In 1979, Iranian women protested mandatory veiling ⁠— setting the stage for today


Concepts53:59The Stolen Revolution: Iranian Ladies of 1979

Because the dying of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 in Tehran, tens of 1000’s of girls have taken over the streets in dozens of cities throughout Iran, chanting “Ladies, life, freedom.”

These protests are a part of a protracted historical past of feminist resistance in Iran — and the continuation of a battle that started in 1979.

“The battle in opposition to necessary veiling and for girls’s primary rights and freedoms has actually been 43 years within the making. It started on Day 1, as quickly as Islamic forces declared victory within the revolution that overthrew the shah,” mentioned IDEAS contributor Donya Ziaee. 

“It was led, largely, by ladies who themselves participated within the revolution and wished the shah overthrown, however refused to let their revolution be overtaken by regressive forces that now wished to disclaim them their rights.”

Demonstrations in opposition to Iran’s repression of girls’s rights held world wide:

In 1979, tens of 1000’s of girls in Iran took to the streets of Tehran, simply weeks after the revolution. They have been chanting, “We did not have a revolution to go backwards.” 

The protests started on March 8, 1979 — Worldwide Ladies’s Day. Ayatollah Khomeini had simply issued a decree making the veiling of girls necessary. 

“So ladies flooded the streets for six days straight, the place they have been met with violence and branded as traitors, counter-revolutionaries, bourgeois, pro-imperialist stooges, and even prostitutes,” mentioned Ziaee. “However they succeeded in forcing the spiritual management to retreat from their place on the veil — even when their victory could be short-lived.”

On the fortieth anniversary of the revolution, Ziaee spoke to a few ladies who have been a part of these protests for an IDEAS documentary that aired in March of 2019.

“[They] actually lit the torch that has continued to be carried for all these a long time,” she mentioned. 

‘A historic naiveté’ 

The 1979 Iranian revolution was about an thought: freedom. It was an concept that impressed big contingents of girls to oppose the shah in unprecedented resistance. Minoo Jalali was one in all them. 

A retired lawyer who now lives in London, she was lively within the 1979 revolution — and the ladies’s protests that adopted.

Like numerous different Iranians, Jalali was pushed to the streets by her opposition to brutal dictatorship, socio-economic inequality and international domination beneath the shah.

On the streets, she mentioned she noticed a exceptional present of solidarity and braveness. “It was a turning level when the military attacked and I take into consideration 100 or so folks have been killed. And you can see that individuals have been displaying no worry.

“There was a defiance within the air, which was lovely.” 

Opposition to the Shah was led by a broad coalition of individuals against dictatorship, socio-economic inequality and the international domination of Iran. (Aristotle Saris/AP Picture)

However Jalali believes progressive forces largely underestimated the power and group of spiritual forces in these days.

“They by no means thought that it might be a risk for the clergy to take the facility and rule,” she mentioned. “That was our naiveté — a historic naiveté.” 

Jalali watched in disbelief and worry as Islamic slogans took over road demonstrations and as ladies have been requested at rallies to cowl their heads. After which in February 1979, the ayatollah formally took energy, and the revolution was declared over. 

Inside weeks, he started his assault on minorities, the political opposition and ladies’s rights. Like many others, Jalali had hoped that the revolution would provide an opportunity for various political organizations to articulate their imaginative and prescient for a brand new Iran.

“At the moment, there have been potentials for different prospects, however sadly we misplaced that chance,” she mentioned. “Iran misplaced a golden alternative. And we have now gone again in historical past.”

However Jalali would not imagine the revolution itself was a mistake. 

“That revolution was inevitable. No person may have actually stopped the power of it,” she mentioned. “We hoped that we may steer it, [but] we have been mistaken. And the clergy hijacked it … and deceived many individuals.” 

The ladies who tried to avoid wasting the revolution

Lower than two weeks after the revolution, bulletins started surfacing in newspapers about celebrations going down on March 8, Worldwide Ladies’s Day.

“We have been going to have fun the eighth of March freely and publicly for the primary time in Iranian historical past,” recalled Haideh Daragahi, who was then a professor of literature on the College of Tehran.

She has been residing in Sweden for the final 35 years. 

In 1979, she helped manage one in all a number of commemorations in Tehran for March 8. However on March 7, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini decreed that ladies have been now mandated to put on the veil in authorities workplaces, or — in Khomeini’s phrases — to not enter the office “bare.”

What have been meant to be celebrations would flip into large protests. 

On March 8, 1979, Iranian ladies’s celebrations of Worldwide Ladies’s Day changed into protests in opposition to a brand new decree by Khomeini about necessary veiling. (Hengameh Golestan)

Tens of 1000’s of girls gathered in Tehran on the morning of March 8 outdoors the brand new prime minister’s workplace, whereas one other 3,000 went to protest within the spiritual metropolis of Qom, the place Khomeini resided.

That very same morning, a big group of girls pushed open the doorways of a packed auditorium at Tehran College and interrupted the commemoration. The ladies instructed the auditorium in regards to the verbal and bodily assaults they’d confronted on the streets from pro-regime thugs. 

“Come out and see what they’re doing to our march on the road,” Daragahi recalled them saying.

However because the group tried to go away, they found that the gates had been locked. Daragahi and one other girl climbed the gates and urged the pro-regime guards to allow them to go. “I screamed at them, ‘Is that this the liberty for which all of us demonstrated and suffered?'”

On the streets, they joined 1000’s of others, chanting, “We did not have a revolution to go backwards.”

Daragahi was determined: “There was no query in our thoughts that this is step one to suppress us and we should always stand as much as it — each as ladies [and] as revolutionaries.”

The protests introduced collectively ladies’s rights activists {and professional} ladies, akin to nurses and civil servants, who have been involved about dropping their jobs. (Hengameh Golestan)

For six days straight, the ladies marched and fought to take again their revolution. On the streets, ladies have been attacked by counter-protesters, who assaulted them with knives, stones, bricks and damaged glass. 

However additionally they discovered surprising allies amongst feminists from different international locations. American feminist Kate Millett, who’d accepted an invite from pupil activists, marched with ladies in Tehran. The Worldwide Committee for Ladies’s Rights, chaired by feminist thinker Simone de Beauvoir, despatched a delegation in solidarity.

And the militant French feminist group, Psychoanalysis and Politics, marched on the streets and documented what they noticed. Their 12-minute documentary stays the one present movie of these occasions. 

The ladies’s protests appeared to work. Just some days after the March 8 demonstrations, the high-ranking theologian Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani retracted Khomeini’s statements. And with that obvious victory, the ladies’s mobilization — the primary large, collective resistance in opposition to the Islamic Republic — began to fizzle out.

‘Doing the organizing ourselves’

Earlier than the early Eighties, when the regime’s violent crackdown on the opposition intensified, there was a short flourishing of girls’s associations within the office, women-specific committees in political organizations, and even autonomous ladies’s organizations that have been unbiased of any political events. 

The protestors on the streets have been attacked by chanting mobs. The one factor defending them was a sequence of male allies, who linked up arms to defend them. (Bettmann/Getty Pictures)

Shahin Navai led a kind of organizations. She was a professor in entomology on the College of Tehran and helped discovered the Nationwide Union of Ladies (NUW) in 1979.

“A very powerful query going through us then was whether or not we should always begin doing the organizing ourselves,” mentioned Navai, pondering again to the dismal assist for his or her demonstrations. 

The NUW meant to just do that. “It was clear to us that spiritual rule was coming. And we weren’t keen to be subjected to non secular rule beneath any circumstances,” mentioned Navai.

The NUW labored in assist of girls going through expulsion from work for his or her refusal to put on the veil. They campaigned in opposition to proposed adjustments to gender legal guidelines within the structure. And so they launched literacy and awareness-raising campaigns in working-class neighbourhoods and small cities.

In July 1980, a whole lot of girls gathered outdoors the presidential workplace to oppose the reinstitution of the veiling order. (AFP/Getty Pictures)

However it wasn’t lengthy earlier than they needed to stop their overt actions. And Navai, who was in control of the group’s communications, needed to carry out a gut-wrenching job: she spent a whole evening burning membership lists, merely to maintain them from moving into the palms of the police. 

“All I did was cry,” she remembered. “Once I burnt them, I’d simply see — proper in entrance of my eyes — the faces of each single one in all my expensive pals.”

Quickly afterward, Navai’s house and office have been raided, and he or she then needed to go underground herself. “It was actually tough,” she mentioned. “By no means may I go to my household.”

She spent months hiding in pals’ properties, till she ultimately fled Iran on foot over the Pakistan border. 

“Sadly, I by no means did handle to see my mom,” Navai remembered. “Two years after I left Iran, my mom received very unwell. And till the very finish, we by no means had the prospect to see one another and say goodbye.”

40 years of resistance

By 1981, it grew to become obligatory for all ladies in Iran above the age of 9 to put on the veil. Different adjustments additionally adopted: gender segregation within the office, and at faculties, seashores and sporting occasions. And a slew of recent legal guidelines governing divorce, little one custody, inheritance, citizenship and retribution — all tipping the scales in opposition to ladies. 

In response, feminist activists organized varied campaigns through the years. And of their day-to-day lives, ladies saved resisting.

In December 2017, 5 years earlier than the protests over Mahsa Amini’s dying, a younger girl named Vida Movahed climbed on high of a utility field on one in all Tehran’s busiest streets. She stood there, bareheaded, calmly waving her white scarf on a protracted stick.

Her show of defiance went viral. Photographs quickly began circulating of different Iranian ladies taking off their headscarves in public. 

Dozens have been arrested however these ladies have been undeterred. Collectively, they grew to become often known as “daughters of revolution.”

For a lot of Iranian ladies revolutionaries of 1979, it has been heartening to see the youthful era carry the torch they lit 40 years in the past.

“It is no joke,” Navai mentioned. “For 40 years straight, these ladies have fought — each hour, of each day — for his or her calls for.

“It is inconceivable to think about Iran with out the resistance of those ladies. Iran could be nothing greater than a graveyard.” 

“There may be nothing that one can do besides place confidence in the Iranian folks,” Jalali mentioned. “That battle … that flame of resistance, has by no means died out.”

Visitors on this episode:

  • Minoo Jalali is a ladies’s rights activist, retired lawyer and chair of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants in London, U.Okay. She fled Iran in 1983.
  • Haideh Daragahi was a professor of English Literature at Tehran College when Khomeini took energy. She has lived in Sweden since 1984 and labored as an educational, ladies’s rights activist and journalist. 
  • Shahin Navai is an activist within the ladies’s motion and a researcher within the subject of Entomology. She fled Iran in 1984 and has since lived in Berlin, Germany. 

Additional studying:

  • Whisper Tapes: Kate Millett in Iran by Negar Mottahedeh, printed by Stanford College Press, 2019.
  • Iranian Ladies Threat Arrest: Daughters of the Revolution by Homa Hoodfar, Maclean’s, March 7, 2018.
  • The Publish-Revolutionary Ladies’s Rebellion of March 1979: An Interview with Nasser Mohajer and Mahnaz Matin by Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi, Iranwire, 2013.
  • Ladies in Iran: Gender Politics within the Islamic Republic by Hammed Shahidian, printed by Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002.
  • Populism and Feminism in Iran: Ladies’s Battle in a Male-Outlined Revolutionary Motion byHaideh Moghissi, printed by St. Martin’s Press, 1996.
  • Within the Shadow of Islam: The Ladies’s Motion in Iran by Azar Tabari and Nahid Yeganeh, printed by Zed Press, 1982.
  • Going to Iran by Kate Millett, printed by Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1981.

This episode initially aired on March 8, 2019. It was produced by Donya Ziaee, with voice-over assist from Tina Verma, and archival assist from Keith Hart, Zoe Barraclough and Greg Hobbs. 

Archival footage made doable by the CBC, Related Press and the Sallie Bingham Heart for Ladies’s Historical past and Tradition at Duke College.


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