50 Years of Women's Right to Vote in Iran
50 years ago, in 1963, Iranian women secured the right to vote. Fahimeh Farsaei looks back at five decades of progress and setbacks for the women's movement there.Iran's White RevolutionIn 1963 - 50 years ago - women in Iran got the right to vote. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi allowed women to vote as one part of a broader reform program to modernize the country. Women's voting rights in particular were granted in late January by way of a national referendum. Initially, the majority of Iranians stood behind the reform agenda known as the White Revolution. Resistance from religious leadersMid-1963 brought heavy opposition to implementing the reform, and Iran's spiritual elites were bitterly against the White Revolution. It was this context that propelled the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, who would go on to lead his own revolution. After anti-government protests were violently quashed, the outspoken critic Khomeini was banished to years of exile. Decades of reformDuring the nearly four decades of Shah Pahlavi's rule from 1941 to 1979, Iranian women fought for and secured many rights, including the right to custody of their children and an increase to the minimum age at which girls could be married, to 18 years old. They also gained the right to divorce and to have abortions, while limitations were placed on men's right to polygamy. Women taking chargeFemale Iranians were also represented in politics, including in a few very prominent positions. Farokhroo Parsa (pictured) and Mahnaz Afkhami were two ministers loyal to the regime who advocated for women's issues. On May 8, 1980, shortly after the revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini, Parsa was executed. Afkhami still lives in exile today in the United States. Internationally recognizedFemale artists like the author Simin Daneshvar (1921-2012) achieved fame around the world. Her works repeatedly climbed bestseller lists. Forough Farrokhzad (1934-1967, pictured) became one of the most significant representatives of 20th century Iranian modernism in poetry and film. Consequences of the Islamic RevolutionThe shah was overthrown in February 1979 - an event in which women played a decisive role. Soon thereafter, Iran's progressive laws on women were scrapped. Divorce and custody rights were curtailed. Girls could once more be married off at the age of nine, and polygamy was allowed without restrictions. Pressing onDespite facing legal inequality, many Iranian women have sought to exercise freedoms, including on the job. Some have managed careers in traditionally male-dominated occupations. These days, women can be seen driving taxis or long-distance trucks. They become teachers, doctors, police officers, members of parliament and presidential advisers. Support for Mohammad KhatamiIran's women and young people were decisive in the 1997 and 2001 presidential elections that brought the reformer Mohammad Khatami to power. After his first victory, he relaxed the strict laws governing women's right to establish organizations and clubs for other women. Women's rights iconThe name Shirin Ebadi is inseparable from Iran's movement to liberate women. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her political engagement. Ebadi has lived since the end of 2009 in exile in England. The lawyer and activist is an icon to many in her home country - and well beyond Iran. Comrades in the Green Movement2006 brought an initiative promoting the legal equality of Iranian women in which 1 million supporters' signatures were sought. Later and in connection with the 2009 presidential election, the activists behind the campaign joined forces with male supporters to form what they called the Green Movement. 'Where is my vote?'The Green Movement supported the reform-minded Mir-Hossein Mousavi in his election bid against incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, the latter was re-elected in a hotly disputed poll that unleashed weeks of protests by disappointed men and women. Demonstrators filled Tehran's streets carrying signs with slogans like, "Where is my vote?" Violence escalatesMany people died during conflicts between the demonstrators and security forces. Student Neda Agha Soltan became an international face of the atrocities committed. When she was shot on June 20, 2009, a cell phone's camera captured her death. The video appeared shortly afterward on the Internet, drawing global attention to the young woman's death. She remains an icon of the resistance movement. Bitter years for female activistsAfter the election in 2009, the situation for Iranian women became more difficult. Many activists had to leave the country, and many others are still in prison, including lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. In 2012, she and filmmaker Jafar Panahi were honored in absentia by the European Parliament with its Sakharov Prize. Change ahead?Iran's next presidential election is scheduled for June 2013. Women's rights advocates throughout the country have signaled that they're optimistic about the outcome. They want to use the vote as an opportunity to put forth concrete demands relating to their rights.
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