“Iran: Women and the Islamic Revolution” is a 2017 documentary produced by PressTV. The film discusses the major role that Iranian women played in the successful outcome of the 1978-79 Revolution and changes in their status since the late 1970s. Despite the fact that Iranian society has a reputation in favor of gender equality as far back as the 4th Century BC, the overall women’s rights situation in Iran was mediocre at best during the Pahlavi Monarchy (1925-79). For example, Iranian women were banned from attending institutions of higher education until 1936, did not have the right to vote until 1962 (in elections that were neither free or fair), were not allowed to drive or own property until 1969, and had little to no role in determining public policy decisions. Additionally, the Pahlavi Regime attempted to place limits on religious freedom within Iran and instead replace long-held religious traditions with Westernization and Secularization. By doing so, the Shah hoped to reduce the influence of the religious class and eliminate any threats to his illegitimate rule. As a result of these actions, Iranian women became some of the major figures calling for political change and an end to the autocratic rule of the Shah. Because of their vocal opposition to the Shah, Iranian women were persecuted disproportionately by the government and made up a majority of political prisoners in the country between 1963 and 1978. Despite the existence of a hostile political environment, Iranian women continued to press forward and aggressively call for changes in their status through the application of Shi’a Islamic teachings.
After the overthrow of the Shah in February of 1979 and the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the women’s rights situation improved in many respects. Even though Iranian women lost some social freedoms that they previously enjoyed, they gained numerous political and social rights. Women played a role in cementing the power of Ayatollah Khomeini and worked closely in drafting the current Iranian Consitution. Additionally, activism in the Iranian Revolution empowered women to participate in both the labor market and the government of Iran and the Iranian government has removed the previously-existing barriers that prevented Iranian women from entering into institutions of higher education. As a result of these social changes, the literacy rate for Iranian women has increased from less than 43% in 1976 to 97% in 2012 and women today make up 60% of all university students in Iran. As such, it can be argued that the Iranian Revolution opened up numerous opportunities for women that were nonexistent a generation ago.
Iranian women have also achieved gains not yet won by women in many wealthy industrial countries such as the US. For example, the Iranian Parliament passed a law that allows for women who have a baby or an ill family member to either reduce their work hours or take time off without the threat of losing their job. Additionally, this law also allows Iranian women to work modified hours in order to take care of their young children. The Iranian government also implemented an effective family planning program during the late 1980s that is credited with reducing the country’s population growth rate from 5.6% in 1985 to 1.2% in 2007. This family planning model has allowed the Iranian government to more effectively meet the needs of its citizens and has allowed women to have greater opportunities to focus on their education and careers. As such, Iran is now considered a family planning model for much of the developing world.
“Iran: Women and the Islamic Revolution” is a highly recommended documentary for anyone wanting to learn more about women’s rights in the Middle East and the political history of Iran. The main strength of the film is its use of historical footage and the fact that the message that it presents is relatively unbiased and rooted in facts. The only complaint that I have with the film is that the way it is structured makes it a bit difficult to follow at times.