The objective of this book is to present a gendered analysis of the dynamics of social change in contemporary Iran. A gendered analysis deliberately focuses on the impact of societal changes upon women without ignoring the reality that women do not represent a monolithic category but themselves may be agents of and/or resistors against changes that affect them and their families. The importance of a gendered understanding of Iranian society was demonstrated in June 2009, when millions of Iranian women of all ages and backgrounds joined Iranian men in a week of nationwide mass rallies in support of a leading candidate (Mir-Hosain Musavi) and two others who were challenging incumbent President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in a presidential election. After the Ministry of Interior collected ballot boxes – without following the normal procedure of having local precinct committees tabulate the votes – and subsequently announced that Ahmadinejad had won a majority of votes, these same women and men, as well as the candidates whom they had supported, became convinced that the “official tally” was fraudulent. They again took to the streets of cities, towns, and even villages, this time in a week of mass demonstrations to demand a transparent recount or a strictly monitored re-vote. The international media had paid scant attention to the pre-election rallies, which had included candidate Musavi campaigning alongside his wife, but they became fascinated with the post-election mass protests and the presence of women in them. Thousands of photographs, taken by cell phone cameras and sent all over the world via the internet, documented the protests and the active role of women. One reason why these protests attracted international attention was because they were so counter to the stereotypes about Iranian society, especially with respect to the role of women, which have prevailed since the Islamic Revolution of 1978 to 1979. That earlier mass, nationwide movement was also one in which the presence of women had been important. However, because religion, in this case Islam rather than a secular ideology, was a main inspiration motivating the revolution against a monarch whom Iranians rejected en masse for being unjust but whom the self-identified “developed world” (Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, and the United States) perceived as being modern and progressive, there has been a general tendency in the West to view the post-revolutionary creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran as being not a “modern” society but one in which

“traditional” religious values repress everyone, especially women. Because this view has been prevalent among both those whose political views are on the Left and those whose political views are on the Right, it ought not to be surprising that negative stereotypes about Iranian women have been pronounced in academic disciplines as well as in the popular media. Indeed, a characteristic of mainstream feminist writing in the West has been to portray Iranian women in particular and all Muslim women in general, as categorical victims. Such representation of Muslim women has been criticized by post-colonial feminist theorists. For example, Chandra Mohanty, who studies gender and development in the Muslim world, argues that mainstream gender and development literature about women in the Muslim world remains in a framework set by modernization theories and Western feminist discourse. Mohanty argues that this literature, “like most other scholarship does not comprise merely ‘objective’ knowledge about a certain subject. It is also a directly political and discursive practice insofar as it is purposeful and ideological.” This is so because “feminist scholarly practice exists within power-relations which they counter, redefine or even implicitly support.”1 Here Mohanty is referring to the unequal power relations that exist between the Western world and the developing world. Other post-colonial feminists, such as Eiman O. Zein-Elabdin and S. Charusheela, argue that, “As a discipline, it [economics] has upheld the narrative of ‘development’ as the centerpiece of its theoretical construction of formerly colonized regions, presuming the ontological precedence of modern European societies as a basis for its theory of history.”2 Similarly, Paul Feyerabend argues that “the discourse on development in effect renders patterns of life outside the (Western) industrial world as a ‘mistake’ .”3 With respect to women and development in the Middle East, feminist scholars such as Leila Abu-Lughod, Leila Ahmed, Margot Badran, Laura Deeb, Sondra Hale, Frances Hasso, Deniz Kandiyoti, Reina Lewis, Saba Mahmood, Fatima Mernissi, Jennifer Olmsted, and Meyda Yegenoglu all argue for the need to understand how women have agency.4 In the case of Iran, several feminist scholars have argued that analyses which view women in Iran as victims and overlook their agency are unable to provide readers with a complete picture. These scholars include, among others, Roksana Bahramitash, Golbarg Bashi, Shala Haeri, Azadeh Kian, Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Mino Moalem, Valentine Moghadam, Parvin Paidar, Elaheh Rostami-Povey, and Nayereh Tohidi, among others.5 They all recognize that women in Iran continue to face major challenges in terms of achieving gender equality, but their research also documents how Iranian women are constantly resisting and pressing for changes. As noted above, the Iranian Revolution had been a catalyst for women’s activism, initially through their political mobilization in support of the prolonged, nationwide movement to overthrow the regime of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi (r. 1941-1979), the king who, by 1978, had become widely perceived as a repressive dictator responsible for virtually every kind of injustice in Iranian society.6 After the revolutionary movement concluded with the deposition of the monarchy and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, Iranian women, as the aforementioned feminist scholars have demonstrated, did not

return to their homes and forget about politics. Rather, many women remained actively engaged in the process of creating a new society, although such women have not comprised a unified bloc. Some women activists, for example, accepted traditionally conservative interpretations of Islamic texts and supported new laws that discriminated against women,7 while other women activists used liberal interpretations of Islam to contest these same laws. A few women even joined militant opposition groups, such as secular Marxist parties or the religious Mojahedin-e khalq organization; the latter initiated an unsuccessful armed uprising in 1981.8 A result of these diverse activities of acquiescence and resistance among women has been a dynamic society where both positive and negative changes have impacted upon the economic, legal, political, and social status of women. It is this process of resistance and change that the contributors to this volume examine in post-revolutionary Iran, a process that has been the result of women activists pressing for social change. Their gendered examination of contemporary Iran provides insights on social change and how women have been agents of this transformation. The objective of undertaking a gendered study of social developments in Iran had its origins in a series of academic conferences that began in 1992 under the auspices of the (then new) journal Critique.9 Because Critique’s intellectual purpose was to present analyses of the Middle East from a post-colonialist perspective that challenged the dominant American academic paradigms embedded in Eurocentric power dynamics (i.e., national security studies) and mainstream economic theories (first modernization and then neoliberalism), its conferences did not focus exclusively on Iran or women. Nonetheless, each conference featured at least one panel devoted to an exploration of issues that are of particular concern to women in the Middle East. In 2002, Critique organized a panel on current field research in the Middle East for the First World Conference of Middle East Studies (WOCMES), held in Mainz, Germany, and thereafter regularly organized panels for other international conferences, including for the annual meetings of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and the Society for Iranian Studies (SIS). These Critique-sponsored panels provided opportunities for younger women scholars to present fascinating fieldwork data they had gathered about women’s political and social activism and about significant changes that affected women in several Middle East countries, particularly Iran. This experience prompted these writers (Bahramitash and Hooglund) to organize specific panels about research on women in Iran. The chapters in this volume originated as papers presented on Critique-sponsored panels at conferences, especially the one at the MESA Conference in Montréal, Canada, in November 2007. What is significant about the approach in this volume is that all the contributors are active scholars who ground their arguments on field research they have undertaken in Iran (with the exception of Niki Akhavan who examined web blogs of Iranian women, a project which she began to research outside of Iran, although she did travel to Iran to complete this research) For that reason, the empirical evidence is both unique and essential for an understanding of the

changes that have been transforming Iranian society generally in the past three decades. With respect to women specifically, the empirical research documents a complex and nuanced process of social change that contradicts prevalent stereotypes outside the country about their role and status. In particular, this research contradicts the prevalent stereotype which assumes that Iranian (and Muslim) women are victims of their society. Such stereotypes reinforce a dichotomy of Western women as being agents and liberated while Iranian/Muslim women are oppressed victims of Muslim men. A fundamental underpinning of the chapters here is that although women in Iran have experienced many challenges and hardships, they have never ceased to press for change and are constantly pushing boundaries for social transformation. One political result of their activism is illustrated in the aforementioned 2009 presidential election. Rather than accept the government’s contention that Ahmadinejad had won a second term, millions of women took to the streets to demonstrate their disbelief and outrage. Although these street protests were eventually suppressed, the political elite was obviously shaken by the magnitude and nationwide character of the protests, especially the obvious presence of women in them, and thus sought to balance its coercion with some concessions. Ahmadinejad, for example, nominated three women to be ministers for his second term as President. Although the Majlis eventually rejected two of them, it is significant that it approved Gohar Sharifeh Dastgerdi to be Minister of Health, the first post-revolutionary female cabinet minister. While each of the chapters examines a unique aspect of activities, attitudes, or changes affecting women in Iran, the co-editors have given careful thought to arranging the chapters in a thematically coherent structure. The initial three chapters, for instance, analyze the discourses around gender and the impact of these discourses upon women in the spheres of law (Louise Halper), politics (Azadeh Kian), and religion (Fatemeh Etemad Moghadam). The next three chapters assess the gendered impact of educational, employment, communications, and cultural changes (Goli Rezaei-Rashti, Nikki Akhavan, and Jaleh Taheri). Chapters 7 and 8 present specific case studies about changing gender attitudes among the post-revolutionary generation of youth, especially women, in an urban (Farhad Khosrokhavar) and a rural (Eric Hooglund) area of Iran. The last three chapters (Roksana Bahramitash and Shala Kazemipour, Bahramitash and Zohreh Fanni, and Elhum Haghighat-Sordellini) examine some of the ways in which economic changes have been affecting women. The first chapter, “Authority, modernity and gender-relevant legislation in Iran” by Louise Halper, provides an overarching gendered framework for the book by focusing on legal changes and religious discourses as they apply to Iranian women. Halper, a legal scholar who practiced law for 15 years before becoming an academic expert on law, carried out field research in Iran during the mid-2000s. She originally presented this chapter as a paper for a panel organized by Middle East Critique for the Middle East Studies Association annual meeting in Montreal, Canada, in November 2007. Halper had agreed to have her paper included in this book project and was working on a revised draft when, unfortunately, she passed away suddenly in June 2008. We remain saddened by

the loss of such a rare legal scholar but are pleased that we can present her final work here, with only the preliminary edits she had approved. It is a tribute to a wonderful individual, an exceptional scholar and teacher, a committed feminist, and a person who had a sharp legal mind.10 In this chapter, Halper examines how discourses regarding laws of marriage and divorce have been forced to change from a religious perspective as the result of pressures brought to bear by women’s rights activists. Specifically, she notes that the discourse on genderrelevant law in Iran has often focused on the Islamic Republic’s reinstatement of religious law to govern issues of marriage, divorce, and family; less attention, however, has been paid to legislation that continues to shape the law and its application. In this respect, Halper examines several modifications to the law of marriage and divorce, changes that have not only been enacted by the Majlis, but changes that the Council of Guardians has approved as being compatible with religious law. This chapter links these legal modifications to enhanced political participation by women, one consequence of which has been more flexible interpretations of religious law. Halper suggests that the mobilization of women into political life evoked by the Revolution of 1979 has changed the space within which religio-legal interpretation takes place. She concludes that, although a misogynist current underlies much traditional jurisprudence and legal practice with respect to the place of women in family and in society, the political need to mobilize women in support of the Islamic Revolution and thereafter to maintain that support prevailed. That mobilization, in practice, has given rise to a marriage and family code with modern characteristics, as well as a social space in which women are and continue to be active, as evidenced by the outcome of the 2007 municipal elections. In Chapter 2, “Gendering Shi’ism in post-revolutionary Iran,” Azadeh Kian complements Halper’s chapter by examining the ways in which women activists, both Islamists and secularists, have been challenging a masculinized construct of the Islamic state that relies on essentialist discourses and gendered concepts of citizenship. In this process, argues Kian, women activists continuously contest and reinterpret Islamic doctrines and laws as well as traditional values and norms. They do so by producing contexts to become involved in public debates, to interact with political and religious leaders and institutions, and to create new meanings. Against those who use Islam to justify gender discrimination and to perpetuate patriarchal codes and male domination, many Iranian women now refer to Islamic law and sacred texts and, through their own interpretations and new readings, oppose gendered social relations. Kian argues that such women contribute tremendously to the social construction of secularism and the emergence of a democratic system whose prerequisite condition is respect for human rights and separation between the religious and political spheres. In Chapter 3, “Women and social protest in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Fatemeh Etemad Moghadam traces the historical origins of contemporary peculiarities in the freedom of female labor and women’s participation in public space in Iran. She applies an approach similar to those applied by Emma Boserup and other political economists. She argues that two important factors have left

lasting impacts upon the contemporary ambiguities about freedom of female labour and on commoditization of female sexuality and reproductive labor: the production systems that historically dominated the general geographic area of contemporary Iran; and the Shi’i version of the Islamic law (shari’a). With a reference to historical debates over women’s role in the production system, Moghadam argues that the economic and technological changes accompanied by modernization and the growing interaction with the West have created a new era of change. In Chapter 4, “Exploring women’s experience of higher education and the changing nature of gender relations in Iran,” Goli M. Rezai-Rashti assesses women’s participation in higher education since the 1990s. Recent statistics indicates that there is a steady reduction of the gender gap for literacy, elementary, secondary, and especially higher education. This chapter is based on empirical investigation that deals with the lives of female and male students and faculty members in several Iranian universities. Male students and faculty members were interviewed in order to show the significance of gender relations and the relational aspects of the gender regimes in Iran. The discussion presents women’s and men’s views of their participation in higher education, and discusses their aspirations, expectations, and desires for getting a university education. Furthermore, it investigates how women and men perceive their experience in universities as a basis for examining questions of agency, gender relations, and participation in the broader Iranian society. This involves their perception of employment opportunities, relationships, and attitudes toward marriage. Given the significant presence of women in higher education, it is perhaps not surprising to learn that women are active users of the internet. In Chapter 5, “Exclusionary cartographies: gender liberation and the Iranian blogosphere,” Niki Akhavan analyses the writings of female web blogists in Iran and documents how Iranian women have deployed the internet to interrogate various gender issues. She notes that in the decade since Iranians have made use of the internet as a site for political and cultural production, proliferating sets of discourses have glorified the weblogistan as a site where bloggers effectively challenge the state, and where women in particular find liberation. While Iranian women have a significant presence online and have deployed the Net in variously interrogating issues of gender, mainstream and celebratory accounts of the internet remain problematic for several reasons. According to Akhavan, the most worrisome shortcomings of such discourses concern the ways in which certain kinds of women are excluded from consideration. Depending upon and reifying several uncritical categories such as East/West, Progressive/Regressive, Liberal/ Religious, popular accounts about the Iranian blogosphere privilege the viewpoints of largely middle-to upper-class and self-identified secular women while completing ignoring, and thus erasing, the voices of women who may not fit these prescribed criteria. In considering examples of Iranian women whose participation online thus far has been largely absent from mainstream accounts, the author challenges and complicates exclusionary narratives that have dominated discourses about the liberatory potential of the Iranian internet. Akhavan argues

that the discourse around female web blogists must be examined closely, since writers on this subject tend to overlook the web blogs of religious women. Next, in Chapter 6, “Areas of Iranian women’s voice and influence,” Jaleh Taheri tackles the female victimhood stereotypes about Iran by discussing different activities Iranian women undertake to improve their lives. She focuses on their participation in cinema, education, the labor force, politics, and publishing. With respect to political activity, for example, Taheri notes how women have managed to increase their presence in local and municipal elections as well as in the wider political arena. She also examines how women have become involved in informal politics as volunteers in NGOs and by participating in both pro-and anti-government protests. In addition, the past decade has witnessed their increased participation in the labor force and education to the extent that today there are more women in universities than there are men. Furthermore, women have become employed in traditionally male-oriented jobs such as police officers, taxi driving, and firefighting. She discusses those women who support the regime and/or are Islamist and have become highly active in such organizations as the religious morality police, known as the khaharan Basij-e. In fact, being engaged as state supporters has empowered women of a certain class and religious background, and this process has worked against secular women while opening a door for pro-government women. Having recognized this, it should be noted that many women in the pro-government camp have questioned the state’s exercise of power in such institutions as the shora-ye farhangi-ye zanha Women’s Social and Cultural Council. Pro-state women conduct a vibrant discussion over how to advocate a state position through creative ways and by encouraging women voluntarily to follow government politics. In Chapter 7, “Post-revolutionary Iranian youth: the case of Qom and the new culture of ambivalence,” sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar focuses on the attitudes of seminary students in the city of Qom, the center of theological education in Iran. His data reveal a major transformation regarding attitudes about family authority in general and the authority of the father in particular, as well as changing attitudes about gender relations and the role of the state. The significance of these attitudinal changes has been a decline in the acceptance of traditional sources of authority towards more equalitarian views. With regard to the family, for instance, young men and women no longer agree to prearranged marriages. Although they still respect their parents’ views, they no longer allow their parents to choose their future partners. This is particularly significant in the case of girls who can reject their father’s choice. This is a major shift and decline of the father’s authority. However, with regard to sexual freedom, Qom remains conservative in comparison to Tehran where premarital sexual relations are freer. In Qom, girls in particular are extremely conscious of their reputation. With regard to the authority of the state, young people no longer seem to support the idea of a religious state as was the case during the early days of the Revolution. In fact, there are doubts about whether the politicization of religion has been beneficial for the Islamic faith and a growing belief that mixing religion and politics has hurt spirituality and religion. Even with regard to religion itself,

the new generation has no problem with music as was the case a generation before. Attitudinal changes among youth are also the subject of Chapter 8. In this case, the views are those of young rural women who live in villages near the city of Shiraz in south central Iran. In “Changing attitudes among women in rural Iran,” Eric Hooglund assesses the views of young women toward family, education, employment, marriage, religion, politics, and aspects of international relations. The data are derived from informal interviews conducted in the early 2000s and show that young rural women are questioning traditional family authority in matters such as marriage and employment outside of the home. The research indicates that the attitudes of some rural women are becoming more similar to those of young urban women, especially with respect to an understanding of women’s rights and the expectations of what women can do. In Chapter 9, “Women’s employment trends: advance or retreat?,” Roksana Bahramitash and Shala Kazemipour first provide a discussion of women’s overall employment in the formal sector and then focus on women’s participation in the informal sector. They argue that the statistical decline in employment for women in post-revolutionary Iran was largely a rural phenomenon, and it was related directly to an increase in education for rural girls, rural-to-urban migration, and a decline in the global price of Iranian carpets, which led to the loss of 340,000 carpet-weaving jobs for women in the rural areas during the early 1980s. They argue that economic rather than cultural/religious reasons contributed to the initial post-revolutionary decline in female employment. Official employment figures after 1986 support this argument, since they document that overall employment for women in fact has increased, although more for urban women than for those in rural areas. Formal employment, however, is only part of the narrative about women’s work. As the authors demonstrate, thousands of Iranian women are employed in the informal economic sector, which is not documented in statistics. Contrary to stereotypical assumptions that Islamization leads to a decline in female employment (as was obviously the case in Afghanistan during the five-year rule of the Taliban), the opposite has been the reality in Iran. In Chapter 10, Bahramitash and Zohreh Fanni examine the challenges faced by low-income women who live in urban settlements established illegally on land that had previously been vacant. “Extra-legal/informal settlements: does gender matter?” provides data on two such communities: Islamabad, which is adjacent to Tehran; and Shirabad, which is adjacent to Zahedan, the center of Sistan and Baluchestan province on the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan. This chapter is significant because the authors present data about women in lowincome households, a social group that tends to be absent in much of the literature about women in the Middle East and North Africa region. As the authors demonstrate, these women face multiple challenges, among which are: the psychological insecurity of knowing that at any time officials could evict their families and destroy their homes; the economic insecurity of (often) not having sufficient income for living expenses; and the social insecurity of living in

neighborhoods plagued with high crime, especially drug trafficking and addiction in the case of Shirabad. Because women of low-income households tend to be the ignored subalterns in the literature about women in Muslim countries, this chapter may be read as the start of an overdue discussion. In our final chapter, “Iran within a regional context: socio-demographic transformations and effects on women’s social status,” Elhum Haghighat-Sordellini compares Iran on gender issues with other countries that comprise the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) group. She argues that unlike what is often depicted by the media and a body of academic literature, Iranian society continues to experience economic development, modernization, and urbanization, and it has improved its employment and educational attainment for both men and particularly women during the past three decades. This chapter compares Iran with other MENA countries, and shows how social forces continue to transform Iranian society. Iranian women have found ways to improve their social status through factors such as achieving higher educational attainment and gainful employment. Due to Iran’s economic development, Iranian women have benefited from access to better healthcare facilities and a very successful family planning program which had lowered Iran’s Total Fertility Rate to one of the lowest birth rates in the world. Although Iranian woman continue to struggle to gain equal social and legal rights, higher levels of political participation, as well as a higher level of gainful employment (Iran has also been experiencing one of the highest unemployment rates in the MENA region for men and particularly for women), its women are significant and vibrant agents of social change, and active participants in improving Iranian society and their own social status. To sum up, each chapter in this volume examines challenges and opportunities which women in Iran have faced and documents ways in which women have continued to press for change at different levels. Sometimes they have made gains, such as an overall achievement in education, employment, health, the legalization of some extra/legal settlements, in making their voices heard through the internet, and in changing attitudes of their society. Sometimes they have not been successful, such as in the last presidential election, when women were not united, with some supporting the conservative Ahmadinejad, while others – perhaps a majority of women – supported the reformist Green Movement. Even though the results of that election were disappointing for those women who opposed a second term for Ahmadinejad, the election still revealed that Iran is a country where women participate actively in politics. Indeed, in that election, Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of Green Party leader Musavi, campaigned beside her husband, a first for Iran, and other candidates promised to appoint female ministers and advisers.