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
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.
Ms. Chitsaz is Chairwoman of the Women’s Committee
of the National Council of Resistance of Iran
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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."
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."
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."
jurisprudence solidifies discrimination and inequality not only in
social and political arenas but also in civil rights of women.
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).
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
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.
theory of the velayat-e faqih begins with gender discrimination and
ultimately tramples upon the most rudimentary human rights of women.
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.
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.
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
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.".
by-product of gender distinction
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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
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).
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.
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
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."
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).
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.
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..
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."
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).
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
Illusion about reform
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.
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.
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."
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.
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,
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)
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."
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shuster, an American advisor who sided with the Iranian people during
the Constitutional Movement, wrote in his book, "The Strangling
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
in all-out resistance
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
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
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..
in the Iranian resistance
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
beginning of a revolution
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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..
leap forward: from equality to hegemony
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
diametric opposition to the mullahs’ rule of absolute male-dominance,
the Iranian Resistance is led, commanded and managed essentially by
* 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.
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:
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
* 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
* Support for widowed and divorced women and for children in their
custody; care will be provided through the National Social Welfare
* 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
* Polygamy is prohibited.
* Prohibition of all forms of sexual exploitation of women on any
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
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.
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.
look at the world and the hereafter through distorted, sex-tinted