As an Iranian whom misfortunes of time have compelled to leave his beloved homeland behind and, as a blessing in disguise, brought to know peoples from different lands and cultures, I have often been accosted with the question – usually after the inquirer, past a couple of shots, has been warmed up enough to allow themselves to cross the so-called bounds of propriety and be not politically correct – that “do you still do arranged marriage in Iran?” and I, at first confused and then resented, would cough up a big NO! And for good reason: arranged marriage as a widespread practice is a relic of distant past in Iran, and it has been widely obsolete there for almost a century. However, through the passage of time, I have come to understand the logic behind that question: since there is an “Islamic” regime running Iran, it is expected of Iranians to stick to the very letter of the Sharia or the medieval tradition. As that is a common misconception, on this International Women’s Day I would like to attempt to rectify it as much as the inadequacy of a last-minute blog permits.
It should certainly sound ironic to most non-Iranian audiences that the Revolution of 1979 in Iran was as much the fruit of women’s active participation and bravery as that of men’s. Enraged by decades of tyranny, corruption, and dependence of the monarchic regime, the Iranian women, side by side with men, marched the streets of Tehran and other major cities to demand freedom and independence. In the process, they paid a huge price for the overthrow of the dysfunctional monarchy. As such, the Revolution benefited much from the presence of women. It was only when the hardline Islamists had entrenched themselves in the strategic positions of power that they started cracking down on all sorts of progressive trends that had nurtured the Revolution, of which the women’s movement was only one, though a very essential one, for that matter.
In the meantime, women did not stand aside passively; they did fight back. This picture, incidentally taken quite close to where my home is in Tehran, shows a passionate demonstration by women not only in protest to the trampling of their human rights but also against the dividing of the whole Iranian society into two unjust master/slave spheres by the chauvinistic Islamic Republic. Though that movement was ferociously crushed by the regime, as it happens, it never completely died. For example, throughout the more-than-three-decades of hardening of the theocratic regime in Iran, it has never been able to completely impose its strict code of dress – which is not necessarily Islamic, by the way – on women. Women’s spirited presence in the democratic uprisings of 2009 is yet another more recent instance. This shows that change, once set in motion, though it can be diverted, can never be easily and fully reversed.
However, following the unfortunate example of the Constitutional Revolution of 1905 that introduced the modern issues of law and social justice to the Iranian society for the first time, wherein women who had played an active role were later pushed back to the margins again, the Revolution of 1979 did not either usher in an era when Iranian women’s participation in the sociopolitical issues of their country would come to a full blooming. This should draw our attention to the fact that it is not only the “patent” politics that must be suspect and subjected to criticism for its antipathy to the active presence of women in society, but also the “latent” politics, i.e. issues and phenomena that are not necessarily considered political by common sense but are nevertheless political to the bone, that must be investigated and brought to light if justice is to be done for all. In the end, as long as women are not acknowledged as the equal proprietors of the society, the Iranian struggle for democracy will remain yet an unfinished revolution.