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Iranian Women Wait for Freedom, 30 Years After Islamic Revolution

Iran's Islamic revolution was all about bringing change - toppling a repressive monarchy, rolling back western influence and, many hoped, ushering in a freer and better life for its citizens. While change certainly came, it had different consequences from what many had hoped. Now, 30 years later, many Iranian women abroad and at home are calling for more equality and personal freedom.

Walking along a Dubai beach, Siba Shakib gazes across the Gulf to nearby Iran. She grew up in Tehran, but left shortly after the 1979 revolution. She has done well. She is a best-selling author and has homes in Italy, New York and Dubai. She has returned to Iran only a few times since, but would like to go back.

"I hope I will be able one day to live and work in Iran, like I live anywhere else now," she said.

She has written a lot about Afghanistan, focusing on the strength of women in difficult times. As for Iran, she says the Islamic revolution has been both good and bad for women.

"In a way we have become more suppressed, but we were never free. The past 30 years in Iran has not only taught men and boys, but especially girls and women, to fight even more - and a lot of women and girls who otherwise would not have education do have education now, they do work, they do have responsibility, they do have an opinion," she said.

The Islamic revolution forced Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi out of office and swept into power religious cleric Ayatollah Khomeini. But after he took power, draconian laws were put into place that took away many women's rights.

Human rights activist Shirin Ebadi was a judge under the Shah. Like many professionals and intellectuals, she initially supported the revolution. She was soon forced out of her job, but did not give up her fight for democracy and human rights - often amid death threats. In 2003, she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.

Speaking to VOA in London, she said the revolution's promises of individual and social freedom have not been realized.

"I never saw the freedom that I wanted being realized," she said. "That is why I became a defender of human rights and I am fighting so that we actually gain that freedom."

Ebadi stayed in Iran, but between two million and three million other Iranians left during and after the revolution. Many settled in the United States, Europe and in Dubai.

Fariba Shiva is a beautician in Dubai. She left Iran when she was eight but returned last year to visit her sister in Tehran. She believes many Iranian women want a change in their status.

"They are looking for equality, they are looking for respect, they are looking for equal opportunity. They are very well educated, most of them, and they are trying to open a space for themselves in society," she said.

But author Shakib says change should not mean imposing western culture on Iranian women.

"My hope for Iran is that if 80 percent of Iran's population, of which the half should be women and girls, proudly and freely could raise their voice and say, 'The way my life is taking place now is good', that is my hope for Iran and for the world," she said.

Like Siba Shakib - many Iranian women, at home and abroad, say it is time the revolution finally delivers on its promises.