Around the world, only 12 countries have complete equal rights for women. According to the United Nations, there are 193 officially recognized countries.
The role of women in the world has been a much-debated topic within the past two centuries. As the world progressed, women called for greater rights and freedom. Much of this has been achieved in developed countries, although currently, very few countries have complete equal rights between men and women.
In many countries that widely follow and practice old traditions, women still are restricted in their societies in various ways. One of the biggest offenders of restriction to women’s rights is the Islamic Republic of Iran, an authoritarian country that still practices many old traditions.
In most of Iran’s history, women’s rights were nonexistent. They either did house
duties or performed poor, un-respected jobs. Tradition played a heavy role in Iran back then, so this was considered normal in Iranian society. That was the role of women in society until 1921 when a British-fueled coup overthrew the preexisting Iranian monarchy with the Pahlavi Dynasty, which would be the ruling Iranian dynasty from 1925 to 1979.
The Pahlavi Dynasty made significant advances to women’s rights. In 1936, the Pahlavi dynasty banned all hijabs and allowed greater freedom in the choice of clothing for both men and women. A hijab is a type of head covering worn by women, considered important in the religion of Islam. The Pahlavi Dynasty also improved the position of women in society, and improved women’s education and involvement in the country, such as giving voting rights. Women were now able to become high government officials and divorce their husbands.
The numerous advancements to westernize Iran under the Pahlavi Dynasty didn’t sit well with the common people, who thought that Iran was modernizing too fast. Many important Islamic traditions were banned. The Pahlavi Dynasty would also gradually become an autocratic, totalitarian state that cracked down on opposition parties and silenced criticism. Corruption was also rampant within the upper class, which angered the lower classes.
Due to the Pahlavi Dynasty being very controversial within the country, many rebellious anti-monarchy factions started appearing. One of these factions was led by a man named Ruhollah Khomeini. He was popular amongst the revolutionists, but the Iranian government exiled him from the country in 1964. This and a cumulation of many other incidents led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The government quickly collapsed, and the Shah of Iran exiled himself to Egypt, where he would live for the rest of his life.
Khomeini was invited back to Iran, where he was greeted by millions of Iranians, hoping that Iran would change for the better. This dream would be crushed fairly soon, as Khomeini became the supreme dictator of Iran in December of the same year. He executed many political rivals and instilled fear among the population.
Khomeini also made many controversial reforms to “improve” Iran. Some of the many reforms of the Pahlavi Dynasty that Khomeini reverted were everything that improved the conditions of women in Iran. In fact, he made even harsher reforms to prevent women’s freedom and rights.
Some of the many reforms that were made under Khomeini’s rule were: The veil and hijab were both remade mandatory, cosmetics and makeup were banned, women were prevented high positions in society, polygamy was made legal, and the minimum age for girls to be married was lowered from 15 to 9. Imagine a child being married to a 50 year old man. It sounds like fiction but it was a very true reality in the early days of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Khomeini would die in 1989 after serving as the supreme leader of Iran for 10 years. The president of Iran (a separate, less powerful role than the Supreme Leader), Akbar Rafsanjani attempted to overturn many reforms made by Khomeini. Women were once again allowed to participate in higher jobs in society. Women were allowed to have a higher education and have more freedom in a marriage.
Despite these changes, Iran still has one of the most restrictions of women’s rights in the world. In nearly all statistics of women’s rights around the world, Iran has been in the bottom 10 worst countries for women.
Many restrictions have gotten harsher within the past few years. Women have to cover their entire body except for their face and hands. Women must also get permission from a male partner to do almost anything in public. The mandate on the hijab has gotten so harsh that women have been beaten, tortured, and sent to prison for years due to not wearing one.
For the past couple years, Iranian women have protested against the law of the mandatory hijab. On September 13, 2022, an Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini was arrested by Iranian officials due to wearing her hijab “improperly”. Amini was sentenced to a detention center, where she received severe beatings which led to her having a heart attack and seizure. She was then admitted to a hospital, where she was tortured in an ambulance. Amini was declared to be in a coma for 2 days before dying on September 16, 2022.
This was the breaking point in the struggle for women’s rights in Iran, and
protests immediately commenced in Iran’s capital, Tehran, when news of Amini’s death spread. The protests, in tribute to Mahsa Amini, called for greater rights for women, the ending of many mandatory laws to clothing, government reforms, and overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Iran with a democratic Iran.
The Iranian government’s response to these widespread protests is shutting down the internet for periods of time, firing at protesters, and arresting anyone who is known to be protesting against the government. These actions by the Iranian government have been widely condemned by foreign nations, yet the government persists to try to resist and oppress protesters.
The use of communication through social media and the internet have been some of the most useful resources to the protesters during this time, and celebrities and popular figures have helped bring awareness to the struggle for women’s freedom and many other democratic movements in Iran.
With the recent protests and dozens of others having a profound impact on Iran’s youth and women, Iran’s future generation might topple the autocratic government in favor of a freer, democratic government. Many previous reforms to women’s rights that were backtracked by the modern Iranian government will most likely be reinstated if this happens.
Another revolution is on the horizon for Iran. The government can’t keep trying to resist the movements for freedom in Iran, as the protesters will only come back stronger than ever before.
This isn’t just a likely future that Iran might go through. Many other countries will probably go down the same path that Iran is currently going through right now. Countries that continue to follow old, outdated traditions are being overrun by the progressive youth. The world is constantly changing, and old traditions can’t forever stay.
The fight for women’s rights in Iran has only just started, and it will have an inspiring, lasting legacy to the world.