Did you know Iranians are Persians


Shabnam from Hein

The journalist Shabnam von Hein was born in 1976 in the Iranian capital Tehran. In 2004 she came to Germany for postgraduate studies. She has been an editor at Deutsche Welle since 2005 and conveys developments in her home country to an international audience.

For five generations, women in Iran have been fighting for more rights. Your movement is deeply rooted in society - also because many of these women have always stood up for the rights of all. The journalist Shabnam von Hein outlines the women's movement in Iran.

In Iran there is a strict dress code for women in public. This includes covering your hair, for example. Many women defend themselves against this in a creative way. (& copy picture-alliance, Photoshot)

"Rights are not granted, you have to fight for them," says a Persian proverb. This is all the more true of the long struggle of Iranian women for equality. Iran's women have achieved a lot in the past hundred years - and some have lost again. They were never given anything, especially not by the politicians of the Islamic Republic.

Many politicians repeatedly promise women before elections to stand up for their rights and interests. They know that women are seen as the engine of the elections in Iran and can mobilize them. A promise that Iran's women have repeatedly made is to lift the ban on women not to go to the football stadium. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, this ban gradually became established and was justified on religious grounds: It would lead to "sin" if women saw "half-naked" men.

On October 10, 2019, women were allowed to watch a football game in the stadium for the first time in the 40-year history of the Islamic Republic. Under pressure from the world football association Fifa, Iran's government had previously relaxed the stadium ban for international matches. But it was mainly Iranian women who had built up the pressure on the government and FIFA over the years: They had repeatedly gathered in front of the stadiums and demanded an end to discrimination.

The mood of the female fans was exuberant: On October 10, 2019, for the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran, women were allowed to take part in a football match on the stadium stands. (& copy picture-alliance, ZUMA Wire)

The tragic death of Sahar Khodayari also contributed to the end of the ban. The 29-year-old tried to get into the stadium disguised as a man in the spring of 2019. She really wanted to see her Tehran football club live. But Sahar Khodayari was arrested for "violating the moral order" and "insulting officials". She was released pending charges. However, when she learned that a conviction could mean up to six months in prison, she set herself on fire in front of the courthouse. Sahar Khodayari died from her burns. Her death shocked Iranian society - especially many women, including those who have little interest in football.

The women's movement has a long tradition

The history of the women's movement in Iran goes back a long way. The long struggle of the Iranian women for equality began with the so-called tobacco movement: In 1891, the then King Naser al-Din Shah, in his constant financial need, gave a British military the monopoly for the production and trade of tobacco throughout the Persian national territory . There were protests and Ayatollah Mirza Shirazi issued a tobacco fatwa banning tobacco consumption.

Not only men, women too abandoned their water pipes. Even the women of Naser al-Din Shah joined the protest: the rivals in his harem allied themselves and refused to prepare his usual water pipe for the king. In the end, the king reversed his decision.

The tobacco movement formed the seed of the constitutional revolution in Iran from 1905. The aim was to limit the power of the monarchy and to introduce a parliamentary system. Many women joined this revolution - and some of them paid for their commitment with their lives. Like the 20 women who disguised themselves as men in protests in western Iran. [1] After the protests were brutally suppressed, their bodies were found among the dead.

When, in August 1906, King Mozaffar ad-Din Shah announced a decree to create a parliament, women were excluded from the right to vote: a bitter defeat. Cultivated and educated men who wished for a better life for their daughters saw it that way. One of them was the modern clergyman Hadi Dowlatabadi. His daughter Sedighe Dowlatabadi, born in 1882, became one of the most important women activists in Iranian history. As the editor and author of the first Iranian women's magazine, she campaigned for women's rights, especially for access to education.

Education as the key to the future

Sedighe Dowlatabadi and other women activists knew that education was the way to their own success. After the constitutional revolution, wealthy women financed girls' schools and founded women's associations across the country. With them, the women's movement developed strong roots in Iranian society.

With the coup of the Cossack officer Reza Khan against the Qajars in 1925, a new era began for the women's movement in Iran. As the first king of the new Pahlavi dynasty, Reza Khan, then called Reza Shah Pahlavi, tried to follow his political model Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Turkey and to modernize Iran - with radical decisions and an iron hand. Reza Shah abolished traditional Iranian clothing; he forbade women to wear the veil. Since 1936 January 7th has been celebrated as the "Liberation Day of Women" in the Pahlavi dynasty.

Reza Shah also set up a nationwide "women's association". His two daughters Shams and Ashraf played an important role in the Iranian women's movement over the next few decades. They became allies of the most important women activists such as Sedighe Dowlatabadi. In the shadow of official women's politics, however, a politically left-wing women's movement also grew, which also mobilized religious women with the motto "Justice for all women".

In 1941 Reza Shah had to abdicate at the urging of British and Soviet troops occupying Iran. His son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, was enthroned by the occupying powers. In February 1963 he issued a decree granting active and passive women's suffrage. It was one of the reform points of the "White Revolution" dictated by Mohammed Reza: the monarch tried to win popular support while at the same time eliminating any opposition. In 1967 the progressive "Law for the Protection of the Family" was introduced - an achievement of 60 years of women's movement.

Up until the Islamic Revolution in 1979, second generation women activists were able to push through numerous other legislative changes. Mehrangiz Dolatshahi, for example, belonged to this second generation. She belonged to the upper class and had studied and completed her doctorate in Berlin and Heidelberg at the end of the 1930s. From 1976 to 1979 she was Iran's first female ambassador - in Denmark. Before that, as a parliamentarian, she had fought with others, for example for the aforementioned modern family law. The law was a thorn in the side of the clergy because it put men and women on an equal footing and allowed the state to interfere in family matters and to stand up for women's rights.

At the same time, after 1941 women - mainly from conservative-traditional-religious families and generally from poorer classes - wore veils again. This allowed many women to leave the house again. For many, however, the modernization had a rather daunting and alienating effect. The Shah's regime did not succeed in taking the traditional conservative families with it on its modernization course. Universities, for example, were seen by many as places of sin, because women there in - from their point of view - inappropriate clothing came too close to the male sex. The decreed modernization was particularly difficult for that part of society that lived below the poverty line - and that was true for around 40 percent of the population under the modern, secular-authoritarian regime of the Shah. From 1978 onwards there were repeated mass protests against the Shah. The Islamic Revolution began, in January 1979 Mohammed Reza fled into exile and the Islamic Republic was founded.

After 1979, achievements were lost again

"Since the Islamic revolution in Iran, half of society, namely women, has been systematically oppressed by the other half," says Iranian women's rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. [2] "The mandatory hijab or the stadium ban are just the tip of the iceberg." Shirin Ebadi worked as a judge until 1979. She lost her post after the Islamic Revolution.

For an Islamic state that has been Iran since 1979, Islamic law is a central element. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini suspended the modern 1967 "Law for the Protection of the Family". Instead, the Sharia was reintroduced - Islamic law, which refers to the Koran, traditions and theological interpretations as sources.

The Sharia in Iran prohibits women from exercising various professions, such as judges. Marriage and family law privileges men: all important decisions should be made by men. It is up to the father to decide whether his daughter can study, work or get married. After the wedding, the husband decides.

Little did the Iranian women who supported the 1979 revolution in the hope of a better life know that after the victory of the revolution and the rise of the religious wing under Ayatollah Khomeini they would lose a lot. But what Ayatollah Khomeini could not take away from Iranian women was the right to vote and stand for election. And that despite the fact that he was one of the best-known opponents of the right to vote for women in the 1950s.

Women's rights today - between frustration and struggle

Despite all the reprisals, there have also been positive developments over the past 40 years. For example, the proportion of women in universities has increased significantly from 27 percent before the 1979 revolution. The majority of students in Iran are now female. But women still have a hard time with their good education: According to official statistics from October 2019 [3], the proportion of women in the labor market is still very low at just 18 percent.

The image of financially independent and emancipated women does not fit into a political system that tries to further enforce religious customs and traditions in society. All state media and facilities are used for this, from kindergartens to universities. The budget of the cultural institutions responsible for the "propagation of Islamic values" was 13 times higher in 2019 than the budget of the Ministry of the Environment. The institutions finance cultural programs such as trips to places of pilgrimage or leisure activities for schoolchildren and students. Prerequisite: You have to follow the religious rules; Promote the hijab or take part in state-organized rallies. Nevertheless, the massive investment in the cultural institutions did not achieve much. The main example of this is the mandatory dress code for women in public. Although there is even a kind of moral police that controls women and their clothing in public spaces, many still wear their headscarves and coats in their own way, bravely protesting against the regulations. These enforce headgear and prohibit body-hugging fashion and even cheerful colors.

To challenge those in power with civil disobedience

In 2005, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi spoke to journalists in Tehran. In the years that followed, hostility and threats from the regime increased: in 2009 the lawyer went into exile. (& copy picture-alliance, EPA Bildfunk)

With Shirin Ebadi, the third generation of women activists is represented in Iran today or is fighting from exile. It also includes religious women: They represent Islamic values ​​and fight for their position within the system. Narges Mohammadi is one of these voices. She was Shirin Ebadi's deputy at the Iranian Human Rights Center in Tehran. Narges Mohammadi has been in prison since 2015. Among other things, the human rights activist organized a campaign against the death penalty in Iran. She was sentenced to a total of 16 years in prison - for her campaign against the death penalty alone, she was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Shirin Ebadi has lived in exile in Great Britain since 2009. She was no longer safe in Iran. She left her home country at the request of many fellow campaigners to be her voice abroad. The lawyer knows about the important social roots of the women's movement: "The women and the women's movement in Iran have always been supported by progressive men. Because women always stand up for civil rights and for the general demands of society - and because they were ready to do so Price to pay for it. "

Not only Shirin Ebadi and Narges Mohammadi paid a high price. The women's movement was an important pillar of the protest movement in the summer of 2009 after the controversial presidential election. Some of the mass protests were brutally suppressed. Many women activists were arrested; many others - like Shirin Ebadi - left the country for fear of reprisals.

Your colleague Narges Mohammadi stayed in Iran. Even out of prison, she continues to play an important role in the women's movement. On December 24, 2019, she was beaten up in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison and violently transferred to another prison. [4] It was punishment for organizing an inmate strike in prison. She wanted to protest against the brutal crackdown on demonstrations critical of the regime in November 2019.

Narges Mohammadi continues to believe in the effectiveness of civil disobedience and continues to protest. At the beginning of February 2020, she called on all Iranians to boycott the parliamentary elections in the same month. Given the brutal treatment of the protesters in November 2019, she questioned the legitimacy of the ruling system. Her call for an "election boycott" was followed by twelve political prisoners from the women's section of Evin Prison, in which she was previously detained.