120 Years of Struggle for Human Dignity
By: Banafsheh Zand Bonazzi
In the late 1800’s Iranian women were the main force behind the constitutional movement and the subsequent revolution. The Qajar dynasty’s kings (1799 – 1925) sat idly by and allowed the intrusion of the British and Russian political and economic domination; Russia in the north, Britain in the south. On top of which, debts to Britain incurred for war indemnities as well as the expenses of various royal frivolities, led to payoff type concessions to Britain; the 1872 Reuter concession to build a railroad and the 1890 concession on tobacco, and the 1901 William D'Arcy concession on oil were made, to name a few. These concessions exacerbated by tax-free foreign merchandise, which saturated the Iranian market, pushed Iranian economy to near collapse and brought everything to a fever pitch. This marked the beginning of the Constitutional revolution of 1906. Militant Iranian women of all walks of life, ethnic and religious minorities and majorities alongside armed men attacked the government. Women carried guns and became solders of the revolution. They marched, spoke and plotted against the dictatorship of kings and clergies and fought to the victory. The new constitution was granted in August 1906, shamefully betraying the women of Iran.
Compromises were made among the men of the ideals of liberty and modernity with the Shiat clergies. In all; the new constitution only eliminated ½ of the problem that was the absolute power of king but let the clergy’s domination remain intact. Although the Belgium secular constitution was adopted, many social and family affairs, including women, remained under the control of the clergies and the Islamic laws.
William Morgan Shuster an American accountant who was hired in 1911 to help organize the finances of the newly freed Iran, has said in his book; The strangling of Persia, “The Persian women since 1907 became almost at a bound the most progressive, not to say radical, in the world. That this statement upsets the ideas of centuries makes no difference. It is the fact. It is not too much to say that with out the powerful moral force of women the ill started and short-lived revolutionary movement, however well conducted by the Persian men, would have early paled in to a mere disorganized protest. The Persian women did much to keep the spirit of liberty alive“.
With the victory of revolution and establishment of the constitution the women expected equal opportunities and gender rights. None was granted in the constitution. Family laws remained within the domain of Shariat with no change. But the women of iran did not give up, on January 20, 1907, The Secret Society of the Ladies was established. A women’s conference was held in Tehran where ten resolutions were adopted, including one that called for establishing girls’ schools sought the abolition of dowries so that the money could be spent on educating the girls instead.
Women Became involved in all aspect of the country’s affairs, despite the threats of the Islamic clergies, although informally. The patriotic Iranian women tired of the foreign Imperialist interference, marched to the Majlis, Parliament, threatening the members to do the right patriotic things, with pistols under their hijobs and in their sleeves. Boycotting the import of foreign goods as well as raising funds for the establishment of the first Iranian National Bank. Women sold their jewelry and dowries to finance the bank. The members of the Secret Society of women published pamphlets and articles demanding that men should give up their seats in “Majless” and let women run the affairs of the country. By 1913 there were 9 women’s organizations and 63 girls’ schools in Tehran with close to 2500 students.
Society for the Freedom of Women and Secret Society of Women were the first to be formed in 1907followed by many others. They all played an active part in politics by staging plays which raised funds for schools, hospitals and orphanages. In 1915 the Society of Christian Women Graduates of Iran as well as the Zoroastrian and Jewish Women’s Association were formed in order to educate and organize women in their own communities. All the signs of a progressive civil society.
In 1910, the magazine Danish (knowledge) was published. This was the first journal published by a woman in Iran, the second and third followed in 1912 and 13. Ms. Sadigeh Dawlatabadi, one of the leaders of the women’s movement in Iran, followed in 1918 and 1919 with Mrs. Fakhafagh Parsa Nesvon magazine, and Zaban-i Zanan (Women’s language) and Zanan-i Iran (Iranian Woman) in Isfahan and Tehran. By the 1930s fourteen women’s magazines were discussing equal rights, education and veiling.
In 1926 Sadigeh Dawlatabadi attended The International Women’s Conference in Paris. On her return she went public in European attire no Hijob. In 1928 the Iranian Parliament, Majles, ratified the new dress code, giving the women the choice of not wearing Hijob. In 1931 for the first time Majles approved a new civil code that gave women the right to ask for divorce under certain conditions and the marriage age was elevated from 9 to 15 for girls and 18 for boys. The civil code was secular but family laws remained within the domain of Shariat however. In 1933 recommended reforms at Damascus and Tehran conferences were presented to Majlis and women demanded electoral rights and were refused again. Reza Shah Pahlavi intervened and in 1934 the Minister of Education received instructions to establish Kanoun-i Banouvan (The Ladies Center) to affect reforms for women.
In the morning of January 7th 1935 Reza Shah Pahlavi once again proving to the people of Iran that he was a progressive leader, stepped out of his palace with his wife and daughters in Western attire and without any hijob, “The king stood in support of the women of Iran and therefore the emancipation of women was officially born.” It took 29 more years and two more generations of extra struggle, after the establishment of the constitutional government in 1906, for the women and a progressive patriotic king, to overcome the influence of the Muslim clerics like Ayatollah Khomeini, to shake the foundation of fundamentalism and Gender Apartheid in Iran.
Unveiling was made compulsory in 1935, since the clergies had been using all means of preventing it, since the Majlis, parliament, had ratified the law. A national education system was formed to educate boys and girls equally. In that same year the first ladies entered Tehran University and Amineh Pakravan was the first female lecturer along with Dr. Fatimah Sayah who was the first woman who became a full professor.
After The Second World War, independent organizations were formed. In 1942 the National Women’s Society and the newly formed Council of Iranian Women was formed in 1944 which strongly criticized polygamy. In 1944, Our Awakening was published and in 1949 the women’s league was changed to Organization of Democratic Women and branches were opened in all the major cities. The society was later changed to Organization of Progressive Women and in 1951 unsuccessfully lobbied for electoral rights again. In 1949 the Higher Council of Women was formed opening branches all over the country focusing on health and education. 1954 Dr Soghra Azarmi, returned from United States and was appointed to head the Cancer Research Center of Iran.
In 1951, Ms. Mehrangiz Dawlatshahi (the first female Ambassador) and Ms. Safeyeh Firouz founded the first organization supporting human rights. The two met with the Mohammed Reza Shah and demanded electoral rights. Opposition by Ayatollah Khomeini and the other Islamic clergies, once again, ended that debate as well. However in February of 1962 at last women were given the right to vote and to be elected, by Mohammad Reza shah Pahlavi. In 1968 the Family Protection Law was ratified. Divorce was referred to family courts and huge strides were made in the direction of ratifying equitable divorce laws, polygamy was also severely restricted. Marriage age for girls was set at 18 years and Dr. Farrokhroo Parsa (who was later brutally executed during the first days of the revolution by Khomeini’s executioner) became the first woman member of the cabinet in Iran. Women were drafted to serve in the education corps and go through military service. And finally In 1972, women gained the right of guardianship for their children after their husbands’ death.
By 1978, 33% of university students were women with over 3 million professionals with university degrees in the workforce. There were 333 women in the local councils, 22 in Majlis, Parliament and 2 in the Senate. The women of Iran had fought a hard and long battle with the Islamic clergies and Ayatollahs and had won.
William Morgan Shuster says in his book: “ When the Mjles, Parliament, was threatened by the Russians and the members were giving in to them the Persian Women supplied the answer; Persian mothers, wives and daughters marched in hundreds to the Majles, exhibited threateningly their revolvers, tore aside their veils, and confessed their decision to kill their own husbands and sons, and leave behind their own dead bodies, if the deputies wavered in their duty to uphold the liberty and dignity of the Persian people and the nation. May we not exclaim: All honor to the veiled women of Persia …They drank deep of the cup of freedom’s desire, and offered up their daily contribution to their county’s cause.”
This generation of Iranian Women has learned the lessons of the past and work together for their human dignity and freedom again. Women of all ethnic and religious background are fighting for their rights, keeping up with the tradition of their grandmothers.
Women of Suffering and Torture
Monday, April 6, 2015
An exclusive interview with Shiva Ganji an Iranian women rights activists who lives in Turkey since 2013.
prison is one of the prisons in Iran to hold especially female
prisoners with general crimes. The prison is located in the eastern
deserts nearby the capital city of Iran that its geographical location
of the prison caused difficult conditions of prisoners to visit their
prison is reportedly held the criminal prisoners including murders,
armed robbers and drug traffickers which is estimated more than 1.200
Some of women
political prisoners including Atena Faraghdani, Hakimeh Shokri, Roya
Saberinejad, Ghonche Ghavami, Shabnam Madadzadeh, Negar Haeri … had been
exiled to the prison to bear more pressure after excruciating life
among criminal prisoners they have undergone.
is a prison after all. It is not a five-star hotel. My wife says it
would have been better if she was sent to Evin. But I don’t think so. Of
course, I hope that Evin would be better than Gharchak Prison as I have
seen it” as Marzieh Vafamehr, an Iranian filmmaker and actress, told
her husband Nasser Taghvai has acknowledged the International Campaign
for Human Rights in Iran.
“Prisoners of Conscience Will Not Be Transferred to Gharchak Prison, Says Sotoudeh’s Husband Reza Khandan to the campaign.”
report has mentioned excruciating life of prisoners in Gharchak prison
which has been hidden from the perspective of Human Rights activists.
prison was originally a chicken farm, then turned into a drug
rehabilitation center nearly 4 years ago. In April of 2011 transfer of
female prisoners from Rajai Shahr and notorious Evin prison had been
consistent of ten halls build to hold prisoners which divided into two
parts; the jail where monitoring by the Bureau of Prisons and counseling
in the prison.
The prison section included four wards which known as hall as the worst part of the prison.
hall of the section is placed the prisoners who are convicted to long
term imprisonment which estimated more than 15 years due to drug-related
The second one is
occupied by short term imprisonment of the prisoners who are suspended
by the tribunal of the regime in no date for trial. “They are generally
sentenced to prison less than 15 years” Shiva Ganji said.
third one is especially for the criminals who have been convicted on
the charge of murder, robbery, brothels operating, fraud, forging and
The fourth hall
which is known suspension section for the inmates are suspended, and
they have not been still sentenced. The hall is the worst one in the
prison hold the inmates who came lately. The number of the inmates are
nearly 260-270 that 90% of them are addicted. However, there are no more
than 90 bed what led them to sleep on the ground.
Shiva had answered smoking and self-harm is not illegal in the halls when I asked her about the condition in the sections.
She added that the other halls are for consultation which chaired by Mohammad-Baqer qalibaf the mayor of the capital of Iran.
women rights activist has expressed that the fifth hall is also used to
keep the prisoners in suspension, although, there are significant
differences as hygiene and cleanness. The prisoners are divided with the
others due to their appropriate behavior affirmed by prison officials.
The sixth and seventh halls are motley hold the definitive convicts in the short term imprisonment.
eighth one known “Mothers Ward” including ten pregnant women and 20
children who are not more than three-years-old living with their
mothers. The children are fed with rice milk two times per week, on
every Thursday both mothers and children are given a Danish Pastries.
Two other halls are holding the prisoners who sentenced to death on execution row including 63 inmates on the charge of murder.
the halls are covered with poor carpet that inmates suffer the colors.
Fourteen rooms form the halls which divided by bed-seated, whereas, 12
inmates are kept in a room with four three-floor bed seated, so that,
there is no place to seat or to eat.
prison has not water piping as Shiva said. Water is sterilized by a
very high percentage chlorine which causes the loss of color when the
inmates wash their clothes. 90% of the prisoners cannot buy mineral
water due to poor financial.
There are only 12 unclean toilets for all halls; moreover, the consultation hall including 70 inmates have just four bathrooms.
the nutritional condition is indescribable as the prisoners have
frequently expressed concern about quality and time of the feeding
division.” Shiva has mentioned about the lack of vitamins and protein in
food, however, noted the food dilemma both quality-quantity as uncooked
beans, no dairy, etc.
The inmates have frequently seen “cockroaches” in food which is informed from many prisons in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
it is not the end of the hardness of the prisoners in Ghrachak; drug
dealing is the other tragedy which shocks Human Rights activists when
the reports disclosed by Shiva Ganji.
Meth is used by some of the prisoners which led them sleeplessness and
nervous cause the interior clashes between them that officials have
blind their eyes to the events have done in the prison.
H.I.V and Hepatitis statistics in the prison have increased concern
among the reports which received by Human Rights activists. This makes
the prison situation even more unbearable.
is the other norm in the prison is suffered by the feeble inmates,
however, the officials have blinded their eyes on the misfortune. The
head of the gang leads the rabble prisoners to stuck the victims to rape
prisoners who are on death row use sedative pills which led them to
sleep all day in the first hall of consultation that known “the hall of
the dead” as Shiva said.
prison clinic is weak for medical treatment and moreover, the prisoners
have to wait on the row for dentist and ophthalmologist more than three
months on their own coast.
Gharchak prison never has appropriate temperature both winter-summer due to no heater and air-condition available there.
reports have been received from prisons throughout Iran about the lack
of health care facilities, clean water, poor nutrition, and sanitation.
These reports have been received from Karoon, Adel Abad, Bandar Abbas, Vakil Abad and many other prisons in Iran.
By: Kaveh Taheri