Katherine Butler: 'Suffragettes' of Iran demand to be heard

Analysis

Share
Related Topics

If what unfolded over the past week was a Tehran "spring", then it was, at least partly, driven by the pent-up despair of women, who more than any other group, have waited in vain for more than 30 years to get back their social and political rights.

As the campaign of Mirhossein Mousavi, the main reformist challenger, took off, the rallies and gatherings grew bigger and more vibrant and everyone noticed how so many of those out flag-waving, whistling and shouting for change were young women.

They were of course wrapped, as the law dictates, in head scarves and modest, figure-disguising tunics. But as the chanting grew louder, their slogans grew more audacious than anything heard publicly in the past three decades. Some were even demanding an end to "dictatorship". Remarkably, there was no move to silence them or move them off the streets. Yesterday as the votes were cast, women too, were out in force.

But does the mobilisation of Iran's women during the election mean they emerge from the excitement with anything more lasting to show than hoarse throats and green paper baseball caps over their hijabs?

Legally they are second-class citizens. Despite extraordinary gains in education and the professions the life of a woman is still worth (according to the male-run judiciary) only half that of a man. Men can divorce on a whim, women have to jump through impossible hoops. Women football fans who want to cheer on their teams have to cut their hair and dress up as boys.

In the past two to three years, women campaigning peacefully for civil rights have, like 19th-century suffragettes in Britain, been arrested, detained flogged or jailed just for attempting to raise awareness of injustices. What they want is disappointingly modest by the standards we use to judge Iran: not revolution or regime change, just equal rights, within the Islamic system.

All three candidates challenging President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad competed to promise a better deal for women. These men would, of course, have to work hard to give women a worse time than the devout firebrand Ahmadinejad. And Iran's Islamist political system makes meaningful change extremely difficult for any president to deliver.

But the appearance on the campaign trail of Zahra Rahnavard, Mr Mousavi's wife, and her open discussion of such things as the morality police jolted the debate and gave voice to many ordinary women. If nothing else, women should now feel entitled to shout louder for real political space. More importantly, the patriarchal clerics who run Iran will have a harder time ignoring women if they are to retain any of their fading legitimacy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam