In Search of Identity: The Iranian Women’s Movement

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Institutional Affiliation : 
Independent scholar
Academic Bio: 
Soheila Vahdati is an independent scholar, women's rights and human rights activist, and International Director of the Stop Stoning Forever campaign. She has contributed to Zanan-e Iran and Iran-e Emrooz, and is a commentator for Womens' eNews.

As the Iranian women’s movement is gaining momentum, questions about its identity and future direction are rising. Whether it will take a secular course, or become the strongest Islamic feminist movement in the region is not clear. The question specifically becomes important when we consider the global rise of the Islamic movements, which add further practical implications to the issue: Will the Iranian women’s movement establish a sisterhood with the Islamic feminist movement in Muslim countries in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa and play a part in building a strong front in opposition to the Islamic fundamentalism in the region, or will it strengthen its ties with the global women’s network and human rights movement.This paper will argue that the Iranian women’s movement has been a secular movement in the past and continues to grow as a secular movement. It argues that despite the fostered yet genuine growth of Islamic values in the country, the women’s movement has not adhered to religion but partially assumed an Islamic identity to be able to survive under the Islamic theocracy. Conservative factions in the government strongly oppose and suppress women’s rights, provisioning legal measures to curb both social rights and personal freedoms of women. Iranian women have taken a cautious path of action for demanding their rights in order to avoid any possible clashes with the Islamic values and authorities. At times, they have even tried to use Islamic religious arguments to further their agenda. The paper argues that Islamic values have never served as an impetus for the women’s movement and their demands, but at times have been used as a tool, mainly as a shield to evade the conservatives’ attacks. Another point the paper will mention is that modern Islam is flourishing in Iran after the revolution. Islamic scholars in Iran are opening new frontiers for a secular Islam. Yet, their new ideas fail to provide a direct bridge between Islam and women’s rights. The dissect between the new movement of religious intellectualism and women’s rights supports the argument that the women’s movement in Iran is not related to Islamic values and even the new Islamic intellectualist movement. The paper will include a brief discussion of the growing role of lobbyism for women’s rights within Islamic circles, with an emphasis on assumed Islamic identity.

Academic Discipline : 
Women's Studies

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