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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A still from the BBC's new rap about the outbreak of WW1  

Why give the young such a bad rap?

David Lister
Israeli army soldiers take their positions  

Errors and Omissions: Some news reports don’t quite hit the right target

Guy Keleny
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice