There has been growing concern about women’s poverty, and as a result there has been an increasing literature on women and development, much of it focused on the issue of women’s employment/unemployment and poverty, but this is not the case with women in the Muslim world. Consequently, research and documentation of women’s economic status in Muslim countries remains scarce. This is true despite the fact that a rich body of literature on women in Muslim countries exists. Part of the problem is related to the fact that there is a tendency to overlook women’s economic role owing to the persistence of stereotypical assumptions even among academics to treat Muslim women as victims. As discussed in the introductory chapter, there has been a recent proliferation of literature by academics of post-colonial feminist theory that is critical of the mainstream literature on women in the Muslim world.1 They are critical of focuses on the way Muslim women are being viewed as victims and the most oppressed “Other,” and the effective creation of a dichotomy where Western women are the Self and Muslim women are the Other. The critiques challenge essentialist views of the impact of Islam upon women and argue that such essentialized views create barriers to understanding and analysis of women’s reality in the Muslim world. In the context of Iran, ccommonly held assumptions about Iran are that in the aftermath of the Revolution and owing to Islamic ideology, female employment declined and the Shah’s modernization plan was reversed. In this chapter as we shall see, the reality of women’s employment indicates that in the past 50 years women’s employment has continually increased. This process was interrupted in the aftermath of the Revolution in the decade following the Revolution, yet there are several factors other than Islamism at work. It is true that female employment remains relatively low in comparison with other regions of the world. Yet, at the same time, Iranian women’s employment, like female employment in the rest of the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), has increased at a much faster rate than any other region in the world.2 Ironically, contrary to what is commonly believed, this high increase has been concurrent with rising support for Islamism. A review of female employment in the post-revolutionary era may shed some light on the apparent contradiction between rising support for Islamism in MENA and the rapid increase in women’s employment. Within Iranian studies

literature many have argued that following the 1979 Revolution, women’s employment declined.3 While this is true of the decade immediately following the Revolution, an overall view of the changes in the past half century shows a steady increase in female employment. Others have argued that the process of Islamization has mobilized women of low income and traditionalist classes as volunteers in the decade following the Revolution.4 This perhaps could explain some of the reasons for the decline in the 1980s. Before proceeding to the analysis of this chapter, it is important to review some problems that exist when measuring female employment. Jennifer Olmsted in her analysis of Iranian women’s employment has pointed out a problem in Iran similar to that in Egypt, and argues that “measuring female labor force participation is fraught with difficulties.”5 She quotes Anker and Anker who

estimate that female employment levels in Egypt vary from 6.2 to 41.3, depending on the way work is defined. The World Bank (2004, p. 87) more recently discusses some of the problems with measuring female labor force participation, in Iran, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia, suggesting that although scholars, statisticians and policy makers have become more aware that this is an issue in recent years, these problems are far from being resolved.6