. Misogyny Pillar of religious Fascism Misogyny Pillar of religious Fascism

Misogyny Pillar of Religious Fascism

-Gender distinction, pillar of Islamic fundamentalism
-Misogyny, by-product of gender distinction

Misogyny and Reform

-Inviolable frontiers
-Illusion about reform
-Practical experience

Women Equality Movement in Iran, Past and Present

-Constitutional movement: A new chapter
-Women under Pahlavi dictatorships
-Women resist mullahs’ rule

-Breaking through double barriers
-Women in all-out resistance
-Women in the Iranian resistance
-The beginning of a revolution
-A leap forward: from equality to hegemony
-Prospects for the future

Misogyny Pillar of religious Fascism


Maryam Rajavi has today become the focal point of hope for all Iranians, particularly women, in their quest for a democratic and equitable future. She has endeavored relentlessly to pave the way for women’s equal partnership in charting their lives and fate in the realm of politics and struggle.

Mrs. Rajavi’s leadership in Resistance movement had a dramatic impact on the progress of women. Her approach to the issue of women’s emancipation was unique, as was her offensive against the patriarchal culture. She says: "Iranian women must free themselves. Freedom does not come free, and no one will ever deliver it to us on a silver platter. The path to liberation begins the moment you believe that no one can prevent the liberation of a woman who has chosen to be free of the fetters we all know too well."

On giving equal opportunity to women, Mrs. Rajavi states: "First we must create an opportunity for women to choose freely; in other words, build relationships that are unimpeded by distinctions and discrimination based on gender. It is only in such a relationship that the issue of free choice can be meaningful for women... Rejecting distinctions based on gender requires us to reject the notion of a human being as condemned to a determined fate because of characteristics imposed on him or her about which she or he had no say, for example, nationality, gender, language, appearance, etc. The law of human evolution determines that an individual’s humanity is determined by what she or he has created by choice and action."

On the basis of this outlook, major advances in rejecting gender-based distinctions were made within the ranks of the Resistance, and all women, not just a few, were able to realize their human essence. Given the deep roots of the patriarchal mind-set, Mrs. Rajavi argued that women had to be given the opportunity to exercise hegemony over men, at least for a period of time, in order to consolidate them in their positions.

In August 1993, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the Iranian Resistance’s Parliament, elected Mrs. Maryam Rajavi as Iran’s future President for the transitional period following the mullahs’ overthrow. "In this new capacity," she said, "my most important responsibility is to create and promote national solidarity. My first task is to give the Iranian people back their hope... I want to give them the hope that, united together, we can overcome the darkness, hopelessness and death that have enveloped our country."

Mrs. Rajavi has on many occasions spoken her mind out about the plight of women in Iran and in the ranks of the Resistance. She has also addressed the link between misogyny and fundamentalism. This booklet, a compilation of a number of her speeches, offers some of her reflections on issues that are of paramount importance for the Equality Movement both in Iran and elsewhere around the world.

Sarvnaz Chitsaz,
March 2003

Ms. Chitsaz is Chairwoman of the Women’s Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran

Maryam Rajavi

A Glance at her life
Maryam Rajavi was born in 1953 to a middle class family in Tehran. She has a degree in Metallurgical engineering. She joined the anti-Shah movement in the early 1970s and soon became one of the leaders of the movement. She later joined the People’s Mojahedin, a Muslim, democratic and nationalist organization.

The Shah’s regime executed one of her sisters, Narges, and the Khomeini regime murdered another, Massoumeh, pregnant at the time, along with her husband. Massoumeh died of the brutal torture.

Mrs. Rajavi was active in the social department of the Mojahedin and played an instrumental role in attracting and recruiting university and high school students to the movement in the post-Shah Iran. She was a candidate for parliament in Tehran in 1980. Despite widespread rigging she received more than a quarter of a million votes.

She played a key role in organizing two major nonviolent demonstrations in Tehran in April and June of 1981. Following June 20, 1981, Khomeini unleashed his pervasive terror on Iranians tens of thousands were arbitrarily arrested and executed. During this period the Revolutionary Guards raided her places of residence several times but she managed to survive these encounters.

Mrs. Rajavi went to Paris, the political headquarters of the movement in 1982. She held various responsibilities and due to her qualifications was eventually elected as the Mojahedin’s joint leader in 1985. Four years later in 1989, she became the Secretary General of the organization.

After the Iranian Resistance’s military arm, the National Liberation Army, was formed in 1987, she served as the army’s Deputy Commander in Chief for six years and transferred it into a well-trained, mechanized army.

In August 1993, the National Council of Resistance of Iran elected Mrs. Rajavi as Iran’s future president for the
transitional period following the mullahs’ overthrow. Subsequently, she resigned her posts in the Mojahedin and the NLA to devote all her time and energy to her new responsibilities.

In October 1993, Mrs. Rajavi went to France. Her election had given tremendous hope to Iranian women in their quest for equality and a bright future. Large numbers of Iranians in the four-million-strong Iranian community living abroad came to see Mrs. Rajavi in Paris.Many dignitaries from Europe, the Middle East and the United States also went to Paris to meet with Mrs. Rajavi. In June 1996, London’s Earls Court was the scene of largest-ever gathering of 25,000 Iranians who had come to hear Mrs. Rajavi.

In a speech before some 15,000 NLA combatants in 1998, Mrs. Rajavi vowed that the Iranian Resistance would continue its struggle to overthrow the religious, terrorist dictatorship ruling Iran..

Pillar of Religious Fascism

Go back to Top
Tens of thousands of women attending the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, and hundreds of millions more elsewhere in the world anxiously waited to see what this unprecedented conference will accomplish. They all got a taste of the Iranian regime’s insolence as it actively opposed the principle of equality and the universally accepted motto of "women’s rights are human rights." This time, "misogyny" was concealed under the cloak of the Islamic fundamentalism.

This could have served a serious warning to alert the Equality Movement about a "new global threat." Ever since, however, little has been done to understand who the Islamic fundamentalists ruling Iran are and what they have done in the past two decades. Without question, it is imperative for all advocates of the Equality Movement and human rights to have an understanding of the nature of the Tehran regime and the pivotal role of misogyny in its formation and survival.

In the first half of the 20th century, the world, reeling from the staggering toll of the massacres and catastrophes of the World War I, confronted, rather quickly, the threat of fascism. It became cognizant of the evil represented by fascism, albeit at the price of the World War II and over 50 million dead. This cognition, erected on the ruins of that war, has now been institutionalized in democratic societies, in different aspects of social life and in laws and regulations that govern civilized societies.

In order to facilitate a better understanding of the issue at hand, we should say, without indulging in superficial comparisons or resorting to exaggeration, that "misogyny," especially "misogyny in power," and its devastating dynamism against democracy and human values are comparable in many ways to the notion of racial supremacy in Hitler’s National Socialist ideology or Nazism as the world came to know and experience it. To say the least, they require similar vigilance and knowledge in order to deal with them.

In other words, just as racial superiority was the pillar of the Hitler’s Nazism, the thinking and culture of Iran’s ruling theocracy and Khomeini-style fundamentalism rely on gender distinction and discrimination. This is true to such a degree that should the ruling mullahs abandon male hegemony over women, they would be changing their very nature.

Founded on the principle of velayat-e faqih (the absolute supremacy of clerical rule), the religious dictatorship ruling Iran resembles, generally speaking, the regimes of medieval Europe whose laws were rooted in religion. Such regimes also ruled in Asia prior to the rise of modern-day capitalism.

The world was at a loss to cope with the emergence, in the final decades of the 20th century, of a peculiarly medieval regime in a country whose century-long history was entwined with popular struggles to attain democracy. This sense of bewilderment led to erroneous understanding of this phenomenon. It goes without saying that the Iranian people and the Resistance paid the heavy price of such a misperception. The Iranians were surprised to see their trust and hopes betrayed by a medieval regime that emerged in the midst of a popular revolution and went much farther than its predecessor in repressing and brutalizing the population.

That said, showing perseverance against this regime and exercising prudence to understand its unique features would ensure invaluable achievements for the equality movement and offer clear guidance to the efforts undertaken in quest of peace, democracy and social justice..

Gender distinction, pillar of fundamentalism

Go back to TopThe mullahs’ totalitarian regime is based on the principle of velayat-e faqih. It derives its justification and theoretical basis from fiqh (jurisprudence) which encompasses all aspects of individual and social life. A review of this mindset in its totality, however, demonstrates that the pillar of this backward school of thought is gender distinction and discrimination. In other words, it is a gender-based ideology.

Theoretically, Iran’s ruling fundamentalists establish their thesis on the differences between the sexes and the conclusion that the male is the superior sex and hence the female is a slave at his service. By this approach, they negate a woman’s human identity.

The fundamentalist mind considers physiological traits as the determining factors in its value system. Gender-based differences are used to justify sexual discrimination and inevitably lead to enmity towards women. This is the bedrock of the fundamentalists’ rationale, the leitmotif and cornerstone of their ideology which gives them inspiration and the power to mobilize their forces. The Quran, however, lays emphasis on the distinctive human characteristics - cognizance, free will and responsibility - that set the criteria.

Former mullahs’ President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said: "The difference in stature, vitality, voice, development, muscular quality and physical strength of men and women shows that men are stronger and more capable in all fields… Men’s brains are larger… These differences affect the delegation of responsibilities, duties and rights."

In truth, the fundamentalists do not believe women are human. To tone down such an outrageous view, however, fundamentalist ideologues have tried to equivocate in this respect. One such theorist, Morteza Motahhari, contends: "All women are fond of being supervised ... Men’s spiritual superiority over women was designed by Mother Nature. No matter how much a woman wants to fight this reality, her efforts will prove futile. Women must accept the reality that because of their greater sensitivity, they need men to control their lives." ("The Order of Women’s Rights in Islam," Morteza Motahhari).

The ultimate message of the mullahs’ value system, laws and practices is that women are "weak" and properties of men who are superior to them as much as God is to mankind. The mullahs state explicitly: "It is a woman's legal duty to obey her husband. Such obedience, like other kinds of mandatory submissions, falls in the realm of obeying God."

Therefore, in the fundamentalists' view, women, as a second-class citizens, cannot and must not have any place in leadership, governance, judgeship and any serious post that deals with running society’s affairs. They have gone as far as saying that "women must be kept uninformed to make sure they are obedient."

Former Judiciary Chief Mohammad Yazdi, who was a confidant of Khomeini and is now a member of the powerful watchdog Guardian Council, says: "In Islam, as we understand and practice it, women are banned from two things: serving as judges and governing. No matter how knowledgeable, wise, virtuous and competent they may be, women do not have the right to rule." Yazdi further stated: "If humans were not obliged to kneel before God only, women should have knelt before their husbands."

In the fundamentalists' view, therefore, women do not enjoy the right to participate in political and social life; rather, they serve as slaves to their husbands in their houses. In 1962 Khomeini vehemently opposed women’s suffrage. He said: "Women have been allowed to work in offices and wherever they have gone, that office has been paralyzed... As soon as a woman enters a system, she messes it up."

A gender-based jurisprudence solidifies discrimination and inequality not only in social and political arenas but also in civil rights of women.

From this standpoint, the right to divorce is exclusive to men, and is justified as follows: "If the man does not put away his wife and remains loyal to her, the woman will also love him and remain loyal to him. Therefore, Nature has given the key to the natural dissolution of the marriage to the man." ("The Order of Women’s Rights in Islam," Morterza Motahhari).

Accordingly, a woman’s self esteem derives from the man, and so she does anything to gain his esteem. Her soul and flesh, feelings, even her basic identity, belong to and are identified with him. Man replaces God for a woman, a view plainly contradictory to monotheism, which Islam represents.

According to Islam and Islamic precepts, a woman owns her body and all her property. Under the pretext of the sanctity of the family, however, the reactionaries consider the husband as the owner of his wife’s body and life, thus making her his slave.

Khomeini's theory of the velayat-e faqih begins with gender discrimination and ultimately tramples upon the most rudimentary human rights of women.

Khomeini’s confidant, Ahmad Azari Qomi, who received several key judicial appointments, said the following on the marriage of virgin girls: "In Islam, the marriage of a virgin girl is not allowed without the permission of the father and the consent of the girl. Both must agree, but at the same time the rule of the divine leadership supercedes that of the father and the girl on the issue of marriage and vali-e faqih can enforce his view contrary to the opinion of the father and the girl." This means a mullah could sanction the forced marriage of the girl over her own objection and that of her father.

The gender distinction is so evident in all aspects of the mullahs’ jurisprudence, including in worship, in trade and in signing contracts, that no justification can conceal the philosophical essence and dualistic nature of the mullahs’ gender-based ideology and distinctions.

As pointed out earlier, even in remarks by the more recent fundamentalist theoreticians who have sought to soften the harsh image of the regime, gender distinction and the denial of women's human dignity is far too apparent to be concealed.

Motahhari says paradoxically: "... Women and men are equal in their human essence, but they are two different forms of humans, with two different sets of attributes and two different psyches..." He then emphasizes: "Such differences are not a consequence of geographic, historic or social factors, but are enshrined in the essence of Creation. There is a purpose to these natural differences, and any practice which contradicts Nature and man’s natural disposition will bring about undesirable consequences.".

Misogyny, by-product of gender distinction

Go back to TopFrom the fundamentalist mullahs’ perspective, sexual vice and virtue are the principal criteria for evaluation. The most ignoble and unforgivable of all sins is sexual wrongdoing; piety, chastity and decency are basically measured by sex-related yardsticks. Seldom do they apply to the political and social realms. Purity or corruption is essentially judged according to criteria that are in one way or another related to sex. When such a value system evolves into the social norm, the walls of sexual demarcation become taller, thicker and even more ubiquitous. Fundamentalism conceives of woman as sinister and satanic; she is the embodiment of sin and seduction. She must not step beyond her house, lest her presence in society breed sin. She must stay at home, servicing her husband’s carnal desires; if she fails to comply, she is compelling her man to commit sin outside the home.

The fundamentalists look at the world and the hereafter through distorted, sex-tinted glasses. Throughout history they have fabricated their own fantasies as moral lessons and attributed them even to the Prophet Mohammad’s ascension to Heaven. Predictably, the fabricated stories focus on the gravity of sexual sins and the severity of punishment meted out when such sins are committed. Here is one reactionary theorist’s fantasy shamelessly attributed to the Prophet’s me’raaj, or his ascension to Heaven: "I saw a woman hanging from her hair whose brain was boiling because she had not covered her hair. I saw a woman who had been hanged from her tongue and Hell’s boiling water was being poured into her throat, because she had irritated her husband. I saw a woman in a furnace of fire, hanged from her feet because she had left home without her husband’s permission ..." ("Hayat-al-Qolub," Mullah Mohammad Baqer Majlessi).

Such fantasies are nowhere to be found in the Quran. The Quran contains more than 6,200 verses, the great majority of which deal with the question of existence, history and the human being, and emphasize the responsibilities of the human race. The total number of verses focusing on religious precepts does not exceed 500, of which only a handful with sexual vice and virtue.

According to the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet), the Prophet enumerated seven mortal sins, namely loss of faith in God’s mercy, homicide, robbing orphans of their belongings, sorcery and demagoguery, usury, and slandering virtuous women. A common theme runs through these seven sins, however diverse they may be: rather than being introspective, they all relate in one way or another to social relations and man’s relations with others in society.

Looking at the list of the seven mortal sins, the question comes to mind that while one of the mortal sins is slandering women, why do fundamentalists exaggerate gender distinctions? Is this not simply a dogma persisting from the ancient times? That may be, but the mullahs see this as the only way to maintain a monopoly on Islam and seat themselves upon the throne of religion. The mullahs use gender distinction and highlight sexual misconduct to justify their misogynous outlook and apply it to all spheres of man-women relationships in society. In this way, they keep control.

Ironically, while it is the man who commits a sin or, to say the least, the sin is equally shared between a woman and a man, in the misogynists’ world, it is the woman who pays the highest price, is constantly humiliated, and treated as subordinate and a second-class citizen just because she is a woman. In the mullahs’ system, it is the women who have to wear the hejab to prevent sin and comply with the extremely discriminatory rules. Most important of all, it is the women who must feel shame from the day they are borne and be characterized as sinister, satanic creature.

In this way, in the fundamentalist mindset, gender distinctions leads to misogyny and hostility toward women. The fundamentalists derive their motivation from misogyny and set in motion a devastating anti-historic, anti-human force. Many have compared misogyny with racism and this is indeed an appropriate comparison. The difference is that misogyny and the fundamentalism emanating from it are far more inhuman and destructive than racism..

Misogyny and Reform

Go back to TopMisogyny is the longest lasting pillar of the clerical regime. This is why we say that if the mullahs refrain from gender discrimination and from imposing the eternal hegemony of men over women, they would be changing their nature. Khomeini stressed: "Declaring that women have equal rights would result in annulling several important Islamic edicts."

Head of the Assembly of Experts Ali Meshkini said: "It makes no sense for women to have equal rights with men in all spheres. Man's creation is one thing and woman's is another. They are created differently… Equality between men and women runs counter to the Quran and the religion. It is also against Creation and simply impossible to achieve." (State-media, October 24, 2000).

In light of such remarks, it would be unreasonable to assume that the clerical regime would some day recognize women’s equality. Two decades of the theocratic rule has proved this reality in words and deeds. The hollow nature of Khatami’s claims about reform and restoration of women’s rights are the latest examples.

As the mullahs’ President and the Chairman of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, Khatami rejected the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. He reasoned that the convention's egalitarian spirit was counter to the regime's founding pillars.

Khatami believes, body and soul, in the regime's constitution which denies the human dignity of Iranian women and deprives them of leadership positions, the presidency, and judgeship. Khatami is on record as saying that "Any talk of changing the constitution is to betray the Iranian nation."

He also believes that the mullahs are the "guardians of Islamic thought and intellectual heritage," and that "the clergy has solid roots with a history dating back 1,000 years." "If certain people believe that another player could substitute the clergy, they are absolutely wrong," Khatami emphasized. (October 15, 1998).

Championed in the West as a reformer, Khatami has reiterated that as far as his policies and platform are concerned, not only a change in the constitution but "uttering any word" or even thinking about changing the constitution would be tantamount to treason. He added that even thinking about the idea of shedding Islam of the mullahs’ reactionary interpretations was a "misperception." Khomeini also stressed that Islam and the mullahs are entwined and inseparable.

Such theoretical and practical positions are not unique to Khatami. Rather, they are intrinsic to the mullahs' regime that categorically rules out any chance for change and reform within it..

Inviolable frontiers

Go back to TopIn the face of people's demands, Khatami declared the boundaries of the constitution of the velayat-e faqih as "inviolable frontiers" and has lately added to them the policies adopted by the vali-e faqih (Khamenei). Lashing out at the opponents of a religious government, he says, "I should act within the framework of the constitution and within the framework of the policies of the (vali-e faqih) regime."

Khatami emphasizes: "Making demands in a way that would not be compatible with values and revolutionary standards and national interests" is unacceptable and we must "recognize the demands and requests rising from the heart of society... and try to make it compatible with religious foundations as well as our historical and cultural identity."(IRNA, January 15, 2001).

By cultural identity and foundation he means nothing but the foundations of misogyny and women's enslavement at home. Khatami says, "Our society wants our women to be the pivot, the chief and the mother of the family," and that a "solid society requires a solid family." (October 1997)..

Illusion about reform

Go back to TopBefore assuming office, Khatami made very general and vague promises about the restoration of women's right in a bid to counter the growing inclination of women and young people towards the Resistance. He also claimed that he would include women in his cabinet. Once in office, however, he did not deliver any of his promises.

While the notions of rule of law and civil society were gradually forsaken, issues pertaining to women’s rights and status were set aside from day one and not referred to even in the most abstract terms. Unlike the slogan of "dialogue between civilizations" which served as a propaganda tool, the issue of women posed serious threats to the regime and its pillars.

Even in the so-called dialogue between civilizations, when it comes to the issue of women, Khatami emphasizes gender discrimination and women's place at home. He says, "What is so significant is woman's role in promoting dialogue within the family where main responsibility lies with her." He adds, "The constructive presence of women in the family, the principal and the oldest institution of human society, could provide a suitable atmosphere and channel for dialogue."

Accordingly, no woman was appointed as minister during Khatami’s both terms in office. Instead, he preached that "staying at home does not mean marginalization and should not retard women’s advancement." He added, "A woman is a woman and man is man. For them to change places would harm human society." (Kayhan daily, March 3, 1999) "We should not go through the same bitter experience of today’s world regarding society and woman which has led to the disintegration of all bonds" and "undermined the foundations of the family," Khatami told the state-television on September 3, 1999.

Not only Khatami, but the two women serving as his deputy and adviser, Massoumeh Ebtekar and Zahra Shojaii, began to defend laws on gender apartheid and stoning people to death. Defending the forced hejab (veil) and the oppressive imposition of chador (head-to-toe-veil), both called it "the superior hejab" and described the chador as "the superior national dress of the women of Iran." (IRNA, May 8, 1998).

After being appointed as Khatami's deputy on the environmental affairs, Massoumeh Ebtekar began to wear the chador. Answering reporters' questions as to whether Khatami had forced her to do so, she said, "Now maybe he, too, had a suggestion in this regard but I myself thought that this would be the most appropriate condition." (Zanan magazine, No. 37, Fall 1997)

Justifying the misogynist law of making a woman's travel conditional on the consent of the husband, Ebtekar told a German journalist, "Man is responsible for the financial affairs and safety of the family. Thus, a woman needs her husband’s permission to make a trip. Otherwise problems will arise and lead to quarrels between them."

In an attempt to justify the anti-human stoning to death decrees, Ebtekar reasoned, "One ought to take into consideration the psychological and legal issues in society. If the prevailing family laws are violated, it would lead to highly complicated and grave consequences in the entire society." (Die Tageszeitung, October 18, 1997) Zahra Shojaii, Khatami deputy (on women's affairs), also said stoning was necessary to "uphold the sanctity of family(Ressalat, July 6, 2002)." Earlier, she had said: "violence against women in our society is very low and negligible." (Hamshahri daily, November 12, 1997).

Practical experience

Go back to TopSince Khatami became President in 1997, new restrictive laws and policies have been implemented to segregate women and men in education and health care. Parliament and other religious leaders continue to propose and enact a number of laws or policies that will adversely affect the health, education, and well being of women and girls in Iran. In practice, discriminatory laws and punishments were approved that affected mostly women.

On September 4, 1998, the mullahs’ Majlis passed a bill to segregate medical centers and hospitals. Billed as the Medical and Religious Conformity Act, it imposed gender segregation in hospitals and medical centers, and had a very serious impact on the already inadequate provision of health services for women.

The Act goes to extraordinary lengths to define areas of segregation, encompassing all medical and medically-affiliated centers, including hospitals, obstetrical clinics, convalescence centers, laboratories, outpatient clinics, doctors, consulting rooms and pharmacies. It also applies to the work place of other medical personnel, institutes of physiotherapy and electro-physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, clinical laboratories of diagnostics and research, radiology, nuclear centers, urban and rural health and treatment centers, injection and wound dressing cabinets or any establishment created or to be created under any label authorized by the Ministry of Health, therapy and medical education, departments in universities of medical science and all their technical, administrative and service personnel.

To implement this bill, which will cost billions of rials (or millions of dollars), the Majlis ordered the formation of "Supreme Council of Adaptation" within the Ministry of Health. When tabled in the Majlis, the bill aroused extensive protests by women and the medical community at large.

In April 1998, repressive forces attacked a gathering of 1,800 surgeons in Tehran who had protested against this plan and brutalized many of them. Later in July, 2,200 doctors and students signed petitions, describing the plan as an insult to the medical profession.

Even those affiliated with Khatami's faction admit that, "when we look closely, we see stagnation and even backsliding in certain areas." (Jamileh Kadivar, September 21, 2000).

During Khatami’s tenure 26 stoning verdicts have been issued, 18 of them against women. The last report by the UN Human Rights Commission’s Special Representative on Iran described Iran as a "prison for women."
The claims about respect for the rights of women by a regime founded on misogyny are absolutely deceptive and designed to beguile the outside world. The founder of this regime, Khomeini, said unequivocally: "Women are sinister creatures. If a woman refrains from providing a favorable atmosphere to please her husband, he has the right to beat her, and he should make her submit by beating her more everyday.".

Equality Movement in Iran,
Past and Present

Go back to TopAs remarkable as Iranian women's participation in the struggle for social change and equality has been both in ancient and post-Islam Iran, its consistent and growing trend should be explored in the post-Constitutional Movement era at the start of the twentieth century. For Iranian women’s century-long struggle has developed parallel and in the same stride with the global equality movement..

Constitutional movement: A new chapter

Go back to TopThe first rebellion by women occurred some one hundred years ago, prior to the Constitutional Movement, and a time when the enlightenment of Iranian society was setting the stage for that Movement. The rebellion, known as the "Tobacco Movement," began in 1895, when the Qajar monarch, Nasser od-Din shah, gave the exclusive rights for tobacco production and sale to the British firm, Rejie.

The populace vehemently objected and boycotted the use of tobacco, forcing the King to annul the agreement. Iranian women were at the forefront of this resistance. At the peak of the protests, when, in a nearby mosque, the Friday prayer leader called on the marchers to disperse, angry women charged in and forced him to flee.

One woman, Zeinab Pasha, also known as Bibi Shah Zeinab, led the popular opposition to the Rejie agreement in Tabriz, capital of East Azerbaijan Province. Zeinab Pasha organized seven groups of armed women to parry government efforts to put down the rebellion. The seven groups under her command themselves led other groups of women. When government forces intimidated the bazaar merchants into opening their shops, Zeinab Pasha and a group of armed women, wearing the chador, re-closed the shops.

The Constitutional Movement in 1906, which gave impetus to the Iranian people’s struggles for democracy and freedom, is a watershed in so far as women’s participation in social movements is concerned.

Morgan Shuster, an American advisor who sided with the Iranian people during the Constitutional Movement, wrote in his book, "The Strangling of Persia:"

* The Persian women since 1907 had become almost the most progressive, not to say radical, in the world. That this statement upsets the ideas of centuries makes no difference. It is the fact. It is not too much to say that without the powerful moral force of these women... the ill-starred and short-lived revolutionary movement... would have paled into a more disorganized protest. The women did much to keep the spirit of liberty alive. Having themselves suffered from a double form of oppression, political and social,... in their struggle for liberty and its modern expressions, they broke through some of the most sacred customs which for centuries past have bound the sex in the land of Iran.

One of the most brilliant moments of women’s presence in the Constitutional Movement occurred on November 29, 1911, when Czarist Russia, with the approval of the British government, sent an ultimatum to the Iranian parliament: Shuster, the financial advisor to the government, must be expelled within 48 hours, or the capital would be occupied. A wave of protests erupted throughout the country. In Tehran, 50,000 marched and declared a general strike. Shuster wrote that a group of some 300 women entered the parliament "clad in their plain black robes with the white nets of their veil dropped over their faces. Many held pistol under their skirts or in the folds of their sleeves. Straight to the Majlis they went, and, gathered there, demanded of the President that he admit them all.... These cloistered Persian mothers, wives and daughters exhibited threateningly their revolvers, tore aside their veils, and confessed their decision to kill their own husbands and sons, and leave them behind their own dead bodies, if the deputies wavered in their duty to uphold the liberty and dignity of the Persian people and nation."

Women supported the newly-established parliament and actively challenged the conservative factions and the clerics who had been elected as deputies. When the parliament decided to establish Iran’s national bank without seeking financial help from foreign countries, women enthusiastically raised money and donated their jewelry.

When the Qajar King, Mohammad-Ali shah, shelled the parliament and constitutionalists were being gunned down, women in Azerbaijan province were active on several fronts. During the 11-month siege of Tabriz, women handled logistics, raising money, getting food from one bunker to the next, getting medicine to the wounded, preparing ammunition, etc.

One group of women also fought in the front lines, and other girls and women wore men’s clothing and fought alongside the men. A historian, living in Tabriz at the time, wrote that one of the bunkers was run by women wearing the chador and that he had seen a photograph of 60 Mojahedin women. At the end of one battle, the bodies of 20 women, all wearing men’s clothes, were found.

Women took the initiative in setting up girls’ schools and women’s hospitals. By 1910, some 50 girls’ schools had been established in Tehran. Dozens of women journalists joined the press and published independent women dailies. Women also set up many associations. Shuster writes: "In Tehran alone, 12 women’s associations were involved in different social and political activities."

One of the most important demands made during the Constitutional Movement was women’s participation and the realization of their rights. Owing to the Feudalist set of relationships in the social and economic domains and the lack of qualified leadership, however, many of the Movements ideals and demands, including women’s rights, were not realized. Indeed, the wording of the electoral law adopted in 1906 unequivocally denies women the right to vote..

Women under Pahlavi dictatorships

Go back to TopReza Khan assumed power through a coup d’état supported by the British in 1920. Originally the Minister of War, he became the Prime Minister and five years later removed the Qajar King from power and throned himself as the Shah of Iran.

During his reign, Reza embarked upon a bloody repression that was justified as being necessary to end the tribal system and establish a "modern" society. To achieve these goals, Reza Khan ordered "compulsory unveiling" of women, which created a tremendous popular backlash. Contrary to state-orchestrated propaganda, this move had an adverse impact on women’s participation in social affairs. There were 3,467 female students in Iran when Reza Khan took over in 1920. That number had dropped to 1,710 ten years later.

In his memoirs, the leader of Iran’s national movement Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, who nationalized the oil and established the only nationalist and democratic government in post-Constitutional Movement Iran, wrote that although "prior to Iranian women shedding their veils, I and my family had set aside the veil in Europe, I was opposed to forced unveiling." Mossadeq explained: "I believed that the removal of veil needed to take place through an evolutionary process involving the people of the country, and not by the orders of a person who had attained power and through the use force was imposing his own will on the people. I do not believe in such practices whatsoever and I opposed them." (Mossadeq and Issues of Law and Politics, pp. 123-24, compiled by Iraj Afshar, 1st Edition, Tehran: 1979).

During the Second World War and the occupation of Iran by the Allies in 1941, Reza Khan was forced to abdicate and his son, Mohammad Reza succeeded him. Ten years later, the movement to nationalize the oil took shape and targeted British dominance in Iranian affairs. As the leader of the movement, Mossadeq became the Prime Minister.

During Mossadeq’s short term in office from 1952 until his overthrow by a US-British backed coup in August 1953, women had major accomplishments. In 1952, women finally won the right to vote in the Municipal Councils. A new Social Insurance Code was ratified in 1953, which gave women equal rights with men and introduced maternity benefits and leave, and disability allowances for women, even though married. Women actively supported Dr. Mossadeq and overwhelmingly backed his plan to offer government-issued bonds during the movement to nationalize the oil industry.

After the coup, the Shah engaged in some reforms at the behest of the U.S. administration in a bid to make up for his lack of legitimacy among Iranians and secure the regime’s survival. Through a number of superficial and purely formalistic reforms, including the land reform and voting rights for women, the Shah tried to champion the women’s cause. In truth however, these measures sought to pave the way for women to enter the work force as cheap laborers. To expedite their entry, the first Family Protection Law modified the absolute right of men to divorce in 1967. In 1975, the second Family Protection Law gave women equal rights in divorce, custody of children and marriage settlements, and granted limited rights of guardianship and raised the age of marriage for girls to 18.

Taken as a whole, however, these reforms did little to make women equal partners in society, given that the measures were initiated in the context of consolidating the Shah’s dictatorship. While the Shah claimed that Iran was at the gateway to the "great civilization," for the vast majority of Iranians, particularly the deprived strata of society and women in the rural areas, little had changed. In 1976, only 26% of women living in urban areas and 3.4% of women in rural areas were literate, as opposed to 49.1% and 13.7% for men. In the same year, 23% of men were unemployed. This compared to 87.5% of women. In the cities, where there was one doctor for every 2,000 men, there was one doctor for every 8,000 women. In rural areas, this became one doctor for every 20,000 men and every 55,000 women.

The Shah maintained his grip on power through sheer repression of its notorious secret police, the SAVAK. On the political front, bonafide opposition parties were banned and all avenues for peaceful political activity and dissent were eliminated. This situation led Iranian intellectuals to espouse a more militant approach to political struggle. Women actively joined this movement and a number of them were killed or incarcerated and brutally tortured in Shah's dreaded prisons. They included Ashraf Rajavi, Fatemeh Amini, Mehrnoush Ebrahimi and Marzieh Oskoui.

When the popular movement gained momentum in the final phase of the Shah's rule, women's participation was truly extensive and decisive. On February 11, 1979, the Shah's regime was overthrown and women entered the new era with great hopes and expectations..

Women resist mullahs’ rule

Go back to TopWhen the mullahs' regime took over, it faced a society that had just toppled a monarchic dictatorship after 100 years of struggle for freedom and expected its historic demands to be met. But the revolution lacked a qualified leadership and that led to the emergence of a religious and medieval dictatorship. Politically, this theocracy had to remove revolutionary and progressive forces, and above all the Mojahedin, to ensure its monopolistic rule. On the social scene, it had to reject women and their century-long movement for freedom and restoration of their rights.

As soon as Khomeini took power, gender apartheid began to manifest itself and the limited reforms and laws previously enacted in favor of women's rights came under attack.

Less than a month in office, on March 7, 1979, Khomeini’s regime coined the slogan "either the veil or a hit on the head." A month later, on April 9, the clerical regime refused to issue judicial certificates to women interns who had completed their internship. Six months later, the so-called Revolutionary Council adopted a bill requiring the husbands’ consent for their wives’ employment. Within one year, the restriction was extended to women's travel abroad as well. The regime embarked on a boisterous and demagogic propaganda campaign to justify its all-out offensive to dismiss Iranian women from their jobs and impose domestic slavery on them.

The trend prompted women to resist and join the frontline of the opposition to the misogynist regime. As the leading dissident political force, the Mojahedin became the pivot around which women shaped their activities. As a progressive Muslim force, the Mojahedin rejected forced veiling of women and said the denial of women’s rights was unacceptable.

The mullahs were furious over the fact that Mojahedin’s women members and sympathizers were themselves wearing scarves but defending the rights of women to freely choose their clothing and preventing the mullahs’ Guards or club-wielding thugs from attacking and assaulting them. The presence of Mojahedin women undermined the mullahs’ efforts to justify their reactionary impositions under the banner of defending Islam.

Conversely, the Iranian people, and women in particular, welcomed the position taken by the Mojahedin. Women, and most significantly high school and university female students, joined the organization in vast numbers..

Breaking through double barriers

Go back to TopThrough demagoguery and manipulation of religion the mullahs tried to prevent women's participation in the anti-fundamentalist struggle and in political and social activity. To this end, they focused their hysteric propaganda on a moral smear campaign coupled with a vicious campaign of beating and assaulting women, the Mojahedin and other anti-fundamentalist forces.

As a result, a large number of young girls and women were slain in various parts of the country and many more wounded. Thousands of women were arrested and subjected to all kinds of degrading treatment and beatings in official or non-official detention centers.

Among those martyred at this phase of the struggle against Khomeini were Somayeh Noghre Khaja and Fatemeh Rahimi, two young girls from the northern city of Qaemshahr, Sanam Qorayshi from the southern city of Bandar Abbas, Sakineh Chaqoosaz, from the northwestern city of Tabriz and Nasrin Rostami, a young student from the southern city of Shiraz.

A high school student in Shiraz, Nasrin Rostami was attacked by Guards as she was distributing Mojahedin literature in 1980. One of her eyes was gouged out, and she died a few days later in the hospital. Similar incidents occurred all across the country, where women members and sympathizers of the Mojahedin were the prime targets of the government-organized hooligans and official repressive forces. The active presence in the social and political arenas of Mojahedin women and girls wearing headscarves was a major impediment to Khomeini’s attempts to force women back into their homes under the pretext of Islam. On April 27, 1981, women supporters of the Mojahedin, many mothers among them, staged a 150,000-strong demonstration to protest against the emerging dictatorship and brutalities. The protest was described by Iran watchers as the first mass expression of defiance against the new order.

On June 20, the Mojahedin organized another peaceful demonstration by half a million of their supporters in Tehran. As the huge crowd, chanting long live freedom, marched towards the mullahs’ Majlis (parliament), Khomeini personally ordered the Guards to stop the throngs of people marching toward the parliament at all costs. Using heavy machine guns, the Guards began shooting indiscriminately. Hundreds were killed or wounded, and thousands arrested. Women and young girls constituted a sizable portion of the victims. The reign of terror and mass executions began that same evening.

The first group of victims consisted of 12 teenage girls, arrested on June 20, 1981. Their identities had not even been established when they were sent before the firing squads. In a statement in the state-controlled daily, Ettela’at, on June 24, 1981, the Public Relations Office of the Prosecutor General published the pictures of the girls, taken just before their death, with a notice to their parents to go to Evin Prison to identify the bodies.

These killings occurred at a time when the Mojahedin refrained from reciprocating in order to ensure a
peaceful environment. Despite all the attacks, the Mojahedin only sought recourse in legal actions and tried to expose the regime’s inhuman practices..

Women in all-out resistance

Go back to TopThe elimination of all avenues of political activity presented men and women with a daunting task. For women, however, this was a far more formidable test. The difficult circumstances, the traditional environment in society and the mullahs’ vehement and misogynous savagery served as obstacles for women to stay active and in fact dictated their absence from the scene or at least from the frontlines of the resistance.

Yet, by virtue of their struggles in the decades past, Iranian women found their place at the forefront of resistance against the mullahs and their henchmen. Women of all ages and backgrounds joined the Resistance. Tens of thousands were martyred and many more tortured in the clerical regime's prisons.

Besides their crucial role in the organized Resistance, women also became indispensable to most expressions of anti-government protest across the nation. They played a serious and decisive role in the many urban uprisings and in protests by workers, teachers, farmers, tea-growers and others in different cities and towns..

Women in the Iranian resistance

Go back to TopWomen in the ranks of the Iranian Resistance have challenged the mullahs’ misogynous regime. Not only do they enjoy absolutely equal rights in the Resistance, but have also overturned the male-dominated value system by taking on key positions of leadership and management. Women account for more than half the members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the Resistance’s 555-member parliament-in-exile, and all of the Mojahedin’s Leadership Council.

To achieve this objective, the Iranian Resistance has traveled a long, arduous path. In 1984, three years after the nationwide Resistance against the Khomeini regime began, Massoud Rajavi, the Leader of the Resistance, raised the question as to why women had not risen beyond the level of department directors, three tiers below the leadership body, within the People’s Mojahedin. In contrast, in the struggle against the Khomeini regime, they had taken on wide-ranging responsibilities, and tens of thousands of the movement’s martyrs and prisoners were women. He pointed out that for a movement fighting the misogynous mullahs, such discrimination between men and women could not be tolerated. The issue, ostensibly an organizational matter which had been juxtaposed with ideological and political discussions, was debated for months at the various levels of the organization.

Our struggle against the religious dictatorship had entered a more complicated stage. Women had fought courageously and in large numbers. In sacrifice, resistance and risk-taking, they were leading the way, but in one sphere, the advance was slow and unimpressive: they were not assuming more responsibility.

We had to discover the systematic causes of this stagnation. The few exceptions did not help at all, because women generally did everything but accept positions of responsibility and command. It was as if they had set a specific limit to their talents, such as running a department or a small section of the Resistance. Nor did the men believe that women could actually undertake heavier responsibilities. Even the extent to which women had shouldered responsibility was not taken very seriously by men.

In those several months of meetings, women spoke at length about their problems. For example, those women who had children did not believe they could undertake any other serious responsibility, even if the problem of child care was solved systematically. Of course, the contradiction between attending to family matters and assuming their political and social responsibilities constituted a serious problem for all women in any situation. Since women could only achieve equality by taking on serious professions and responsibilities, we believed for an era the contradiction had to be solved in favor of women assuming responsibility. But, women’s non-belief in their potential ran deeper.

One thing was quite clear: While women in the Resistance movement were among the best educated, many with university degrees, they were still marginalized. Technical and military jobs were for men. Political work also seemed impractical, because apparently nobody took women seriously.

Men would assume those responsibilities and women, after listing a range of problems, automatically inclined toward marginal jobs or tasks considered one hundred percent fit for females. This was their spontaneous inclination. Women from various parts of the country, with different traditions, of various ages, shared one thing in common: They were women, and we have seen how much women’s problems are interrelated.

After several years of practical experience, they reached the unanimous conclusion that virtually all these previous obstacles were in their own minds, and derived from their own lack of faith in themselves and in the reality that there are solutions to these problems. Some were afraid to accept the responsibility of command over men and other women because of this problem. Some said that that despite their skill at driving trucks, they had been obsessed by the difficulty of getting into these high-chassis vehicles.

Everyone’s problems could be summarized in one phrase: Fear of taking on responsibility. The progress of the Resistance movement, however, depended on women’s fully accepting responsibility. We could not walk on one leg. We needed a revolution to break through these taboos and discover new conviction in women..

The beginning of a revolution

Go back to TopMassoud Rajavi believed that the solution must come from the top, with the participation of women in the leadership. Some concurred; others believed that the solution must come from below, with women’s increased participation in executive affairs. I became preoccupied with this problem. For years, ever since I had become politically active, I always thought about how we could pave the way for women’s emancipation. I think this inevitably captures the mind of any woman, but sooner or later she may give up thinking about it, because it is just too much, too complicated.

This issue was the subject of debate within a nationwide Resistance movement, and from various angles, I could appreciate the need for this step. When I was nominated for the joint-leadership of the Mojahedin, I was weighed down by the task, and the decision to go ahead was very difficult and quite intolerable. Only one thing removed my doubts: the need I felt existed beyond my own personal attitude for such a step to be taken. The requirements of the Resistance movement were absolutely genuine, and if we wanted to move forward, we had to respond to this need. In addition, during those several months of meetings, I felt that my own and other women’s emancipation and ability to realize our full potential, depended on my taking up that responsibility.

None of us anticipated what actually happened. This change - a woman in the leadership - brought about a major internal revolution in our movement. For women, it acted like a spring board. The organization’s annual report for that year indicated that the percentage of women in the central council rose from 15 to 34 percent, more than double.

The impasse on women accepting responsibility had been overcome, and it was just the beginning. This leap forward and the new atmosphere it brought to the organization allowed us to carry on a revolution in outlooks, for we did not intend to stop there. The movement’s primary goals, democracy and growth, had become entwined with this drive to emancipate women. We were a movement which believed, body and soul, that any progress and development depended on the women’s movement. Therefore, we were poised to go to the end of the line: total rejection of the male-dominated culture. This required a revolution in our thinking. As women gradually occupied key positions at the top and in command, their male subordinates felt as if their world was shrinking. It was difficult for them to believe in the women, and their hidden resistance revealed itself in a lack of interest in their responsibilities. Most difficult for the women was their problem, from time immemorial, of not believing in themselves.

It took me several years and thousands of hours of discussions, in small and large groups, to convince these women and men - none of whom ever denied that in theory men and women are equal - to enter this new world in practice, as well. Indeed, to abolish double oppression, you must double your efforts.

Then, gradually, our movement began to see the fruits of its labor in practical terms, and went forward, step by step. In addition to my everyday interaction, I regularly convened meetings to examine individual problems. These meetings were followed up by the officials in charge of each section or department. Three years later, the number of women in the National Liberation Army’s general command staff neared 50%. Seven of the 15-member general command were women.

Over these years, the misogynous mullahs closely followed these internal developments and the promotion of our women. Alarmed, they tried in vain to slander our movement, accusing us of feminism and all sorts of moral corruption. The mullahs were terrified of the impact of this movement on Iran’s women and the escalation of their resistance. Finally, in 1988, one of the regime’s suppressive organs, called the "Central Komiteh," admitted in an internal report to Khomeini that our revolutionary emancipation of women had in fact strengthened and expanded our movement, and served as a major attraction for Iranian women. One passage of the report read: "The Mojahedin’s internal revolution has become a means of proving the organization’s advocacy of equal rights for women and men... and it has resulted in more women being attracted and loyal to the organization." Elsewhere it said: "They used attractive methods, mixed them with practical application and examples, and achieved their objectives."

We organized our movement in a way that allowed women into all of the sections, departments and fields traditionally reserved for men, giving them access to that expertise. Women began to participate in large numbers in military matters and conquered the most masculine field of work and responsibility. They received training up to the command level. Simultaneously, their sisters began to move up the ladder of responsibility in management and politics..

A leap forward: from equality to hegemony

Go back to TopBetween 1989 and 1993, this drive for equality had taken major strides forward. New values and views on women dominated the movement. As these qualified women began to directly affect the everyday affairs of each department, I began receiving daily reports from men, underlining the serious and effective impact of women’s role. They were opening their eyes to this new reality.

The most prominent characteristic, which produced a significant impact on the work environment, was these women’s extreme sense of responsibility, particularly in the sensitive military field. They demonstrated a maximum willingness to learn, displayed a high level of discipline, remarkable decisiveness, and most important of all, a selfless devotion emanating from their humane qualities. The work environment took on a sense of care and human emotion.

In reality, those who had taken part in this revolution were compelled to forget their old value system. One of the precious achievements of this era was the new, fresh relationship among the women themselves. Before all else, these women had to love their sisters and feel a sense of solidarity in their endeavors. Such relationships could become a reality only when these women really believed in one another: women commanding women - mutual acceptance of this relationship. This marked the beginning of a mature relationship between human beings.

In 1993, an all-woman Leadership Council was elected by the Mojahedin’s central council. Presently, not only the Leadership Council, but also the NLA’s entire general command is run by women.

Following women’s entry into the army’s command, a series of re-organizations were undertaken to elevate the command level. During these phases, the number of combat units grew by 300%. With each step forward, our progress gained momentum.

Had our women not gone through this process, they could not have taken the subsequent actions required of a pioneering generation. It was, of course, a tortuous path. Some said it felt as if they had lived an entire lifetime. It was also very difficult on the men. Today, however, we have an energetic generation which has experienced something very important and new in the world. Now, that generation is ready to share its accomplishments with the emancipation movement, in the effort to uproot discrimination and gender-based apartheid..

Prospects for the future

Go back to TopThe advancements and achievements of women in the Resistance movement, particularly their occupation of leadership and command positions, translate into the reality that women will annihilate the mullahs’ misogynous regime. Their status in the Resistance is the best guarantee that democracy will be instituted and preserved in the post-mullah Iran. This is important, because in most resistance movements, women were marginalized after victory, despite their active role. In our movement, however, this would be impossible, because of two special characteristics:

* In diametric opposition to the mullahs’ rule of absolute male-dominance, the Iranian Resistance is led, commanded and managed essentially by our women.
* The National Council of Resistance has adopted a concrete plan to guarantee the equality of men and women in tomorrow’s free Iran. All members of the Resistance are committed to this program.

In 1995, I enumerated a 16-article Charter of Fundamental Freedoms for Future Iran for my fellow compatriots. I reiterated, among others, the rights and freedoms of Iranian women, summarized as:

* The right to elect and be elected in all elections, and the right to suffrage in all referendums.
* The right to employment and freedom of choice in profession, and the right to hold any public or government position, office, or profession, including presidency and judgeship in all judicial bodies.
* The right to free political and social activity and travel without the permission of another person.
* The right to freely choose clothing and covering.
* The right to use, without discrimination, all instructional, educational, athletic, and artistic resources, and the right to participate in all athletic competitions and artistic activities.
* Recognition of women’s associations and support for their voluntary formation throughout the country.
* Consideration of special privileges in various social, administrative, and cultural fields to abolish inequality and the dual oppression of women.
* Equal pay for equal work, prohibition of discrimination in hiring and during employment.
* The right to salary and special accommodations during pregnancy, childbirth, and care of infants.
* Absolute freedom of choice regarding spouse and marriage, which can take place only with the consent of both parties.
* Equal right to divorce; women and men are equal in presenting grounds for divorce.
* Support for widowed and divorced women and for children in their custody; care will be provided through the National Social Welfare System.
* Elimination of legal inequalities with regard to testimony, guardianship, custody and inheritance.
* In family life, any form of compulsion or coercion of the wife is prohibited.
* Polygamy is prohibited.
* Prohibition of all forms of sexual exploitation of women on any pretext.

It should be reiterated here, that since democracy, progress and advancement depend on the emancipation of women, any legislation or social planning must, before all else, consider the question of women’s equality with men. The present charter has been drafted and adopted with this in mind. In future, too, more plans and amendments providing for the rights of women and women’s equality will be drafted on the same basis.

From the fundamentalist mullahs’ perspective, sexual vice and virtue are the principal criteria for evaluation. The most ignoble and unforgivable of all sins is sexual wrongdoing; piety, chastity and decency are basically measured by sex-related yardsticks. Seldom do they apply to the political and social realms.

Purity or corruption is essentially judged according to criteria that are in one way or another related to sex. When such a value system evolves into the social norm, the walls of sexual demarcation become taller, thicker and even more ubiquitous.

The fundamentalists look at the world and the hereafter through distorted, sex-tinted glasses.

Maryam Rajavi

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