In the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution, patriarchal order was reinforced and gender inequality was institutionalized when Islamic laws founded on traditional jurisprudential interpretations (fiqh-­i-sonnati) were applied to women’s rights and family code. Gender inequality thus became the paradigmatic form upon which the Islamic state is based. The Family Protection Law of 1967 was abrogated, and a series of regressions were imposed upon women’s rights in both the public and the private realms. For example, an Islamic dress code was applied, and hijab became compulsory first for active women and then generalized to the female population; important limitations were set for women in matters of divorce and child custody; the minimum age of marriage for girls was lowered from 18 to nine years (increased to 13 years under the sixth Majles in 2002); women’s access to judiciary occupations was prohibited, etc. According to the dominant ideological discourse that considered the home the best and the most suitable place for women, the ideal model for a Muslim woman was one of a mother and a housewife as portrayed in the official mass media and schoolbooks. Faced with high rates of inflation that has led to the decrease in the purchasing power of lower and middle-class households, women’s revenue-earning activity became necessary to the survival of their families. The proponents of the ideal of Islamic femininity were therefore forced to change their interpretations of the shari’a endorsing women’s work outside the household. However, only economic and financial dimensions of women’s work are emphasized to the detriment of the social dimension, women continue to be considered dependent upon their husbands, and although half of women active in the formal sector of the economy are highly educated, they are seldom given decision-making posts. Ayatollah Khamenehi, the current leader, declared in a sermon on 16 December 1992: “Islam authorizes women to work outside the home. Her work might even become necessary if it does not change her main responsibility, especially her children’s education and the housework.”1 Although Islamists tolerate women’s revenue-earning activity, they do not accept its logical consequence, namely women’s autonomization and their questioning of men’s all-out authority. In addition to gender-segregating occupational policies, men are given overwhelming privileges in matters of marriage, divorce, guardianship of children

after divorce or inheritance. For example, according to article 1105 of the Civil Code, the man is the head of the household and the wife is obliged to submit to her husband (tamkin). If she refuses to comply with her husband’s authority and demands (including sexual demands), he is legally allowed to sanction his wife, and in certain cases is even authorized to divorce her. Likewise, men retain the exclusive right to divorce (article 1133 of the Civil Code) and to parental authority (kifalat) after divorce. In the name of religion some Islamists with a positivist approach to nature essentialize gender inequality, which they consider to be a natural fact originating in the divine will. They confine women to domesticity where natural hierarchy limits the equality between men and women. Javad Mustafavi, an Iranian conservative cleric and the author of a widely read book entitled The­Paradise­of­ the­Family (Behesht-­i­khanevadeh), argues, “God has created women to do the housework, child-bearing and child-rearing. God has created men for activities outside the home, for confronting the hardships of life.” The proponents of traditional jurisprudence argue that men and women are different in their essence and should not be equal. They argue that men and women are complementary (mokamel). They thus reject equality and emphasize the notion of equity. During the first decade of the Revolution, men’s superior legal position led some of them to abuse their rights. For example, the number of unjustified divorces initiated by men increased, while the Islamic courts almost automatically granted the guardianship of children to men. This provoked the general discontent of the female population and forced the Islamist women parliamentarians to prepare motions to defend more adequately women’s needs and rights in the private sphere of the family. They held that the teachings of Islam were not respected.2 The segregation laws triggered the mobilization of many women and created a common ground of protest for both secular women, many of whom had been dismissed from their posts during the revolutionary period (1979-1986), and the disillusioned educated Islamics, who had gained social mobility thanks to the revolution and the thrusting aside of secular women. They rejected their confinement at home, challenged the institutionalized gender inequalities by emphasizing their activity in the economic, social and cultural realms that are not forbidden by the religious and political elite’s reading of the shari’a, but they also asserted their authority in the religious and judicial realms where women are denied power.3