their social liberties would restrict their political freedoms: providing negative feedback, if you will. For example, how would a woman in Iran ever succeed in joining Parliament if she had a very abusive, controlling husband and was surrounded by law enforcement that would not let her speak her mind. As part of Parliament, I would assume it would be her job to fight for what she believes in, or maybe what her husband believes in, so does she have any true political freedom at all? I find this post very interesting simply because of the way you present these two different ways women’s rights can be lost, and yet I find them to be so intertwined. Also, because Iran IS part of the UN Women’s Commission depicts our own failure as a global community for failing to recognize these human rights violations sooner. Women need to stop being overlooked by not just Iranians, but ALL members of our society.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.