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“Vibrant” feminism

New book articulates a surprising take on women’s rights in Iran

By WITW Staff on November 4, 2015

Nina Ansary, an American-born Iranian historian, is hoping to shatter “many of the stereotypical assumptions” and rewrite the story of women in Iran, with her book Jewels of Allah: The untold story of women in Iran.

Ansary sets out to show how feminism in Iran actually began in the sixth century BC in Ancient Persia, when the country was ruled by the Zoroastrian religion, which emphasized equality between men and women (and included female leaders, female army commanders and no gender pay gap). With the Arab invasion in the seventh century and the introduction of Islam, women’s rights steadily declined until 1925, when Reza Shah Pahlavi took power and made drastic changes in westernizing dress and education and increasing the minimum age of marriage. But Ansary argues that it was “too much too soon” and he did not fully liberate women, as many traditional families did not embrace the new policies and prevented their daughters from leaving the house.


When the Shah’s son was overthrown in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini — a “misogynist cleric,” according to Ansary — it occurred with the support of many women, who were attracted to the Ayatollah’s rhetoric of going back to tradition and cultural authenticity. Khomeini did not fully restrict women, either: because he reintroduced the veil and single-sex education, traditional families felt comfortable again to send their daughters to school and let them have an education. “The inconvenient truth is that, owing to the rules that many Western women and men may consider archaic and sexist, girls in Iran became educated and liberated,” Ansary writes, and while women are still severely restricted in the Islamic republic, she argues that “behind the veil, there’s a vibrant feminist movement for the first time in Iran, within a patriarchal climate. That’s underreported.”

This movement has already won (small) victories in reverting some of the discriminatory laws, she says, and that is the only way she believes gender equality will be possible in Iran — not bestowed from above, but coming from the women themselves.

Read the full story at The Telegraph.


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