News / Middle East

Iranian Women Suffer Many Difficulties Under Islamic Republic

Iranian women enjoy some freedoms that women in other countries of the Middle East do not enjoy, but many complain about the sexist treatment they must endure.

International Women's Day is an annual event that underscores, for many Iranian women, just how many freedoms have been taken away since the Iran's revolution in 1979.

Iranian state TV, during celebrations of that revolution last month, made a point of editing pre-revolution film footage to remove images of unveiled women wearing western garb.  Wearing the all-encompassing Islamic veil has been compulsory in Iran since the revolution.

Taraneh Mohammedi, which is not her real name, explains to VOA what life is like for a woman living in Iran.  

"You can only believe that you are living under the rule of the mullahs if you walk in the streets of Tehran the way you wish to walk.  When you step outside of your own world you are forced to be something else," she said.  "The looks of these criminals watch you everywhere, watch all your moves, control everything from the way you dress to a sudden smile that forms your lips.  Your presence is like a dagger landing on their dirty minds; they cannot bear the free presence of even one woman in the streets.  A while ago before I [attended] university they only controlled the color of my dress, an extra band of my hair coming out of the compulsory veil, and the length of my dress.  But since I became a student, they control everything, most of all they want to control my thoughts."

Taraneh says many religious students look down on her presence at the university.  "It is an everyday struggle to be here as a woman," she adds.

Radio Farda spoke with a number of Iranian women and most complained about laws that restrict the rights of women.

Mehrdad Khonsari of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London says prior to the 1979 revolution Iranian women had won a privileged status in the Middle East, enjoying most of the same civil rights as their Western counterparts:

"They had a right to be elected to office, they had a right to serve as ministers, ambassadors, positions that they invariably filled, and even people like [Nobel Peace prize winner] Shirin Ebadi enjoyed a position of being a judge, a position that was subsequently taken away from her in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution, when Islamic laws replaced the modern civil laws in the country and the main sufferers of the Iranian Revolution in the end were really women, whose many rights were taken away from them," said Khonsari.

Women in Iran, unlike their counterparts in Saudi Arabia, are allowed to drive their own cars, but they say they are constantly harassed and arrested for not wearing regulation veils or allowing their hair to show from underneath them.

Faiza Hashemi, the daughter of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has campaigned tirelessly to allow women to play sports and Iran does have an extensive national women's sports program.  But women are not allowed to attend sports competitions alongside men and they must compete while wearing Islamic attire.

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