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


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

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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own