Shahin Gerami 1996
Women in Fundamentalism,
Garland Publishing, NY
NOTE: This extract is included as an essential reading for transforming the world. You are requested to purchase the book yourself as it is, without question, essential reading material.
Iranian Women Leaders Speak about Family, Power, and Feminism
Since the beginning of the revolution, a group of women, either through their own action or by extension of their male relatives, have remained with the revolution and the Republic. Some have gained offical leadership positions, some have de facto power and no official title. Like similar fundamentalist movements, the top leadership in the republic has been all male. Below this group, there is a group of women sprinkled throughout the power structure of the state bureacracy or its affiliated institutions. Some are well known due to their positions or their personalities, some remain behind the scene unknown to the public. Despite their official titles, they affect state policies in general and women issues in particular. This chapter reports the results of a series of interviews with thirty-eight women leaders and three target group discussions.
Selection Process and Participants' Characteristics
The data for this part were collected in 1989 and 1992. Most of the interviews and focus group discussions took place in 1989. Five members of the original sample of the leaders were interviewed again in 1992, and three new leaders were added. Of the original group, three who were dependent on men for their status have lost most of their power though remaining public figures. These women were tied to the conservative faction, which was defeated in the 1992 election. The interviewees were selected based on reputation and availability. Some women had official positions and others enjoyed a public profile. Among the latter, many had no official title, and their public exposure was due to their husband's or other male relative's status. These women had successfully utilized men's positions and had gained public exposure and, in some cases, public office. The wife of the ex-speaker of the house who is in charge of the Shahid Institution's hospitals, the largest chain of hospitals in the country, is of the second category. She has maintained her position and power despite setbacks suffered by her husband. What universally came through was that these women had sought and chosen to be public and enjoyed the power of their positions. Some had personal ambition and others used their resources to further women's causes. The wife of the ex-prime minister, Ms. Zahra Rahnavard, is the best-known advocate of women's rights in Ir@. She managed to remove many quotas for women's admissions into the universities. She is also an artist in her own right. Not all wives of leaders occupy a public life. Foremost among them is the wife of the Ayatollah Khomeini. An eloquent and efficient woman, she has shunned public office, while her daughter, Mrs. Mustafavi, who was interviewed for this research in 1989, is the president of the Women's Society (the state's women's organization). After her father's death and the new Majles in 1992, Mrs. Mostafavi has lost some of her power. She and her brother stand slightly to the right of the present goverm,nent. In collecting my list, most participants, either voluntarily or in response to my request, proposed other names and produced telephone numbers. Generally, those who held office and had higher educational background were more open and less hesitant about interviews. Some allowed the interview to be taped. Others were very concemed about expressing their views and emphasized that they do not want to be misquoted. Members of this group were more likely to be related to a male official.
The majority of the subjects came from either clergy or bazzari (merchant) families. Twenty-one had solid middle or upper middle class backgrounds. The rest came from lower middle class families. Eighty-seven percent had a college degree, 12 percent had traditional theological training, and one was from a peasant background. In addition to this group, three focus group discussions were organiz ed: one with college students and teachers, one with women activists, and one composed of professionals and housewives. Finally, informal conversations with men and women of different backgrounds provided additional data for this chapter. I have organized these interviews around the four themes of this book: women's role women's place, women and power, and gender equality. The span of three years has made a significant qualitative change in Iran. Among the historical events are 0 death of the revolution's leader, Ayatollah Khomeini;
o end of the eight-year-long war with Iraq;
0 gradual consolidation of power in the hands of President Rafsanjani and his faction known in the West as "the pragmatists";
0 release of Western hostages from Lebanon;
0 improved relations with Westem countries;
o economic improvements;
o liberalization of social mores;
0 an aggressive population control campaign;
0 and, of special interest here, grass roots efforts by women to improve their educational, occupational, and social opportimities.
These and other changes had led to a marked difference in the most conservative women leaders' attitude toward women's rights and choices in the Islamic Republic. They had adjusted their definition of woman's nature-psyche and physique to a more modern interpretation. Instead of just praising Islam's treatment of women, they advocated more legal protection. There was more criticism of the system and its shortcomings as far as granting women their true Islamic rights were concemed. The leaders, nevertheless, unlike the focus groups, defended the system and universally had some criticism of the Western societies' treatment of women. Among the latter, an American- educated psychologist put forth the most orthodox interpretation of the Islamic doctrine while attacking Westem ways.
"You women who work outside [home] as physicians, professors, planners or other practical occupations, these are important in their own rights, but keep in mind the home front" (Ayatollah Khaamenie, 1992). The Islamic Republic's rhetoric abounds with woman as mother and care giver. The message reverberating throughout the country is that the Islamic Republic has granted woman her whole personhood, which was neglected by the previous regime. The Shah's regime made woman into a toy or sex object. This came across in several interviews. A female law consultant said, "Woman was only a beauty symbol. Women are half of the society and must be active participants." The importance of woman's reproductive function is integral to her individual and social identity. To remove the former destroys the latter. This goes beyond Islamic culture, and it is interwoven into Iranian culture that any definition of "self" for woman is directly and causally linked to her reproductive capacity (see Gerami, 1993). In interviews with an official paper, wives of the officials in the Islamic Republic unanimously declared that a woman should engage in the social arena if it does not detract from her major responsibility as a wife and mother. A more orthodox view is expressed by the wife of a well-known clergyman:
Women must be obedient and have knowledge about women's issues and know techniques of housekeeping and if she is obliged to engage in outside activities, she must know how to manage household. Women must perform motherhood, which is one of the most important responsibilities of women, excellently. A woman must understand her husband and children easily. During our 26 years of married life with that great martyr, I tried to be obedient and submissive, because he was in higher plateau of religious devotion. (Havai, 1988:6)
She represents the ultraconservative view of women's social role. Interestingly, a female dermatologist expressed similar views in a focus group discussion. Her conservative view of women's role was not based on Islam but on women's nature. She disapproved of male nurses in the hospital where she worked. Describing how she observed a male nurse feeding an infant, she stated, "It looked very unnatural. Men shouldn't be nurses and I told him so." A teacher described the social pressure women face to comply with expected roles: "After you get married, gossip starts about why she is not pregnant. Family members, especially the husband's family, wonder if you are sterile. Finally, your husband submits and tells you to get pregnant and stay home to stop the rumors." If women questioned the time of motherhood, or frequency of child bearing, or whether to combine work and family, no one questioned the choice of motherhood. The director of a government-funded research center on women's issues, an American-trained psychologist, stated: "Marriage and motherhood is a woman's primary responsibility. Freedom in Islam is different from the West. In Islam a woman cannot remain single, it is not a sin, but not encouraged. A woman must emphasize her motherhood and household responsibilities." Among the women leaders, whether following the official line or expressing their personal views, the majority maintained that woman's primary responsibility is motherhood and housekeeping. This is grounded in the nature-based idea of woman's personality. "She has a delicate spirit and is sensitive, she is naturally emotional," a director of an educational institution stated. A female lawyer stated:
Every person has a nature at the time of creation. Women have certain characteristics. Men have more physical strength and are accordingly responsible for hard tasks. Part of the difference is due to the creation. Delicate and sensitive tasks are assigned to women and men are responsible for financial support of the family.
'The female physician disapproved of women as surgeons or any type of medicine dealing with emergency cases. She related a story of a female anesthesiologist who, one night, was picked up at her house by two other doctors, both male, for an emergency operation during the war. "It was this young woman in the car with two men at the middle of night." She related, "Men were unhappy about this situation too. One of them said 'if you women stayed out of medical schools more men could attend and we would not have to drag women doctors out of their homes at the middle of the night."' A high school math teacher and wife of a Majles deputy put it most clearly:
Women's occupation should suit their physical and psychological condition; at the same time it should not be harmful to the family and children. I believe the best occupation for women is teaching, which in Islam is recommended, too. Meanwhile, Islam has no restriction on women's occupation and they can engage in all areas whether technical,'medical, political, economics, and even in higher occupational positions involved in decision making of the society. Of course, on rare occasions there are some restrictions which are for her own good and are mostly customary. For instance, mining reduces woman's energy and detracts from her main responsibility which is motherhood and housekeeping, it is not suitable for women. If women's occupations are like men's, inflexible, undoubtedly, it hurts women. Therefore, we see that all around the world, women seek social justice, to be able to take care of their main responsibility which is motherhood. (Kayhan Havai, 1988:7)
This idea is reflected in the official policy, which reduces the workweek, allows ninety days paid maternity leave, a thirty- minute break every three hours for nursing mothers, on-site day care, as well as other benefits indicated in the new labor law. Women as public figures generally recited the official line about the importance of motherhood and led an active public life. They were quick to mention that they do not shortchange their families. The principal of an educational institution (kindergarten to twelfth grade) repeatedly mentioned that she manages her five children beautifully and works twelve hours a day at her job. The younger women participating in discussion groups advocated individual choice and downplayed the role of feminine nature. One group discussion took place in the office of a women's opposition group. This association is organized by the daughter of a leading theologian and an opposition leader to the Shah's regime. He and most of his family experienced prison and persecution. A devout Muslim, his daughter is to the left of the government. Her office, in addition to publishing a monthly newspaper, offers classes for women and legal counseling. Most participants in our two sessions were young and from working- class families. Their major concern was to maximize their resources. Of the nineteen participants, all but two had a high school diploma, but college was not part of their future. We met in the society's main office in central Tehran in a building that used to be the Saudi Arabian embassy. It is a grand old building with open and airy rooms. The young women participants were @ctive in a variety of community work and were critical of the goverrunent. They were enrolled in classes in typing, computers, sewing, etc. Their priorities were to find a suitable husband who has a stable job and is moderately supportive, to be able to work for at least the first few years of their marriage, and to avoid living with in-laws. In one of our tw t -iey had a heated debate about women's nature. Surprisingly, they were well versed in the nature versus nurture debate. However, they took a pragmatic view toward their roles and future. At the end of our first meeting, when we were all putting our various hijabs on, a tall cheerful-looking woman said, "I don't care what they [government] say about women [self] sacrificing for everybody else. I control my destiny." She winked. "I want two kids, a two-bedroom apartment, and a good job, and I am not going to sacrifice it." It is imperative to mention that the state's definition of women and their status is dynamic and forming rather than static and decided. Women have been important players in the debate. A brief overview indicates that a trend toward liberalization is occurring. In a speech to the Social and Cultural Council of Women, the religious leader advocated an increase in the number of female physicians, proportional to their popula- tion (Khaamenie, 1992:7,86).
"Women botanists who conduct research in our institution are not allowed to travel, so for their research materials they rely on vegetations collected by untrained men" (Zan-e-Rouz, 1992:10). The answer to the question Should women remain segregated from men? is generally No. Even the most conservative do not prescribe the complete seclusion of women. However, when the definition of seclusion is sought, the answer is less clear. When it comes to segregation, attention to its scope, extent, and dimension is necessary. While all women and men with whom I talked rejected a ban on women's participation in the labor market, views on the extent of gender integration varied with age, social class, and family background of the interviewees. A general consensus among the women leaders indicated that women, after administering to their families, can and should engage in outside activities. All agreed that women deserve special provisions in order to participate in the labor market. Meanwhile, they advocated equal pay for equal work. Disagreement surfaced when the type of participation and circumstances of participation were debated. Therefore, the public versus private debate needs to expand the definition beyond mere spatial dimension and include behavioral segregation. The controversial national debate about hijab, malhijabi, or good hijabi denotes one aspect of this segregation. Many areas of public space are segregated: sports stadiums are men's domain, as are the upper deck of double-decker buses, the front seat of buses, the front rows of classrooms on college campuses, and so forth. However, hijab has implications far beyond mere geographical dimension. It has redefined a public and personal space that did not exist to this extent in the Iranian culture. The Islamic hijab is more than a dress code, it is a live and dynamic social ethic that includes a set of values and norms of interaction. A civil service employee stated that in 1979, after the revolution, women could not laugh in the workplace. Now it has changed, but women still should not smoke in public. She stated that she was told not to cross her legs because it arouses men. The Islamic dress code can be divided into three categories, with each denoting a particular ideological and political view as well as social class and status. Each category has nuances and details in which the experienced eye can detect individualism, resistance, rejection, commitment, devotion, and fashion, as well as social status. The same symbolism exists in American culture, though to a lesser extent. I was reminded of this when I tried to explain women's dress and fashion statements and their implied symbolism to my sister who was visiting the United States for the first time in 1990. To begin with, the Islamic hijab required by many offices and schools consists of a long and loose robe of heavy and dark colored material called "mantu" (from French manteau). A pair of pants or dark and heavy stockings, flat shoes, and a head cover that covers all of a ivoman's hair complete this ensemble. It is the choice of the latter that draws the boundaries of segregation, ideology, and social standing. Head covers are generally of three kinds. The generic head cover required as part of the official dress code is called "maghnae." It is headgear that is sewn with an opening for the face. It does not require any fastening or ties, thus it is more functional and easier to manage than a head scarf, which requires continuous adjustment to cover all strands of hair. Made mostly of heavy and dark materials, it is uncomfortable in Iran's hot summers. This is mandatory in offices and schools. In goverrunent offices, one is well advised to wear maghnae instead of a scarf. I learned quickly that in offices or when interviewing government officials, it is the cover of choice. When attired as such, only a woman's face and hands will show. Maghnae is the middle ground of the head covers. C)ne can detect a woman's ideological support for the system, depending on the rest of her ensemble. A mantu and maghnae (MM) of generic description implies following the rule and not shaking the boat. This woman is very likely not an Islamic ideologue and is too busy with work and family to tamper with the official dress code. She most likely works outside the home and is coming or going to her work. To the left of this category are those who wear a head scarf, called "rusary" (instead of maghnae), which is tied around the neck and over a mantu. This ensemble, called "mantu va rosary" (MR), denotes a nonadvocate and even opposition to the system. This group is more relaxed outside the official domain. Their attire varies from expensive, elegant, and fashionable to, at times, tacky. The author met a teenager who, during the difficult days of 1985 when the war and bombing raged, wore a baby- blue rusary so masterfully around her head and neck that it left her earlobes exposed to show her fashionable earrings. She, of course, was playing with the wrath of the morality squads who roamed the street in search of deviants from the strictest dress codes. MR is patterned and designed so that it can express individuality by experimenting with the texture and design of the outfit. Given the authorities' reaction against jeans, any form of denim expresses fashion and opposition. Since a woman's hair should not be shown in public, attempts are made to display strands of hair somehow or another. One way, as practiced between 1989 and 1992, was showing strands of hair, often bleached, from under the rusary. Rosaries themselves, in terms of material and color as well as techniques of wearing them, reveal a world of meaning. In upper-class neighborhoods of large cities, the designer labels of Gucci, Pierre Cardin, etc., are worn and sold openly. In sum, those who choose MR are always pushing the boundaries of the official dress code. It is this group that is labeled malhijabi and is the target of vigilante harassment and often denounced on the floor of the Majles. They are called lackeys of imperialism, whores, or antirevolutionary criminals who need to be educated or punished or both, depending on the political climate or the individual's perspective. To the right are those who wear the Hijab Islami (HI) either because of their belief, job requirement, or political exigencies, signaling commitment to the Islamic Republic. This dress consists of the same mantu and maghnae of black material, either with pants or stockings, plus a chador that is tied around the head with bands. The shoes are heavy in winter and sandals in summer. The whole outfit is black. Those who don this attire are known as "Sisters." Chador, especially black chador, denotes a commitment to the regime among working women of the middle class. Being a traditional dress of Iranian women, not all chadori women are Sisters. Chador combined with mantu and maghnae is generally a good indicator of a woman's support for the regime. All women leaders interviewed wore HI. The reasons for dress may vary from ideological commitment to occupational necessities or the husband's position and promotion. In one of our group discussions, a young woman with very modern attitudes toward gender roles wore Hijab Islami. Later, another member informed me that the young woman's husband is an aspiring under secretary in the cabinet, and she has to keep up an appearance in the public to help his job. I was reminded of corporate wives in American culture. This dress code also allows variations, indicating status, fashion, and personal statement. The assistant to an under secretary to the minister of information was an attractive and well-groomed woman who wore an expensive Hijab Islami. While I waited in her office to meet the under secretary, she was carrying on a friendly conversation-too friendly by the Islamic Republic's standards-with a young man sitting next to her desk. She let her chador, which was not tied around her head, slip showing her designer maghnae. Her open and friendly manner was very different from the stem demure of the Sisters. She wore the dress code but did not follow the behavior code. She had Hijab Islami, but was not a Sister. Her relaxed behavior was more significant because it occurred in the office that is responsible for upholding and enforcing the Islamic ethic nationwide. Later, I met the minister himself, who was a modem, Western-educated clergyman of around forty. Indeed, the higher a person's position in the hierarchy, whether official or not, the more relaxed behavior they displayed. The zealots were often at lower levels of the administration. None of these categories are absolute and cross-dressing occurs. However, it is mostly the MR crowd that has more freedom to wear HI than the Sisters. The other group has less freedom. Perhaps because they have more to lose should it be known that they have digressed from the Islamic ethic. In the summer of 1992, I leamed that the editor of the leading women's magazine (Zan-e-Rouz) had left her post and started a liberal feminist magazine. She had also changed from HI to MR. To my informant, the latter was more important than the content of her magazine. She had switched camps and would not be forgiven by the Sisters. In a group discussion, one informant jokingly said that she dresses for the occasion. When she goes to more conservative offices, such the Ministry of justice, she will don HI to get the desired response, but if she is going to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Passport Office, she will wear MR and maybe some makeup. This Islamic ethic also regulates men's behavior. Many men complained about restrictions on their behavior. Young men, in particular, face harassment from the morality squads. Short-sleeved, colorful shirts, jeans, foreign symbols, or logos on clothing, and punk haircuts are controlled. Smoking in office areas and laughing are'disapproved of, too. In the summer of 1989, I was researching the University of Tehran's regulations regarding women students. At this time, Islamic Societies dominated student affairs. A young man was assigned to meet and help me. He was about twenty years old, with the complete attire and expression of his group. He wore a black, long-sleeved, buttoned-up, loose shirt over his nondescript trousers. His face had a day-old stub. His hair was dark and cut short. His whole appearance expressed commitment to Islam and rejection of fashion and vanity. Had he been shaven and wom a smile, he would have shown a baby- faced young man. In addition to the prescribed stub beard, he wore a stem look on his face. He kept his hands at his side and kept a downcast eye. He also spoke very softly. Our conversation was frustrating. Since he would not look me in the face and mumbled under his lips, I had to bend to ask him questions and repeat myself. It must have been frustrating to him, too. Except for receiving a few pamphlets, I did not accomplish my goal there. The minister of information's open demeanor was a contrast to this young man's.
Hijab still remains central to the state's ideology and reflects shifts in power. A shift to the right is associated with denunciation of malhijabi from every public forum. For instance, after some relaxation of enforcement during the spring and summer of 1992 coinciding with the election and the opening of the new Majles, a coalition of the more conservative groups led to the denunciation of cultural invasion and malhijabi. In the winter of 1992-93, the conservatives, at least in terms of appearance, gained some momentum. One of my informants wrote that after closing counseling and guidance departments in high schools for thirteen years, they have now reopened them and asked those who were removed from their jobs to return. She, however, indirectly and later through her husband, was told that to maintain her new position she should wear Hijab Islami. Other female professionals have expressed the same pressure. T'he ongoing debate on the Islamic ethic leaves no doubt that the official line has abandoned returning women to the private domain of home and family. The complex network of the Islamic ethic draws an invisible though recognizable and enforceable line to mark the sex segregation. The woman's presence in the public domain is not marked just by her clothes, but also by her conduct. She faces restrictions in terms of behavior, speech, areas of activity, as well as social aspiration.
Women and Power
I told these gentlemen: you always talk about Fatemeh (the Prophet's daughter)-example of Fatemeh-but only mention merits of her housekeeping and mothering activities and how obedient she was. You never mention her political activities ... how she defended her husband and Islam. You only talk about her family roles [to women]. Why? Are you afraid that they [women] will get an upper hand? Do not fear them. Work together, side by side, and see how much you accomplish. (leader of the women's opposition group)
Several themes came through in interviews and group discussions about the relationship of women to power in the family and the society.
Woman as weaker sex. Regardless of their ideological stand, supporters and opponents of the Islamic Republic declared men and women equal and neither superior to the other. A member of an underground Marxist organization was surprised at my question: "Of course men and women are equal. You talk like a Westem feminist." She continued, "Talking about men and women is designed to distract us from the main exploitation, the larger struggle, imperialist exploitation.... Women are brought to be submissive and are exploited." She, in another discussion, lamented the problems caused by women members who have no sense of group discipline. A director of a prep school and professor in a women's seminary, interviewed in 1989, stated:
We must talk about humans and not men and women.... Social responsibility for women is different. Women can go to combat if necessary, take gun, there is no social responsibility that women cannot do, except judiciary and politics. Because she has a delicate spirit and is sensitive.... she @s mother and is better for her not to be exposed to the criminals and corruption.
A theme repeated in the popular culture is that talking about men and women is divisive. "We are all humans and, in the Allah's eyes, gender is not a factor." My mother was among this group who saw my discussion of the sexes as "irrelevant." Nevertheless, she, like many others having said that, would list the real differences between men and women. The women's opposition leader stated: "Our Shariat has so many issues. As they [government] have initiated a reinterpretation [Ijtehadl of Shariat regarding the economic issues, the same should happen to women's issues; otherwise the exploitation will continue. Indeed, there should be no matriarchy, nor patriarchy; rather 'right-archy.' People's civic rights must be preserved. Division of labor at home must be based on justice." An administrative assistant at a company stated, "women are equal to men but have weaker minds. That is why we spend most of our time gossiping and chattering. Weaker minds." Legal rights of the sexes, particularly in the family affairs, remained the focal point of many discussions. A director of a women's college, who was also a professor of a women's seminary and an unofficial advisor to the president in 1989, stated:
Child custody is man's right. When a woman remarries she loses her independence. She becomes somebody's burden. As long as a woman has not married, she can take care of her children, but mother's husband can create moral problems. Men should not have unilateral divorce right. The true Islam is not actually implemented. In the true Islam we do not have divorce. Man must provide for woman and control his lust.
Interviewed again in 1992, she expressed more liberal views of women's rights. Many leaders did not challenge the Islamic principles, rather they challenged their interpretation and implementation. Except for the Marxists, members of the legal opposition groups lauded Islamic provisions for women's rights and criticized the state's interpretation and implementation of them. It is impera- tive to mention that the existing opposition groups function within the framework of the state's ideology and do not chal- lenge the primacy of Islam. The same leader of the opposition stated:
They claim to be Muslims but are far from it. This regime has a political view of women, for political exploitation. Women suffer double exploitation. They have passed some laws, but their implementation is left to judges' discretion.... We still lack legal protection, but if men respect women's and children's rights, many of our problems will be solved.
During our two lengthy talks, she always sarcastically referred to the political leaders as "these gentlemen." The debate about women's rights is a lively and ongoing debate. Five members of the original group were interviewed again in 1992. Three who had accepted man's unilateral right to divorce and child custody without any revision, now expressed a change of heart and proposed debate and change if necessary. T'he president's special advisor on woman's affairs stated, "Islam is dynamic, and not dead end. If something endangers Islamic community, then it is against Islam. We might have women judges in the next few (4) years."
The top woman. One of the interviewees holds the highest office occupied by a woman. There is no woman cabinet member yet, but she comes close to it. In 1991 a new position was added to the cabinet; a special council on women was created and the person in charge is a special adviser to the president on women's affairs. The first appointee is a thirty-eight-year-old woman, loyal to President Rafsanjani's faction. After two phone calls, I received an interview. Since she is the highest ranking woman, I have included most of her comments in this section. I was to meet her at 10:00 A.M. in her special office in the presidential office complex in the central part of Tehran. Compared to 1989, the security check was more relaxed. At the main office, after I stated the purpose of my visit, the attendant asked for an identification card. I handed him my American driving licence. If he was surprised, it did not show. He filled out two forms and directed me to my destination through a maze of office buildings. I had to go to another building for a security check. This time the Sisters in charge were more pleasant. They also searched my [email protected] One of them found a lipstick and a compact, which she removed from the bag. She told me to take them back when I returned. I could not understand the security significance of these items. They directed me to a new three- story building that is the Office of Women's Affairs. At the door, a sign wamed men not to enter without prior notice. The office had a homey atmosphere. Women wearing MRs behaved unencumbered and relaxed. The stem look of previous years or other offices was absent here. As far as hijab was concemed, they were all Sisters and their hijab must have been HI, consisting of a mantu, a maghnae, and a chador. In the office, they had removed their chadors-no man could come in without prior notice. The office had the feel and smell of a woman's environment-a private domain, a private public domain. I was reminded of typing pools in American offices. The counsel, Mrs. Habibi, a robust young woman, with an open and friendly countenance, welcomed me to her office at 10:35. There was a young boy of about ten, her secretary's son, and a woman wearing MM-which I now knew to be of a fashionable kind-representative of the Jewish community in Tehran. The two women had just returned from a trip to Germany and seemed to have a close rapport. I had already learned that Mrs. Habibi has the president's support and is secure in her position. This came through in the three-hour-long discussion. The representative of the Jewish community remained in the office and participated in the discussion. The goal of this office is to organize and orchestrate all issues and policies regarding women. Mrs. Habibi, like other leaders, offered the party line, which has changed since 1989. She advocated increased women's participation in public life. Her goals for a Muslim woman in the Islamic Republic were (a) to be an informed and educated mother; (b) to know her rights; (c) to pursue education; and (d) to actively participate in public life, including the labor market. She lauded women's efforts during the war period and indicated that women can now receive the Civil Medal of Honor. She considered illiteracy one of the major problems of women and blamed the previous regime and the imperialists (Estekgar) for this problem. She defined literacy as knowing one's rights and not just reading and writing. She acknowledged sex discrimination in hiring and mentioned efforts to remedy this situation. She added, "Since women are entitled to more vacation, the employers resist hiring them." She expressed a clear vision for empowering women by educating them about their rights in the family and the labor market. "We are here to get women what Islam has granted them. Our women need to take charge, I mean, stop being submissive. It is not Islamic." Women leaders had a good general knowledge of Shariat and were pushing its interpretation. Among the new rights achieved is "marital pay" or alimony, which is new and was forwarded by women interpreting Islamic labor laws. The leaders revealed a sense of empowerment that was more due to their religious commitment than actual exercise of power. Women professionals had a clear understanding of infringement of their power. One major impediment was restriction on their mobility. When their job required traveling in or outside of the city, they faced many restrictions. Most of these stemmed from procedural regulations and not specific laws. A hospital administrator complained that during the first year at her job, she had a difficult time -zetting her orders implemented by a staff of both men and women. Physicians objected to her checking on male patients. When she used the hospital vehicle to check on her suppliers, her higher-ups told her to use her own car. "They did not want a woman driving a hospital car." An agro-engineer was told not to use the department's jeep to travel, but rather to use her own car for office trips (Zan-e-Rouz, 1992:12). Women traveling alone also face restrictions when checking into hotels. Until recently, a woman without male relatives was not allowed into hotels. The republic's paranoia about sexual corruption had led to banning women without male relatives from hotel rooms. It must be added that a single woman [email protected] in a few intemational chains-did not fare better before the revolution either. While the restrictions have been eased, hotel managers are still required to report a single woman guest to the police authorities. A female [email protected] complained that in arranging court dockets, female lawyers get the last priorities. The clerks, who are men, favor male lawyers and ignore the priority procedure. Furthermore, judges, who are mostly clergy now, sometimes show disdain for female lawyers which makes their work, especially in family cases, more dffficult. Woman's power in the family proved to be paramount for the participants at discussion groups. Child custody and divorce rights proved to be more pertinent than polygamy and mandatory hijab. The leaders took a more deliberate approach. They took pains to explain the Islamic underpinning of these rights. Some, despite my assurance of knowledge of the Shariat, explicated the rational and extreme circumstances proscribed for these rights. The president of the state women's organization blamed men's lust and stated, "No matter how many laws we pass, we need to educate men to treat women right." The issues that seemed important to women were men's understanding and cooperation in household responsibilities, men's support of outside work or education, and disagreement about financial arrangement. Many complained that men appropriate their income and plan or spend it without their counsel. Women who worked often complained about their male colleagues and their husband's refusal to cooperate with them in their official tasks or household duties. A camera woman at National Iranian Television stated that sometimes she had to work at nights to cover the news. Her husband complained all the time and did not understand her occupational responsibilities. For many middle-class women, a husband's infidelity has become a source of anxiety, too. This was new and not mentioned in the 1989 discussions. Indeed, the perception of promiscuity had increased so much that men and women who knew about my interest often approached me to inform and complain about moral decay and increased promiscuity. Following a husband's infidelity, women fear divorce and losing their children. Divorce is dreaded for many reasons: losing one's status as a complete human being, which in many third world countries is obtained by being married; financial dependency; becoming a burden on relatives; and, foremost, losing custody of 'their children. Interestingly, polygamy and hijab were at the bottom of the list of women's concem. Do women perceive that they are empowered by participating in the Islamic Revolution? The answer varies depending on specific issues, but I received more "No" responses than "Yes." 'fhe Islamic Republic is not to be solely blamed. Major social changes, such as the revolution, the war, economic shortages, constant social reorganization, rapid deval- uation of one set of mores and harsh enforcement of another set, have all contributed to a sense of bewilderment and power- lessness. Two points need further elaboration: Men also share this sense of powerlessness. The economic factors are paramount in creating a sense of loss of control in individual affairs. Added to economic problems and exacerbating them are official experimentation with rules and regulations in all aspects of social life. The state, despite its major strides toward hegemony, still is fluid. What was legal yesterday may be illegal today. Women are not passive victims of circumstances. The relationship between women and the Islamic Republic is dynamic and dialectical. Iranian women have shown amazing resilience in one of the major upheavals of the twentieth century. They have kept working, getting an education, and expanding the boundaries of their social lives. Contrary to the view of submissive Muslim women, they have resisted submission in an ingenious and continuous manner. Some women leaders were carrying a hectic schedule of managing large families and demanding jobs. Four among them had more than one job. These four were professors at a women's seminary in another town and traveled two days a week teaching there while having full-time jobsin Tehran.
As a director of a women's college stated:
There is an equilibrium in creation. What we see as inequality if we view it in its entirety is the soul of equality and justice. Woman with her unique psyche and physique, in different junctures [of her life], receives specific rights. Man, too, with his special physical and psychological features, receives specific rights under specific circumstances. None of this is due to inequality.... Woman is emotionally superior to man. This is a privilege and merit, and should not be defined as a fault. Woman has superior emotional quality and because of that has special responsibilities. God has done this in creating humans and achieving their perfection.... God has given women this responsibility, i.e., rearing of generation.... A great responsibility. She should undertake it and explain it to the world that having superior emotion is a valued quality and not an inferior one. A merit and a gift which woman has and having emotion does not mean lacking wisdom and judgement. One who has inferior judgement cannot have such a responsibility, cannot receive such a gift. Therefore, having more emotion does not mean having inferior mind.
Men and women are created differently but equally. Iranian women leaders do not spend time arguing that men and women are the same and should receive the same rights. They have accepted woman's nurturing capacity as her nature and proceed to maximize her rights within this framework. Their view of the sexes is very similar to the women of the New Christian Right, such as Phyllis Schlafly and others, who claim women are different and are entitled to different rights, protections, and responsibilities (Schlafly, 1981; see also Kaufman, 1994). For women leaders in the Islamic Republic, the issue is the complementarily and compatibility of the sexes. Since each sex is created differently and with special responsibilities, women are entitled to financial security and the protection of men. In return, men ask for obedience. They do not see one as inferior to the other, thus they spend their time training women to be informed mothers and to pursue education. For many middle-class girls, marriage and work go together. Marriage and motherhood are not choices, but rather givens. A director of an educational institution described a conversation she had with a student:
Before you qame, I was talking to this young lady, preparing her for her future roles, God willing, to become a valuable physician.... I was preparing her that in two years, when she takes the university's entrance exam, how difficult medical school is. I was informing her how much a woman who wants to be a physician must suffer. She cannot have a normal life. Why? Because it is necessary that you be a mother and form a fan-dly and do not let this natural part of your life be disturbed.
Starting from different potentials, leaders strive to reduce inequality in social opportunities. They emphasize education as the prime factor in improving women's opportunities. The Islamic Republic's constitution recognizes motherhood as woman's primary responsibility. Realizing the political underpinning of this premise, women leaders cloak their demands for women's rights in training future mothers to train the true Muslims. Whether they ask for sport facilities for girls, improved educational opportunities, television shows, legal rights, etc., they somehow wrap it in the flag of motherhood. For instance, in Islam, a woman's marital obligations are limited to sexual duty and residing in the husband's residence. The Quran does not require a woman to nurse her children. Therefore, a woman can ask for payment for nursing her children. Several women deputies have proposed legal provisions to be made in cases of divorce or parental abuse by adult children for women to receive compensation for nursing their children. The labor laws provide extended maternity leave, part-time employment (with full-time benefits), breaks for nursing mothers to nurse their children, on-site child care, etc. In this respect the Islamic Republic's regulations, not enforcements, resemble those of countries such as Sweden and Finland. Having acknowledged woman's nurturing potential, women leaders, as well as others, move on to promote women's political activism as a must. A woman deputy, in a speech on women's week, after lauding the Islamic model of Fatemeh, calls on women to get involved in political affairs because this "is commended as one of their responsibilities" (Etelat, 1992:5). Compared to the last cabinet and Majles, the number of women deputies has doubled. The present Majles has nine female deputies. Two of them won on the first run of elections, compared to four 'men, in Iran's complicated parliamentary
election system. These all translate into an Islamic feminist consciousness that is different from secular feminist consciousness. If one must look for a Westem example, European feminism comes to mind. As stated in chapter 3, this is "relational feminism," which seeks to establish women's rights in relation to her familial obligations. To begin with, the hegemony of the Islamic state has depended on women's indoctrination and resocialization. A concerted campaign of propaganda, purges, and intimidation reduced ac- tive resistance of the middle-class urban women. Almost a gen- eration was either imprisoned, purged, or chose exile. Political oppression of women, unless they were accused of illegal political activities, is reduced. Some of those who were purged were invited back or changed occupation and returned to the labor market. Recently, those professional women abroad, who have not realized their potential, have debated retuming home. The propaganda has had two dimensions. One is to brand and condemn any behavior or value deemed harmful to the state's hegemony as antirevolutionary and exploitative, Westem, or both. The second aspect promotes the state's agenda as Islamic, true to woman's nature, and productive. Whenever women are the topic of an address or article, faults of the previous regime or Western societies are mentioned first, then Islam's rightful treatment of women and the Islamic Republic's achievements are commended. For example, a woman deputy, promoting a bill in the Majles to remove a ban on foreign travel of girls (young single women), first pointed out the exploitative treatment of women as sex objects in the West, then denounced restrictions on Iranian women realizing their true Islamic selves. It is this two-pronged policy that has promoted a new feminist consciousness. To this end, to counteract the Mother's Day of the previous regime, the state first moved it to December 16, to coincide with Fatemeh's birthday. Then it was expanded to a week with festivities, celebrations, speeches, gifts, prizes, and honors for achieving women. In the same vein, though not cen- tralized or orchestrated by the state, is the profusion of women's organizations. These groups, in competition with each other, or- ganize seminars and conferences, publish materials, and pro- mote a women's ag6nda. They range from ultraconservative to liberal moderate, which comes close to the state's approach. There are two organizations currently slightly to the left of the state. The left is underground and struggling. These organiza- tions may serve an individual's political ends or may be tied to a political faction. Whatever their hidden or acknowledged agen- das, they keep women's questions central to the regime's sur- vival. They also result in increased women's consciousness. Such an overwhelming and unprecedented attention to women's is- sues is bound to generate a group consciousness. Another woman deputy states: "Shortcomings in women's affairs are due to administrative procedures not the legal provisions." She con- tinued, "Women, by being informed about their rights, are their own best defenders." She then asks for women to organize na- tionwide (Etelat, 1992:7). The minister of interior, a cleric, states, "Women should reject seclusion and participate in cultural and artistic gatherings to remove the current division in the society." In the same speech he declares, "a Muslim woman's insignia should not be a stern face MOUMM9, seclusion, and prying."
Solidarity. Organized efforts to increase women's consciousness has been basically a top-down process. Grass roots efforts are scattered and often short-lived. Middle-class women are adamant about improving their educational and occupational opportunities and their status in the family. They achieve these individually and with the help of their families rather than the organized assistance of other women. Bauer notes an increased cross-group cooperation among expatriated Iranian women in West Germany and increased consciousness of gender issues (Bauer, 1991). This heightened consciousness is partly the result of the host culture's impact on the immigrants. In Iran, women are the focal point of govemment discourse and a major theme of the state's propaganda. As a consequence, it has created an unprecedented consciousness of women's status-and as a corollary, gender roles. Gender consciousness in the Iranian middle class implies women recognizing that they are a distinct social group with special problems, rights, and restrictions. However, like feminist consciousness [email protected], it is conditioned by class, ideology, ethnicity, and other social characteristics. One does not see the feminist solidarity of urban middle-class white American women in their counterparts in Iran. Among the leaders this comes through. Factional conflict affects women's organizations, too. A leader of a women's opposition group told me:
One of our problems is lack of coordination between our women. I mean, women of our society with outlook, intelligence, and progressive ideas currently do not have cooperation. Due to the same mistakes going in the larger society.... I think there is a conspiracy against women. If they were united and cooperated, they could start a broad movement in the society which would make men, who control most of laws and rights, to follow.
I asked, "Do you believe men plot against women's uniting?" She responded, "It is possible, one suspects this. Men are not united either. Men, at least, are united about their issues, we women are not unified on our own issues either." Those who are part of the establishment saw more unity and cooperation. "Before [the revolution] if eight or ten women were together, generally, they could not agree, but now you see that with a social trend, women from different walks of life are acting in unison and reacting accordingly. This is one feature of our revolution," stated a woman leader and member of the dominant political faction in 1989. Another stated, "Since the revolution, we have less jealousy and more unity. Attention to religious values has created more commitment, has reduced conflict and increased cooperation. Women are more committed then men, more motivated, more persistent and have more unity and togethemess than men." T'he revolution has dichotomized women as far as their support for women's issues are concerned. Those who oppose the system, its Islamic orientation, and its treatment of women have found a shared concern. These women are not organized and center around professional, family, or community identity. They are mostly urban middle class women, some with professional training. The supporters of the system and its ideology also have found reasons to cooperate and unify. During the early years of the revolution ancl the war period, they would participate in demonstrations or volunteer for the war efforts. Intemal and external threats to the regime mobilized these women, not necessarily women's issues. Although they would demonstrate in denunciation of malhijabi. This group was more organized, either through the state's efforts or neighborhood committees managed and orchestrated by the community mosque. Members of this group came from the lower middle and working classes of urban areas. Finally, one needs to mention the traditional support network of the extended family among women. Women of neighborhoods, tribes, family, or other collectivities are socialized to rely on each other in order to live. This type of mutual support is less conscious and more practical. Since 1989, when the actual threat to the regime had diminished, women's attention, whether they were supporters or opponents of the system, has shifted to women's issues. Those who supported the system are very vocal to demand their rewards. The state through special programs does reward the veterans, their families, and has a special office for the families of the martyrs of the war.
The slight moderation of gender policies and sheer economic necessity have led some opponents of the system to return to Iran. They also ask for concessions in work regulations. Iranian media are rich with women of various orientations voicing their concerns. More than ever fundamentalist women and their liberal opposition are writing and publishing-one advocating motherhood as Allah's mandate and the other promoting Allah's demand for an educated and public woman. T'he women leaders sympathize with the former and live like the latter. Thus, they have created a symphony of praising Islam and asking for women's share of the Islamic pie.