Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Revolution for whom?

Amy Guttman, writing for the BBC, contends that the Iranian revolution has had positive effects on the lives of some women. Is there evidence to support or contradict her thesis? Which women have not benefited?

How Iran's feminist genie escaped
Iran's 1979 revolution may have put an ayatollah in charge - but for women it had plenty of positive side-effects... in education, in the workplace, and even in the home, discovers Amy Guttman during a ride on the Tehran underground.

My guide Farah, a tall, slender woman in her late 30s, wears jeans and a simple manteau - the mandatory robe women must wear in public, covering neck to knee…

It's mid-morning. Women and men sit separately, but the rule relaxes during busy times, like now. We, along with a few other women, clasp our hands around a pole, standing next to men, young and old in the air-conditioned, modern carriage. Two stops later, and about 20 commuters fewer, segregation happens naturally - women at one end, men at the other, still within view, but separate.

A handful of fashionable girls… wear tight leggings under their brightly coloured robes, pushing back headscarves and boundaries. We find seats next to a group of conservative women dressed in black cloaks called chador…

Farah talks of the major changes Iranian women have experienced in the last 30 years…

Farah tells me it all began, not with imports from the West, but with the 1979 revolution. A confluence of access, education and a bad economy created a society where women now have independence, careers and husbands happy to help around the house with chores and children…

"The revolutionists supported women coming out of their homes to demonstrate. They used women to show their strength, but they never anticipated these women also believed in their right to exist outside the home," Farah remembers.

Iran's genies were let out of the bottle. The same genies have gone on to become active members of theological schools and hold positions as judges and engineers. "I don't care what they spread, radical or fundamental, whether I believe in it or not, they have a voice, it makes me happy," Farah says proudly.

There's no greater evidence of women in the workplace, than where we're sitting, surrounded by women on their way to work. It's another outcome the Ayatollah hadn't expected, but with Iran's economy battered by the revolution, women had no choice but to join the workforce.

"It forced men to acknowledge that their wives could go out and earn money," Farah says. Growing up, Farah only remembers affluent families allowing girls to work outside the home. Now, she says, "Nearly all boys prefer to marry a girl who has a permanent job and good salary…

Women, Farah says, now outnumber men in their pursuit of graduate degrees, something that has created a societal problem. Most Iranian women won't dream of dating men who aren't their intellectual equal…

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