Iranian women

Iranian women

Iranian women (or Persian women) in this article refers to women of, or from, traditional Persian or modern Iranian culture. [As defined and discussed by literature such as:
*"Persian Women & Their Ways" Clara Colliver Rice. 1923. Seeley, Service & Co.
*"Voices from Iran: The Changing Lives of Iranian Women". Mahnaz Kousha. Syracuse University Press. 2002.
*"Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers". Farzaneh Milani. Published 1992 by I.B.Tauris

Depictions and appearance

Throughout the history including Persia, both men and women used make-up, wore jewellery and coloured their body parts. Moreover, their garments were both elaborate and colorful. Rather than being marked by gender, clothing styles were distinguished by class and status. [For a reference on Persian dress through the ages see: [] ] Women in modern Iran (post 1935 "Persia") are of various mixes and appearances, both in fashion [For a reference on Iran ethnic costumes see [] ] and social norm. [For a reference on how Persian women were modernized see:
*"Women and the Political Process in Twentieth-Century Iran". Parvin Paidar. 1995 p.7
*"Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers." Farzaneh Milani. 1992. p.234
] Traditionally however, the "Persian woman" had a pre-defined appearance set by social norms that were the standard for all women in society. [*"Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers." Farzaneh Milani. 1992. p.193] For example, the observations of a late Qajar era orientalist read:

:"The Persian ladies' hair is very luxuriant and never cut. It is nearly always dyed red with Henna, or with indigo to a blue-black tinge. It is naturally a glossy black. Fair hair is not esteemed. Blue eyes are not uncommon, but brown ones are the rule. A full moon face is much admired, and a dark complexion (termed Namak) is the native idea of the highest beauty. The eyebrows are widened and painted until they appear to meet, and color is used freely in painting the faces." ["The Encyclopaedia Britannica: a Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information." Hugh Chisholm 1911. p.194]


Pre-Islamic Iran

Archeological excavations at Shahr-e Sookhteh "Burnt City," a prehistoric settlement in the Sistan-Baluchistan province of southeastern Iran, has revealed that the women of the 4th-3rd millennium BCE community maintained a high level of socio-economic status. Of the seals discovered in graves there, 90% were in the possession of women,cite web|author=CHN Press|url=|title=Women Held Power In Burnt City|accessdate=2007-04-11] who in turn made up over 60% of the population.cite web|author=CHN Press|title=Female population predominant in 5000-year-old Burnt City|url=|accessdate=2007-04-11] The distribution of the seals, which as instruments of trade and government represented economic and administrative control, reveals that these women were the more powerful group in their prehistoric society."The position of woman in ancient Iran was apparently in nowise inferior to her standing in the Vedic times of early India. As among other oriental nations, however, submission to her lord and master is taken for granted, and the woman who is 'obedient to her husband' comes in for a special meed of praise in the Avesta and elsewhere; but it is perfectly evident, as a rule, there was not that subjection which results in loss of personality and individuality."cite journal|title=The Moral and Ethical Teachings of the Ancient Zoroastrian Religion|author=Williams Jackson, A. V.|journal=International Journal of Ethics|volume=7|issue=1|year= 1896|pages=55–62 p. 59.]

The early Achaemenid-era Persepolis fortification and treasury tablets refers to women in three different terms: "mutu", "irti" and "duksis". The first refers to ordinary (non-royal) women; the second to unmarried members of the royal family; and the last "duksis" to married women of royalty. Such differentiated terminology shows the sigificance of marital status and of a woman's relationship to the king. The tablets also reveal that women of the royal household traveled extensively and often personally administered their own estates. The queen and her ladies-in-waiting are known to have played polo against the emperor and his courtiers. [cite web|author=Harrison, Frances|url=|title=Polo comes back home to Iran|publisher=BBC News] The only limits on the extent of the authority exercised by the king's mother were set by the monarch himself. [cite book|author=Cotterell, Arthur|title=From Aristotle to Zoroaster|year=1998|isbn=0-684-85596-8|publisher=Free Press|location=New York|oclc=39269485] Request quotation|date=March 2007

In the tablets, "non-royals and the ordinary workers are mentioned by their rank in the specific work group or workshops they were employed. The rations they received are based on skill and the level of responsibility they assumed in the workplace. The professions are divided by gender and listed according to the amount of ration. Records indicate that some professions were undertaken by both sexes while others were restricted to either male or female workers. There are male and female supervisors at the mixed workshops as evident by the higher rations they have received with little difference in the amount of rations between the two sexes. There are also occasions where women listed in the same category as men received less rations and vice versa. Female managers have different titles presumably reflecting their level of skill and rank. The highest-ranking female workers in the texts are called "arashshara" (great chief). They appear repeatedly in the texts, were employed at different locations and managed large groups of women children and sometimes men working in their units. They usually receive high rations of wine and grains exceeding all the other workers in the unit including the males."cite web|author=Price, Massoume|url=|title=Women's Lives in Ancient Persia|accessdate=2007-01-16] In addition, pregnant women also received higher rations than others. Women with new-born children also received extra rations for a period of one month.

A few experts claim that it was Cyrus the Great who twelve centuries before Islam, established the custom of covering women to protect their chastity. According to their theory, the veil passed from the Achaemenids to the Hellenistic Seleucids. They, in turn, handed it to the Byzantines, from whom the Arab conquerors inherited it, transmitting it over the vast reaches of the Arab world. [cite book|title=The Iranians: Persia, Islam and the Soul of a Nation|author=Mackey, Sandra & Harrop, Scott|publisher=Penguin|year=1996|isbn=0452275636|oclc=38995082]

The Sassanid princess Purandokht, daughter of Khosrau II, ruled the Persian empire for almost two years before resigning. Also, during the Sassanian dynasty many of the Iranian soldiers captured by Romans were women who were fighting along with the men. [cite book|author=Dodgeon M. H. and Lieu, S. N. C.|title=The Roman Eastern Frontiers and the Persian Wars (AD 226-363); A Documentary History|location=London|publisher=Routledge|year=1991|isbn=0-415-10317-7|oclc=29669928 pp. 24, 67, 184, 197 and 307.]

Persian women are depicted in many masterpieces of Persian paintings and miniatures. ["Toward an aesthetic of Persian painting. Early Islamic Art, 650-1100". Oleg Grabar. p.213-214] These are often used as sources to "trace through the sequence of women's fashion from earlier periods". ["Women's Costume of the Near and Middle East". Jennifer M. Scarce. 2003, p.134] Drawing a Persian girl dressed in colors with Persian wine at hand has been a favorite style for portraying loveFact|date=September 2007.

After the Islamic Conquest

Under Pahlavi Dynasty

The Pahlavi Shahs were the rulers of Iran between 1925 and 1979 and they produced many reforms concerning women's rights. An example of an early reform introduced by Reza Shah was the 'forced unveiling of women by a special decree on 8 January 1936 (a day celebrated ever since as a national women's day).' ['The modern middle east' Ilan Pappe published by Routledge 2005page 237 ISBN O-415-21408-4 ] Women's involvement in society in general increased. Their participation in the educational and economic systems of Iran rose, as did their increased involvement in the Iranian workforce. Levels of literacy were also very much improved. Under the Pahlavi Shahs, the culture of education for women became more established. Examples of women's involvement: women acquired high official positions, such as ministers, artists, judges (the first woman judge was Shirin Ebadi, who recently won a Nobel prize), scientists, athletes, etc. Also in universities and schools, and since then education for women has become important.

Under Reza Shah's successor Muhammad Reza Shah many more significant reforms were introduced. For example 'in 1963, the Shah granted female suffrage and soon after women were elected to the Majlis (the parliament) and the upper house, and appointed as judges and ministers in the cabinet.'. [ 'The modern middle east' Ilan Pappe published by Routledge 2005 page 237 ISBN O-415-21408-4 ] In 1967 Iranian family law was also reformed to improve the position of women in Iranian society. It was included in the civil code and was designed to protect wives, children and women divorcees. Within family law therefore women in Iran were for the first time granted and recognized as having an equal place alongside men.

The Family Protection Laws of 1967 and 1973 required a husband to go to court to divorce rather than simply proclaim the Triple talaq of `I divorce thee` three times, as stipulated by traditional sharia law. It allowed a wife to initiate divorce and required the first wife's permission for a husband to take a second wife. Child custody was left to new family protection courts rather than automatically granted to the father. The minimum age at which a female could marry was raised from 13 to 15 in 1967 and to 18 in 1975. [Wright, "The Last Great Revolution," (2000), , p.156]

Women lost most of these privileges after 1979 Islamic revolution when Islamic laws came to rule.

Under the Islamic Republic of Iran

Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution Iran became an Islamic Republic. During this era of Islamist rule Iranian women have had more opportunity in some areas and more restrictions in others. One of the striking features of the revolution was the large scale participation of women from traditional backgrounds in demonstrations leading up to the overthrow of the monarchy. Large numbers of women entered the civil service and higher education, [ [ Adult education offers new opportunities and options to Iranian women] ] and in 1996 fourteen women were elected to the Islamic Consultative Assembly. As of late 2006 nearly 70% of Iran's science and engineering students are women. [ [ Nature: News Feature] ] Women make up 27% of the Iranian labor force, and the percentage of all Iranian women who are economically active has more than doubled from 6.1% in 1986 to 13.7% in 2000. [ [ Law and Women's Agency in Post-Revolutionary Iran] ]

At least one observor (Robert D. Kaplan) has commented on the less traditional attitude of many women in Iran compared to other Muslim countries. "In Iran, you could point a camera at a woman ... and she would smile. If you did that in Pakistan, the woman would run away and a man might throw a rock at you." [Kaplan, Robert, D. "The Ends of the Earth", Random House, 1996, p.181]

However, the Islamic regime has put a number of restrictions have been put on women's dress and behavior. At the beginning of the revolution, it was announced that women appearing on television would have to wear the hijab, (also known as rousari). A couple of months later it was announced that women working in government facilities and buildings would also be required to wear hijab, and a few months after that all women had to wear the hijab in public. [Graham "Iran" (1980) p. 227.] Separation of the sexes was also instituted so that now, everything from "schoolrooms to ski slopes to public buses" is strictly segregated by gender.

Some restrictions on women were more severe in the early days of the Islamic Republic. Females who didn't cover all parts of their body, except hands and face, were subject to punishment of up to seventy lashes or sixty days imprisonment. [Wright, "The Last Great Revolution," (2000), p. 136.] Women were encouraged to stay at home and not seek a job until the Iran-Iraq War started and women's employment was needed. ["Modern Iran : Roots and Results of Revolution", Keddie, Nikki, Yale University Press, 2003, p.257]

Early in the revolution family law reverted to traditional Islamic status that had prevailed before the Pahlavi dynasty. Men could again abandon wives by simple declaration, while wives had no judicial recourse for divorce. Children of divorce went to the father and widowed mothers could lose their children to the nearest male relative. Some of the harsher aspects of these laws were later modified. [Wright, "The Last Great Revolution," (2000), p. 157.] There are also women in the Iranian police who deal with crimes committed by women. [ [ Women Police in Iran] ] [ [ Iran's thin black line] ]

In 1997 women defied the ban on entering soccer stadiums in an act of protest against sex segregation. During the so-called "soccer revolution" an estimated 5000 women stormed the gates of the national stadium to join 120,000 men in celebration of Iran's national football team which had returned to the country from qualifying for the 1998 World Cup. [Foer, Frank, "How Soccer Explains the World", HarperCollins, c2004.]


Women in Iran were granted right to vote in 1963. [ [ Reuters Foundation Iran] ] They were first admitted to Iranian universities in 1937. [Lorentz، J. Historical Dictionary of Iran. 1995. ISBN 0-8108-2994-0] Since then, several women have held high-ranking posts in the government or parliament. Before the 1979 revolution several women were appointed ministers or ambassadors. Farrokhroo Parsa, was the first woman to be appointed Minister of Education in 1968 and Mahnaz Afkhami was appointed Minister for Women's Affairs in 1976.

Some, such as Tahereh Saffarzadeh, Masumeh Ebtekar, Fatemeh Haghighatjou, Elaheh Koulaei, Fatemeh Javadi, Marzieh Dabbaq and Zahra Rahnavard came after the revolution. Other Iranian women, including Goli Ameri and Farah Karimi hold positions in western countries.

Notable Iranian women

Main article List of Iranian women.

Over recent years, women in Iran, whether Nobel laureates like Shirin Ebadi who became the first Muslim woman to win the prize, or young Ivy League professors such as Maryam Mirzakhani, have "achieved greatly in areas like education, political participation, and social mobilization, and have made great strides in terms of entering different fields of academia". [Speech by Iran's Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar. Link: [] ] The gallery below is only a random sampling:

Iranian women's movement

The movement for women's rights in Iran is particularly complex within the scope of the political and religious history of the country. [ A Brief History of Women's Movements in Iran 1850-2000] , Massoume Price, "The Iranian", March 7, 2000; accessed September 21, 2008.] [ Chronology of Events Regarding Women in Iran since the Revolution of 1979] , Elham Gheytanchi, "Social Research" via FindArticles, Summer 2000; accessed September 21, 2008.] Women have consistently pushed boundaries of societal mores and were continually gaining more political and economic rights up to the Iranian Revolution. Women heavily participated at every level of the revolution; however, within months of the formation of the Islamic republic by Ruhollah Khomeini many important rights were repealed. [ ] , Nikki R. Keddie, "Social Research" via, Summer 2000; accessed September 21, 2008.] Almost immediately upon assumption of power by Khomeini, women protested the policies of the Islamic government. [,9171,916725,00.html?iid=chix-sphere The Unfinished Revolution] , "Time Magazine", April 2, 1979; accessed September 21, 2008.]

During the last few decades, Iranian women have had significant presence in Iran's scientific movement, art movement, literary new wave and the new wave of Iranian cinema. According to the research ministry of Iran, about 6% of full professors, 8% of associate professors, and 14% of assistant professors were women in the 1998-99 academic year. However, women accounted for 56% of all students in the natural sciences, including one in five Ph.D. students. [] . Such education and social trends are increasingly viewed with alarm by the Iranian government. [ Women graduates challenge Iran] , Francis Harrison, BBC, September 26, 2006; accessed September 21, 2008.] [ Iran: Does Government Fear Educated Women?] , Iraj Gorgin, Radio Free Europe, February 10, 2008; accessed September 21, 2008.]

With the 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, women's rights advocates have been beaten, jailed and persecuted. [ UN: Hold Ahmadinejad Accountable for Iran Rights Crisis] , Human Rights Watch, September 18, 2008; accessed September 21, 2008.] [ Iranian Dissidents at Forum Speak On Ahmadinejad, Women's Rights] , , "New York Sun", Kayvon Afshari, October 17, 2007; accessed September 21, 2008.] [,0,5861662.story victory on marriage legislation] , Borzou Daragahi, "Los Angeles Times", September 3, 2008; accessed September 21, 2008.]

Persian women's day

The official women's day in Iran is on the birthday of Prophet's daughter Fatimah. In ancient times, the 29th of Bahman (18 February) was considered Persian women's day and many people still celebrate this day. History of the celebration dates back to Zoroastrian tradition. International Women's Day is also celebrated by Iranians specially by people involved in Persian women's movement.

Women in Persian culture

Persian literature

Over the past two centuries, women have played a prominent role in Persian literature. Contemporary Iranian poets include Simin Behbahani, Forough Farrokhzad, Parvin Etesami. Simin Behbahani has written passionate love poems as well as narrative poetry enriched by a motherly affection for all humans. [ [ "The international symposium on Simin Behbahani"] ] Behbahani is president of The Iranian Writers' Association and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1997.

Contemporary authors include Simin Daneshvar, Shahrnush Pârsipur, and Moniru Ravânipur. Daneshvar's work spans pre-Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary Iranian literature. Her first collection of short stories, "Âtash-e khâmush" (Fire Quenched), was published in 1947. In 1984, she published "Savushun" (Mourners of Siyâvash), a novel that reflected the Iranian experience of modernity during the 20th century. Shahrnush Pârsipur became popular in the 1980s following the publication of her short stories. Her 1990 novel, "Zanân bedûn-e Mardân" (Women Without Men), addressed issues of sexuality and identity. It was banned by the Islamic Republic. Moniru Ravânipur's work includes a collection of short stories, "Kanizu" (The Female Slave), and her novel "Ahl-e gharq" (The People of Gharq). Ravânipur is known for her focus on rituals, customs and traditions of coastal life. [cite web |url= |title=Feminist Ink |accessdate=2007-11-18 |author=Golbarg Bashi |date=2005-11-25 |work=Feminist Ink |]

Persian music

Perhaps Qamar ol-Molouk Vaziri was the first female master of Persian music who introduced a new style of music and was praised by other masters of Persian music of the time.Fact|date=September 2007 Several years later, Mahmoud Karimi trained women students—Arfa Atrai, Soosan Matloobi, Fatemeh Vaezi, Masoomeh Mehr-Ali and Soosan Aslani—who later became masters of Persian traditional music. Soodabeh Salem and Sima Bina developed Iranian children's music and Iranian folk music respectively.

Innovations made by Iranian women are not restricted to Persian music. For instance, Lily Afshar is working on a combination of Persian and Western classical music.

Modern art

Iranian women have played an important role in gaining international recognition for Iranian art and in particular Iranian cinema.

Since the rise of the Iranian "New Wave" of Persian cinema, Iran has produced record numbers of film school graduates; each year more than 20 new directors, many of them women, make their debut films. In the last two decades, the percentage of Iranian film directors who are women has exceeded the percentage of women film directors in most Western countries. [ [ "Haus der Kulturen der Welt"] ] The success of the pioneering director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad suggests that many women directors in Iran were working hard on films long before director Samira Makhmalbaf made the headlines. Internationally recognized figures in Persian women's cinema are Tahmineh Milani, Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, Zahra Dowlatabadi, Niki Karimi, Samira Makhmalbaf, Mahin Oskouei, Pari Saberi, Hana Makhmalbaf, Pouran Rakhshandeh, Shirin Neshat, Sepideh Farsi, Maryam Keshavarz, Yassamin Maleknasr, and Sara Rastegar.

Iranian writer-director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad is probably Iran's best known and certainly most prolific female filmmaker. She has established herself as the elder stateswoman of Iranian cinema with documentaries and films about social pathology. One of the best-known female film directors in the country today is Samira Makhmalbaf, who directed her first film, "The Apple", when she was only 17 years old. Samira Makhmalbaf won the 2000 Cannes Jury Prize for "Blackboards", a film about the trials of two traveling teachers in Kurdistan.

In Persian literature one can find references to women as far back as Pre-Islamic times. [Brosius, Maria. Women in Ancient Persia, 559-331 B.C. Oxford Classical Monographs. Oxford University Press (UK), 1998.] In some cases, women are mentioned as the potential force behind the failure or success of menFact|date=September 2007Or|date=September 2007. For example Dehkhoda states that "women are the taste of life" (زن نمک زندگیست), but then warns that some Men may find this taste too strong to bear (کام مرد از این جهت شور است). In verse, Sa'di rephrasesOr|date=September 2007 this as:

زن بد در سرای مرد نکو
A bad wife in a man's home,
هم درین عالم است دوزخ او
can bring hell down to this Earth.
زن خوب فرمانبر پارسا
The honorable, obedient and noble woman,
کند مرد درویش را پادشا
can turn the vagabond into a king.

But many texts elevate the status of women in their writings by using the word "lady" (بانو) instead of "woman" (زن) in their versesOr|date=September 2007, whether narratives or anecdotes. For example in Ferdowsi's Shahnameh one reads:

ببوسید پیشش زمین پهلوان
Kissed the earth at her feet he did, the great hero.
بدو گفت کای مهتر بانوان
Called onto her he did: "oh highest of all the ladies".

Numerous examples from other poets can be seen as well:

عادت بود که هدیه نوروزی آورید
It is a tradition of the free to bring Norouz gifts
آزادگان به خدمت بانوی شهریار
for the lady of our royalty.

نشنیدستی که خاک زر گردد
Have you not heard that dust turns into gold
از ساخته کدخدا و کدبانو
by the work of the Man and the Lady of the House?
---"Naser Khosrow"

And many creators of classical verse and prose were women themselves as well. One can mention Qatran Tabrizi, Rabia Balkhi, Táhirih, Simin Behbahani, Simin Daneshvar, Parvin E'tesami, Forough Farrokhzad, and Mahsati in this group.

ee also

*Culture of Iran
*List of Iranian women
*Kurdish Women


Further reading

*Piyrnia, Mansoureh. "Salar Zanana Iran". 1995. Maryland: Mehran Iran Publishing.
*Brosius, Maria. "Women in Ancient Persia, 559-331 B.C". Oxford Classical Monographs. Oxford University Press (UK), 1998.
*Farman Farmaian, Sattareh. 1992. Daughter of Persia: A Woman's Journey from Her Father's Harem Through the Islamic Revolution. New York: Three Rivers Press.
* Najmeh Khalili Mahani, "Women of Iranian Popular Cinema: Projection of Progress", Offscreen, Vol. 10, Issue 7, July 31, 2006, [] .

External links

*fa icon/en icon [ IranDokht]
*fa icon [ Women in Iranian society] , BBC
* [ Iran women resources]
*fa icon [ Gathering of Persian women in Dushanbeh] , BBC
* [ Ms. magazine article]
* "History of Iranian Photography. Women as Photography Model: Qajar Period", photographs provided by Bahman Jalali, Iranian Artists' site, [ "Kargah"] .
* "Women and Men on the bus - Driving through Tehran", Persian with English subtitles, [ YouTube] (8 min 44 sec).
* "Clothes of Iranian Women", [ "Farhang-e Iran"] .

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