Women in Islamic Republican Society

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals

Chair

Camron Michael Amin
University of Michigan-Dearborn

Discussant

Camron Michael Amin
University of Michigan-Dearborn

Schedule

Room 31
Wed, 2016-08-03 10:30 - 12:00

Presentations

by Djavad Salehi-Isfahani / Virginia Tech

This paper examines the impact of Iran's rural family planning program on the literacy of adult rural women and on the gender gap in literacy. The rural family planning program was the largest and by all accounts the most successful social program launched in Iran after the revolution. It has been credited with the rapid decline of fertility that has transformed the lives of rural women. As the program comes under criticism from conservatives in Iran for having slowed the rate of population growth too much, it is time evaluate its impact on other aspects of women's lives, in particular on education. This paper focuses on a specific aspect of the program -- the rural health clinics -- that lends itself to impact evaluation. These clinics were the most important part of the family planning program in rural areas; they numbered about 18,000 and their services reached more than 90% of all rural women. Using data on the timing of the construction of about 14000 clinics, I create two subsamples of village, a treatment group that received a clinic during 1986-96 and a control group that did not have a clinic by the end of this period. I then compare the rate of increase in female and male literacy and the gender gap in literacy between these groups. I control for observable differences between villages in the two groups that may have in influenced their selection into the treatment group. The evidence shows that villages that received a health clinic during 1986-1996 experienced a 4-8% faster increase in adult female literacy compared to villages that received it after 1996. No similar impact is detected for male literacy. Thus the clinics contributed to the narrowing of the gender gap in literacy, accounting for about 50% of its decrease over the period of study. The results suggest that the elimination of family planning support that started in 2014 may have undesirable effects beyond affecting fertility.

by Nafiseh Sharifi / University of London

This paper looks at women’s experiences of embodiment as an analytical perspective in understanding gender policies in a context of social and political changes in Iranian society. In order to highlight the relationship between the contemporary social and cultural transformations in sexuality and sexual politics and women’s personal experiences, I conducted ethnographic research amongst two generations of women in Tehran: those born in the 1950s and those in the 1980s. Through an inter-generational approach I discuss the contradictory definition of womanhood in Iranian context and how women’s embodiment is constructed in intersection with different discourses on women’s sexuality. In contrast to the literature in which women’s agency is simply represented through their acts of resistance against the authoritative institutions such as the Islamic Republic, here I discuss how women’s personal narratives highlight the complexity of their positionality that cannot be easily reduced to the binary of defiance/subordination.
Based on my ethnography, I discuss the ways in which they negotiate, challenge or reproduce the concepts of normal/natural female sexuality in their everyday experiences. I will argue that amongst these two generations women’s bodily experiences, their sources of learning about sexuality, their awareness of their rights to pleasure and their image of womanhood have shifted hugely due to changes in sexual politics of the Islamic Republic as well as their increasing access to the globalised media.
In general, this paper underlines the necessity of moving beyond the binary framework in reading women’s experiences. It also evaluates the possibility of social or political reform through sexual liberation in Iranian society in the context of similar discussions in the Middle East.

by Gi-yeon Koo / Seoul National University

In this article I delve into the cultural meanings of the hijab and female social movement in urban Iranian society, focusing on a Facebook page named “My Stealthy Freedom”. In private sphere, Iranian women have cautiously started to demand the right to choose their hijab. Recently, “My Stealthy Freedom” became a hot issue among Iranian Facebook users. As a private movement, which was started by Masih Alinejad, a female journalist living in England, it is emulating a great sensation amongst the people in Iran. The hijab is not a mere Islamic garment, but a political symbol in itself, more political than it has ever been. The hijab is being used by the Islamic government to control the individual, but at the same time, it is also being used by Iranian women as a political metaphor of resistance against the regime and against the image and identity that has been imposed upon them (Zahedi 2007).
I discuss the hijab as a symbol of social conflict rather than a repression of the government. Based on eighteen Months of fieldwork in Teheran, including participant observation and in-depth interviews, I examine the Iranian women’s subjective choices and narratives regarding the hijab. Furthermore, I conduct an anthropological research on the web page “My stealthy Freedom”.
My research has three goals: (1) to capture the social meanings of “My Sealthy Freedom” in urban Iran and global circumstances, (2) to grasp the political meaning of the hijab regulations and (3) to demonstrate the potentiality of this SNS web page as a locus for social. I argue that the issue of hijab in Iranian society is no longer concerned exclusively with gender oppression, but reflects a more complex cultural and political edifice in modern Iran. By analyzing women’s narratives, I suggest that the Islamic government uses women’s hijab to control the individual, while at the same time, Iranian women use the hijab as a political metaphor of resistance against the ruling government. I further argue that what Iranian women sincerely want is more than just being free from the hijab regulation. What they really want is a broader, more inclusive and autonomous freedom in their daily lives. As the hijab attracts the political gaze and also becomes political medium, Iranian women become significant political actors.

by Mehrzad Boroujerdi and Kourosh Rahimkhani
 / Syracuse University

Women in post-revolutionary Iran have achieved a more significant role in society despite a decline in their political representation in the highest offices of the land. Meanwhile, their share of the labor market has remained constant. Consider these facts: (a) The percentage of literate women in both urban and rural areas has risen significantly after the revolution while the fertility rate has fallen sharply to 1.9 children per women; (b) 58 percent of students who were admitted to universities in Iran in 2014 were women; (c) The divorce rate has steadily increased since the 1990s; (d) Whereas in 1978, on the eve of the revolution, women held 8 percent of the seats in Parliament, in 2015 this figure has dropped to 3.3 percent.

In order to identify the cluster of factors that can explain these inconsistent developments in post-revolutionary Iran, it is necessary to explore why Iranian women continue to be underrepresented in the labor market and in high-level political posts. Two strands of scholarship have offered explanations for the patterns of gender discrimination present in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. The “cultural interpretation” maintains that Islamic heritage is one of the most significant obstacles to gender equality in Islamic countries. The “structural interpretation” focuses on the sociopolitical and economic order as the main barriers to women’s advancement in these societies. Both strands of scholarship have shortcomings in explaining why these countries lag behind the rest of the world in regard to gender equality. By scrutinizing the social background of the Iranian female elite, the social and demographic changes that have taken place among Iranian women, and the Iranian women’s share of the labor market, this paper will shed light on the imbalances that have come to characterize the advancement of women in post-revolutionary Iran.