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The Iranian Revolution and Women’s Tight to Political Participation

Throughout human history, the issue of women’s political participation has always been a recurrent theme that has undergone fluctuating status. It took many years and at times decades for even great revolutions to actualize and fulfill the political participation of women.

The present Op-Ed article attempts to investigate the issue of the political participation of women in the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran.

Suffragettes are a group of American feminist women who joined together in the 19th century protesting against the unequal political rights of women and asked for women’s suffrage in the United States. The importance of suffrage for these women lay in the fact that it was an introduction to any kind of political participation or right. This group was formed in 1848, which is 60 years after the American Revolution[1] and after 70 years of resistance and fight, they finally managed to achieve suffrage for all American women in 1920. At the same time, Thomas Paine believed the reason for the American Revolution was the fight for protecting America as the haven for freedom and resistance of human wisdom against the tyrants’ threats.[2] However, it seemed like this haven had no place for women.

The French Revolution also had a similar status. The Great French Revolution was formed in a ten-year period between the years 1789-1799 chanting the slogan of freedom. It concluded after the war and much bloodshed. Politicians and historians consensually consider this revolution as the mother of revolutions, which was able to change the monarchy into a democratic republic and lead to laïcité in France.[3] This revolution also was motivated by the wish for freedom and republicanism and was under the influence of the changes in the enlightenment period.[4] However, despite these slogans, after the revolution, suffrage was not granted to women until Charles de Gaulle recognized women’s right to vote for the first time one and a half century after the French Revolution in 1944.

The 1988 revolution in England has a similar story. This peaceful revolution chanted the slogan of fighting dictatorship and asked for a constitutional monarchy and achieved it with the slogan of freedom, but it did not give any kind of a fair share to women. More than one and a half century after this victory, in 1866, a petition was presented to the British parliament in which the British women asked for changing the elections rule to recognize their right to vote. But this petition encountered violent protests by those opposing the petition, who considered women’s suffrage as a great threat to England. The British parliament believed that women’s interference in policy spoils political life and destroys family stability. Therefore, they did not put the petition into action. From 1867, suffragettes also became active in this country and, finally, with the synergy of English and American suffragettes, after years of protest, chaos, and strikes, suffrage was granted to women in 1918.

As against these narrations of the movements asking for women’s right to political participation in the post-revolution and post-reformist countries, Iran is one of the few countries with no such records in its post-revolution history as from the very beginning of the formation of the Islamic Revolution, women’s suffrage was recognized.

Women’s share in the slogan of freedom

An examination of the history of suffrage in the countries that have experienced freedom-seeking revolutions leads us to the question of why discrimination against women and depriving them of liberty has continued and even increased after more than one century from these revolutions? Rereading the basic principles of these revolutions and comparing them can help to find the answer to this question.

Out of the mentioned revolutions, few are as known for freedom-seeking as the French Revolution. But this slogan yielded nothing for women. Muller Akin, the political feminist theoretician, in his book entitled Women in Western Political Thought focused on the marginal role of women in the history of western policy and examined this paradox of the French Revolution in Rousseau’s thought. Jean-Jacques Rousseau is the French philosopher in the enlightenment period and the source of inspiration for the Great Revolution. He pursued the idea of equality and freedom in his thoughts, but he considers these two valuable features as essential to men and views women in an unequal status to men because men are, by nature, masters and women are by nature obedient and subordinate (Moller 193)[5] And nature is not something that can affect upbringing at human will. Therefore, there is no open path to changing women’s status. Based on this view, he expressly states that men and women should be separate from each other unless in some required cases so that men can live freely and away from women’s chattering (Moller 193). It is obvious that any political thought coming out of this belief cannot yield anything for women.

The Islamic Revolution and women’s political life

After the victory of the Constitutional Revolution in Iran, Iranian people were granted the right to political participation for the first time, but this right did not involve women. In the Islamic Revolution, however, women were actively involved both in its formation on the streets and in demonstrations, to the extent that leaders of the revolution called women the pioneers of this movement, and after the victory of this revolution, by participating in the very first elections with an equal right to vote and contributing to the selection of the political system of Iran after the revolution based on direct order and approval by Imam Khomeini as the leader and theoretician of the revolution.

However, from the initial formation of the Islamic Revolution and movement of Islamists, many accused these groups of reaction and backwardness due to their strong connection with religion and did not change their idea even after the revolution and regarded Imam Khomeini