The Effects of the Islamic Revolution on Women's Rights

Compulsory covering of women

The Islamic Revolution of 1979 had a large impact on women's rights in Iran in terms of legislation, and affected the general role of women in Iranian society. What were these effects and to what degree were Iranian women influenced?

Legislative Effects

In order to capture the importance of developments in women's rights legislatively post-revolution, it is necessary to examine progress in women's rights made in the period before the revolution occurred.

Before: Under Pahlavi Rule

  • “A number of legislative and political developments during the Pahlavi rule increased the chances of overcoming traditional obstacles in gaining civil protection and political participation in society” (Daniel)
  • legislation meant to improve conditions for women
    • changed instated practices concerning legal age and conditions of marriage, women’s right to divorce, and the practice of temporary marriage (e.g. Family Protection Act)
    • changed women’s rights into the domestic sphere (e.g. property rights)
  • modernization → polarization → extremes of practice (some women profited from the changes, some did not) → “male-female interactions in the traditional sector remained relatively unchanged”; where “modern sector looked into western lifestyle” (Daniel)

After: Under Khomeini Rule

  • “the constitution of the Islamic Republic was a major setback for human rights and the rights of women and religious minorities” (Price)
  • Per Article 4 of the constitution: all penal, financial, civil, economic, administrative, cultural, military, political, and other laws and regulations must be based on Islamic Shari’a (def: Islamic law based on the teachings of the Koran and the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed) (Price)
  • new clerical leaders denounced the reforms of Pahlavi (e.g. modernization and emancipation of women) and thus forced a return to old traditions and norms (Price)
  • Jan. 1979 – women barred from becoming judges (Price)
  • April 1979 – family protection laws (these laws put restrictions on traditional practices like polygamy and provided judicial freedom to women) (Price)
  • marriage age for women reduced, married women barred from attending schools, forced/chosen resignation of women from gov’t posts, mass condemnation of birth-control (it was deemed “un-Islamic”), sex-segregation in schools (Price)
  • summer of 1980 – compulsory veiling bill (Price)
  • however, women could still play a role in government and can be/were elected to the parliament (Price)
  • steps backward toward traditional Islamic society → backlash of women’s rights movement
  • “Women are in same position as members of religious minorities. The constitution guarantees their rights and equal treatment, but conformity with the Islamic codes and criteria annuls such equality” (Price).
  • Shari’a gives superior legal status to males → legally institutionalized discrimination → system cancels itself out (Price)
  • Articles 20 and 21 of the constitution define women’s rights
    • Both include clauses that put the rights given to women in the context of “Islamic criteria” (Price)
    • Underline the traditional role of women (Price)

Limitations to be Considered: Should this view be applied to all women in Iran?

  • “Rural Iran was well prepared for this shift before 1979” (Friedl) – although progress towards improvement in the rights/equality of women was prevalent in metropolitan Iran, that does not mean that the same can be said about rural Iran. The general gender dynamic in rural Iran before and after the Islamic Revolution was more in line with the traditional ideas enforced by the Islamic Republic.
  • “The dominant view of women in post-revolutionary Iran, often reinforced by the mass demonstration of women in government rallies, is that they are all alike, all oppressed, obedient to their male counterparts, overly traditional, and shrouded in the veil (châdor). This could not be further from the truth. Though Iranian culture remains patriarchal, women in Iran are diverse, belong to different subcultures and social classes, and follow different traditions within the overall patriarchal culture.” (Daniel)
  • Other factors innate to Iranian society as well were in place that affect Iranians' perception of women's rights/role long before the Iranian revolution:
    • existence of sub-cultures and social classes → follow different traditions
    • homogeny impossible in such a culturally and geographically diverse country
    • upholding familial honor – a “culture norm” that restricts most all women in Iran (Daniel)
    • “In many cases, privacy, freedom, and individuality are subsumed by the interests of the family, husbands, or parents” (Daniel)
    • tribal and religious traditions → affect women’s rights and obligations

Daniel, Elton L.Ali Akbar Mahdi. "Iran: Historical Evolution of Women's Status and Gender Relations." Culture and Customs of
Iran. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press, 2006. Daily Life Online. ABC-CLIO. 13 Oct 2009.

Friedl, Erika. "The Dynamics of Women's Spheres of Action in Rural Iran."
Women in the Middle East. By Nikki R. Keddie and Beth Baron. Binghamton:
Vail-Ballou, 1991. 195-214. Print.

Price, Massoume. Iran’s Diverse Peoples. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2005.