Half a century after Iranian women were first given the right to vote, equal rights are far from reality. Despite pushback from the regime, the women’s movement is gaining momentum. Haeri argued that “once a disadvantaged group is empowered, there is no turning back”.

However, women are constantly facing opposition. The government perceives their struggle as an anti-regime movement, and there is also resistance from the Islamic establishment. Many of the laws they seek to change—such as the compulsory wearing of the hijab—would change the conservative face of the country.

In their struggle, Iranian women are taking creative steps to protect their rights and manoeuvre around discriminatory laws. For example, women studying law are being encouraged to register as Notary Publics, allowing them to record pre-negotiated marriage contracts and prevent legal disadvantages. Many women are becoming master negotiators in their households. Their progress is due to their innovation.

For further change, greater female participation is needed in more areas of society. Participation in the formal economy is essential; without it, little will change politically. This does not mean that politically active women must be reformist; currently, all of Iran’s female MPs are conservative, and they are an important force for change.

About the Speaker

Dr Shahla Haeri is an Associate Professor at Boston University, where she previously served as director of the Women’s Studies Program. She has conducted research in Iran, Pakistan, and India, and has written extensively on religion, law, and gender in the Muslim world. She is the author of No Shame for the Sun: Lives of Professional Pakistani Women (2004), and Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage, Mut’a, in Iran (1989, 1993). Her short documentary “Mrs. President: Women and Political Leadership in Iran,” focused on six women presidential contenders in Iran in 2001.

The Transitions Forum is a series of projects dedicated to the challenges and possibilities of radical political and economic change.