Women in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988)

Iranian women participated in various capacities in the conflict against Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). Not only they carried guns, went on surveillance missions, cared for the injured, guarded ammunition depots, organized food drives, and voluntarily donated their material possessions, but most dramatically they encouraged the men in their lives to fight to the bitter end. In response, Iraqi soldiers killed, injured, physically assaulted, raped, and detained Iranian women as prisoners of war. There is very little historical analysis about their struggle, and they are rarely mentioned in mainstream media and a portion of the society disdains their involvement in the war.

On the frontlines that stretched along Western Azarbaijan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Ilam, and Khuzistan provinces, women participated in several capacities and their actions included but were not limited to reporting for the state media, preparing war propaganda, providing paramilitary or paramedic training to other women, performing paramedic duties, and operating as intelligence and counter intelligence officers. With the exception of their journalistic duties, the rest of these responsibilities were organized under the auspices of the Revolutionary Guard Corp (Sipha-i Pasdaran), the Mobilization Force (Basij), the Jihad Reconstruction Corp (Jahad-i Sazandigi), and the Red Crescent (Hilal-i Ahmar).

Historical primary sources about women’s involvement in the war provided by the state are scattered. Additionally, access to even these scattered sources is challenging, as is the case for war records, generally. For this paper, however, I have searched through a collection of sources at Esfahan’s Sepah Pasdaran and Jahad Sazandegi Records Office and Abadan Red Crescent and Basij, in addition to the Iranian president’s bureau of women and family issues, which includes some files on women veterans and the Red Crescent.
As far as other historical primary sources are concerned, those that are provided by the grassroots organizations and neighborhood basij branches, I have examined a variety of interviews and testaments of men and women about the role of the latter. Some are unpublished and are stored as stories at various locations and some have been published in nongovernmental literature. These are local publications with an insignificant number of circulation (under 1000), which makes them inaccessible for anyone outside the areas in which they are produced.
The number of women casualty is still debatable but it ranges between 7,000-10,000 souls.