Last month, an anti-government
riot erupted in Tehran following a soccer match between
Iran and Japan. Eye-witnesses reported that
the regime used special anti-riot units to crackdown on the 100,000-strong
crowd. Young people set tires alight in nearby squares after the match. Women
actively took part in this riot which followed a much larger anti-regime
unrest in Tehran the week before.
Iranian authorities ban women spectators from attending soccer matches, yet
thousands of women and teenage girls gathered outside the stadium calling
for the overthrow of the mullahs. But this brave act of defiance by no
means was an isolated case. Indeed, Iranian women have been playing a major
role in Iran’s national resistance against
the ruling clerical tyranny for more than two decades now. From the 1906
Constitutional movement to the 1979 anti-monarchic revolution, women have
always been a key component of anti-dictatorial movements in Iran.
For the past 26 years, Iranian women have suffered and struggled against
misogynistic abuse of the theocratic regime. Institutionalized violence is
carried out in the name of religion and supported by a full-blown
theocracy. Any flavor of political dissent in Iran is met with barbaric reprisal;
however female political activists bear the heaviest brunt of the abuse in
My observations during years of incarceration as a female political
prisoner in Iran proved beyond any doubt that nothing frightens the mullahs
more than a woman who has risen against them; more so if she was a Muslim
woman whose defiance exposed her oppressors hiding behind religious pretexts
to justify their misogyny. The mullahs’ number one enemies are independent,
articulate, political, Iranian women who not only challenge the regime
politically and socially but also ideologically.
The politics of Misogyny
Misogyny is a primary characteristic of the fundamentalist ideology ruling Iran. These tyrants rely on
physiological traits to measure, separate and categorize people. Utilizing Hitlerian logic, women are physically and
intellectually weaker than men. The establishment and maintenance of
supremacy of the sort defined by the fundamentalist regime requires an
inferior class. In the mullahs’ view, Iranian women, despite their
articulate and vocal objections, should be forced into this role. The
women, of course, have not budged.
Gender-based differences are used to justify sexual discrimination,
violence and animosity towards women. Iran’s former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has
"The difference in stature, vitality, voice, development, muscular
quality and physical strength of men and women shows that men are stronger
and more capable in all fields… Men’s brains are larger… These differences
affect the delegation of responsibilities, duties and rights."
This is the bedrock of the fundamentalists' rationale used to mobilize
their ideological forces in society, which results in women's flogging for
mal-veiling, stoning, raping female political prisoners before execution,
polygamy, and temporary marriages.
The misogynistic and suppressive behavior of Tehran rulers carried out under the
cloak of religion has nothing to do with Islam. The resistance of the
female political prisoners, majority of them Muslims, demonstrated to the
mullahs that Iranian women were indeed defying their fundamentalists’
definition of women.
Current Status of women
No other government in the world has executed as many women as Iranian
regime since the 1979 anti-Shah revolution. A common method of punishing
women in public is by stoning them to death. At least 14 women have been
sentenced to stoning or were stoned to death since 1997 when Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami came to office. Iran has had the highest number of
female prisoners in the world.
Women do not fare any better in the social affairs. The World Health
Organization considers Iran as the third country in the
rank of women death by suicide. Women make up about 75% of the victims of
suicide in Iran, 81% of who are between the
ages of 15 to 31 yeas old. According to the official police report, the
State Security Forces arrest 50 runaway girls every day in Tehran. Currently there are more than
several thousands runaway girls missing in Tehran, according to the report.
Confronting the Challenge
Iranian women resist the regime daily by pushing the mullah’ draconian
dress code to its limit, by raising their voice in the divorce courts, by
writing articles and books inside and outside of Iran, by holding
conferences and events to expose the misogyny of the Iranian regime and by
joining organized resistance groups participating in the growing movement
against the Iranian regime. Iranian women are fed up with the status quo in
Iran and are taking matters to their own hands.
Late February, a leading Iranian opposition figure, Maryam
Rajavi, addressing the International Women Conference
in Paris, called for a united front against Islamic
fundamentalism. She stated that “Women’s vanguard force provides the
bedrock for the decisive defeat of Islamic fundamentalists... because it
was confirmed in Iran in both theory and practice
that women were antifundamentalist in all respects. The reason simply had
to do with the nature of fundamentalism, where gender distinction and
misogyny formed its pillars. The decisive role of women is intrinsic to
this struggle.” What makes the above statement more significant is the fact
Rajavi is a Muslim woman herself who has
repeatedly called for a secular democratic Iran.
Despite much talks and debate, the international community has not yet
adequately absorbed the plight of Iranian women. Iranian women are
determined to play an active and leading role in the democracy movement
aiming to unseat the ruling theocratic tyranny. Nothing can prevent women’s
growing participation, not even the mullahs’ misogynistic barbarism.
Roya Johnson is the Vice President, US
Alliance for Democratic Iran