Someone recently said to me, when discussing very muslim countries and their segregation and misogynistic attitude towards women (example) that it’ll never change, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Well, I want to disprove that point by showing that it hasn’t always been this way, and that muslim women in countries such as Iran were not always as heavily persecuted as they are now.
My example is that of Iran prior to the revolution of 1979, and whilst I understand that this is not an example that can be applied to the whole of the Muslim world, nor was Iran a perfect place (it was autocratic, and there was heavy use of the secret police to suppress people) it can be used to show that even countries that are heavily influenced by Islam as a religion were once slightly more tolerant of equality amongst the genders and could be so again if “Respect for Religious Beliefs” weren’t so softly and delicately skirted around by politicians and news reporters.
Firstly, let’s look at what sort of Country Iran was prior to the revolution of 1979. As you can see, many links are incorporated within the below text which go into greater detail of the points being raised:
Iran was a monarchy, (Iran’s monarchy) under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and was a regime many people of all backgrounds were unhappy with. Shah Pahlavi maintained a close relationship with the United States government, both regimes sharing a fear of/opposition to the expansion of Soviet states. It was internally criticised by the people for being too cosy with America, and suffered from basic functional failures – an over-ambitious economic program that brought economic bottlenecks, shortages and inflation. There was huge political unrest with public riots and protests common (sound familiar!?)
Nevertheless, despite there being a need for change, the people of both sexes were more equal, and there was some semblance of church and state being seperate. The below pictures are from 1970s, just a few years before the Islamic takeover:
Demonstrations against the Shah commenced in October 1977, developing into a campaign of civil resistance, and intensified in January 1978. Between August and December 1978 strikes and demonstrations paralysed the country. The Shah left Iran for exile in mid-January 1979, and in the resulting power vacuum two weeks later Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran. The royal regime collapsed shortly after on February 11 when guerrilla and rebel troops overwhelmed troops loyal to the Shah in armed street fighting. Iran voted in a national referendum in which only one choice was offered (Islamic Republic: Yes or No), Ayatollah Khomeini declared an Islamic republic with a new Constitution reflecting his ideals of Islamic government. Since the revolution, it’s not only women in general who have suffered, more than 200 Bahá’ís have been executed or killed, and many more have been imprisoned, deprived of jobs, pensions, businesses, and educational opportunities. Bahá’í holy places have been confiscated, vandalized, or destroyed. More recently, Bahá’ís in Iran have been deprived of education and work. Several thousand young Bahá’ís between the ages of 17 and 24 have been expelled from universities for no particular reason. Wrong religious choice!
Whether the Islamic Republic has brought more or less severe political repression is disputed. Grumbling once done about the tyranny and corruption of the Shah and his court is now directed against “the Mullahs.” Fear of SAVAK has been replaced by fear of Revolutionary Guards, and other religious revolutionary enforcers. Violations of human rights by the theocratic regime is said by some to be worse than during the monarchy, and in any case extremely grave. Reports of torture, imprisonment of dissidents, and the murder of prominent critics have been made by human rights groups. Censorship is handled by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, without whose official permission, “no books or magazines are published, no audiotapes are distributed, no movies are shown and no cultural organization is established.”
The ideology of the revolution opposes equal rights for women. Within months of the founding of the Islamic Republic the 1967 Family Protection Law was repealed, female government workers were forced to observe Islamic dress code, women were barred from becoming judges, beaches and sports were sex-segregated, the marriage age for girls was reduced to 13 and married women were barred from attending regular schools. Women began almost immediately to protest and have won some reversals of policies in the years since. Inequality for women in inheritance and other areas of the civil code remain. Segregation of the sexes, from “schoolrooms to ski slopes to public buses”, is strictly enforced. Females caught by revolutionary officials in a mixed-sex situation can be subject to virginity tests. Women may also be sentenced to fines, beatings, or even death if they are found to be engaged in pre-marital sex.
Compare the earlier pictures of 1970s Iranian women with those from more recent times:
Modern times? Or pure discrimination based on a sexist religious leadership?
Please understand that I am not picking on Iran as a country to be vilified in modern times, as it is not the worst of the world’s human rights offenders (although it’s certainly not a good example of ‘rights’). However, it is an example where religion in the modern age has directly lead to greater segregation, sexism, and outdated laws against the rights of all people, especially women. It also shows how quickly things can change if religious intolerance is allowed to continue.