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Bazaar, Tehran, 2012 / Photo HH
Bazaar, Tehran, 2012 / Photo HH

[Although increased social and physical mobility have caused some social change, Iran remains a conservative society, with the family as its cornerstone. Women fall under the authority of the husband or the husband’s family, but women are gaining more financial independence through increasing employment, especially in the cities.

One of the most visible changes since the Revolution has been the curtailment of women’s rights and freedom. Female judges were fired, the veil was made mandatory, and laws based on Sharia (Islamic law) institutionalized gender inequality. Family law was changed so that women had less to say in child-custody cases and in their own careers. Filing for divorce was made extremely difficult for women. A woman’s testimony in court counts for only half of that of a man. The same is true for the payment of diyeh (blood money). Violence and discrimination against women are common in Iranian society, as are ‘honour crimes’.

At the same time, the number of women participating in higher education and the labour force has risen tremendously. In 2007 over 60 percent of university students were female. As a result of greater educational equality, women in Iran are becoming as educated and skilled as men. Nevertheless, they make up a significant proportion of the unemployed. While Iranian women comprise around two-thirds of university entrants, they make up only one-fifth of the labour force.

According to the Iranian census of 2006, 3.5 million Iranian women are salaried workers, compared to 23.5 million men. The female share of the labour force is less than 20 percent, considerably lower than the world average of 45 percent. More than a third of Iran’s female labour force is in professional jobs, mostly in education, health care, and social services.

Women’s movement

In recent years women’s-rights activists have become Iran’s most active and visible proponents of change. Hundreds of small NGOs work to improve the rights and status of Iranian women. The Change for Equality and its One-Million-Signatures Campaign, for instance, was organized by Iranian women’s rights activists aiming to collect a million signatures demanding changes to discriminatory laws against women. Leaders of the movement have been attacked and jailed by the government, and many remain incarcerated.

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