I am from 8th of March Women organisation (Iran-Afghanistan)

The Journey to the girls and women of the world

Heart to Heart with Iranian Women

I am an activist from 8th March Women organisation (Iran-Afghanistan). This organisation was formed on the basis of the radical left outlook and feminist tendencies by a group of dedicated women in 1998. They set their goals and started their struggle for the emancipation and equality of women in Iran and Afghanistan also they linked there struggles to the struggles of women in other parts of the world.

I would like to take you along as I travel through Iran with a look at the women’s situation. Iran is a country that has gone through important political, social and economic developments in the last three decades. In 1979 when the Islamic fundamentalists seized the power, Iran’s population was 35 millions but today Iran has a population of 71 millions where 60% of the population is below 25 years old and women constitute 35 millions.

With the further development of capitalist relations  in 20th century Iran became one of the important strategic countries due to its political and economic position. Iran is one of the largest producers of oil and gas in the world and has the largest labour force in the Middle East. These specifications have linked the fate of country to the fate of the world imperialist for over a century. With further and deepening integration of Iran into the imperialist world, politically and economically, we can be certain that the developments in Iran are not only influenced by the world’s situation but also it has an important role to play in the developments of the Middle East and political equation of the world.

In the late 70’s Iranian people’s struggle to overthrow the regime of the Shah a servant to western imperialists started. Women in their millions with the goal of emancipation and equality took part in these struggles. The climax of these struggles was the 1979 insurrection which led to the overthrow of the Shah’s regime and seizing the power by Islamic clerics.

We the Iranian women were the first to experience brutality of an Islamic fundamentalist regime in late 20th century.

Therefore history and experience of our struggle and resistance and analysis of the mechanisms of our oppression could play an important role in raising the consciousness of the women’s movement in the world as a whole.

The clerics who had just seized the power in order to realise their Islamic regime as a model for the world; first of all targeted the women by announcing that ‘covered woman with Islamic Hijab’ was the embodiment of the success of Iranian revolution.

To materialise their goal, in March 1979, less than two weeks of establishing their cleric rules they made Hijab compulsory for the women. At the very same days they announced that women’s place is ‘at home’ and they must go back to their homes because motherhood is the identity and the biggest task of women in Islam. But millions of women had already stepped into the political life of our society. It was impossible to send these politically awaked and conscious forces back to their homes easily. In response to this announcement thousands of women protested in historic demonstration of 8th March 1979. In this demonstration against Khomeini and new Islamic regime, when thousands of women shouted ‘we did not make revolution in order to step backward’ was in fact the birth of a women’s movement that continued in the form of resistance and struggle against the religious fundamentalist’s oppression and  is continuing its struggle until present time. In fact the Iranian women in this demonstration that continued for several days declared that they were not going to give in to those oppressive and anti-women laws of Islamic regime.

The question of women and establishing its inferior position became an important subject and characteristic of the religious state. Therefore the religious fundamentalist state was established and consolidated only through a series of acute and intense struggle on the position of women in the socials relations of the society. 

Islamic Republic by announcing compulsory Hejab as the symbol of Islamic revolution, in fact declared the political and social program of the Islamic state. Hejab became one of the main feature of the social and power relation that protection and domination of private ownership is its central part.

The newly born cleric regime was faced with a wide spread protest against compulsory Hejab and was forced to retreat at first, but after a rein of repression and terror that led to the massacre of beginning of 80’s and suppression of a number of political trends in the society, including left and communists, democrats, they managed to impose the decree of compulsory Hejab.

The law of compulsory hejab in fact was completed when the punishment of ‘stoning to death’ of women was introduced. Hundreds of women who had been force to sell their body due to economic and social difficulties were rounded up and executed in order to give lessons to the others. Then women were banned from becoming judges and juries, because according to Sharia law, women are weak and their brains are incomplete, therefore they are not able to judge. On the same basis two women witness become equal to a man. Polygamy became the natural right of men. Women were stripped from their right to divorce and all the right to divorce was given only to men. Man can divorce woman or keep her in slavery for ever, because in the logic of Islamic rulers, god created men as superior to women, and women are only an object to be possessed by her father before the marriage and by her husband after the marriage.

Any man, who is suspicion of his wife of wrong doing or of disloyalty, is allowed to kill her without any condition or legal prosecution. Father also has the same right: right to kill. These are underlying laws governing murder of hundreds of women in the hands of their husbands or their fathers and tens of children in the hands of their fathers in the past thirty years. On the basis of the teaching of the holly book women are the fields of men, and when ever they refuse sex with their men, they must be punished. All these instructions and religious beliefs against women have been implemented and backed by punitive  laws of Islamic republic.

Women were band to travel and work without the husband’s perior permission. They were denied the right to custody of their children even if they were succeeded a divorce. The homosexuals were penalised by death sentences and the life of a woman was legally valued half of that of a man life. According to tribunal laws if a man murders his wife, to prosecute the husband, the family of the murdered wife must first pay a lump sum Of money to husband’s family. ‘Retaliation as a punishment’ or (Ghesas) widely is practiced in Iran. Ghesas was the form of prosecution that used to be practiced during Pagan states then was integrated into the Islamic laws; for example when a murder happens it is up to the relatives of the killed person who decide whether to prosecute the killer or not. Alongside all these laws, a budget was allocated to publicity and cultural institutions to promote the inferior position of women in society through official educational system, cinema, art, cultural and Media.

Implication of such anti-women system has been disastrous for the position of women in Iran. Many women artist arrested and executed under pretext of symbol of western cultures. Many had to flee to western countries, many highly educated and specialist women forced to stay at home. State support for violence and oppression at home and legalisation of such violence against women paved the way for men to assault and harass women at home. Huge increase in suicide and self burning, executions and stoning to death, husband killing and so on in the past few decades are the results of a religion fundamentalist political system.

These are all one side of the coin but the other side of that is the thirty years long women’s resistance and struggle in Iran. In the past three decade there have been continuous battles between women in Iran and the Islamic Republic regime; battles in many aspect and sphere, individually and collectively and in various forms and ways. The struggles and resistance of thousands and thousand of women political prisoners in Iran which is unprecedented in the contemporary world is a living proof of their political awareness. They refused to submit to a system where its important distinction is subordination of women to men.

The presence of outrages and rebellious women in the streets against Hejab control squads, the arrest of over 150000 women only in the last summer due to so called violation of the code of Islamic cover all points to the failure of Islamic systems in one of most important projects in materialising the Islamic society. The Islamic regime expected that the youth could be educated in a complete Islamic manner, because they had not seen 1979 revolution. They thought the new generation will submit to these anti women laws and there would be no need for special military forces to impose them. But the continuation of struggle of women, especially new- generation of youth destroyed the dreams of Islamic Republic. New generation not only did not submit to these types of control, but forced the regime to allocate even more forces on the ground.

Despite gender separation in educational system, 60% of students and higher educations graduates are women, because they use every opportunity for progress and participation in the society affairs.

Any basic demand of women for emancipation and freedom is tied to separation of religion from state and elimination of religion in all spheres of social lives in the society.

Women’s movement today is one of the most powerful movements in Iran and it has had an important role in shaking the pillars of the power structure of Islamic Republic and can play an important role in further political developments in Iran and the region.  At the present political situation in Iran and the world, the women’s movement has been confronted with a complex situation. At present there are two so called feminist tendencies. These two tendencies promote choosing either pro imperialist or pro Islamic Republic patriarchal and anti women regimes. Any support to any of these two powers will practically and inevitably lead to strengthening the other power. Unfortunately we have to say that religion fundamentalists, either in the form of Islamic Republic government or Islamic movements in the Middle East have been able to find some allies among some progressive and left forces around the world. These forces in practice should have supported and have been allied with women’s movement and other progressive and popular movements in the Middle East.

What is needed for women’s movement in Iran now is to be able to safeguard its independence and continue its struggle together with other social movements for the overthrow of anti-women Islamic Republic regime. In this path women’s movement in order to be strengthened need the support of progressive and revolutionary forces around the word, and to wage the women’s cause in a world scale as well.


8 March Women Organization (Iranian-Afghanistan)

3 October 2008- 8th Conference Frauenpolitischer Ratschlag