Women could be game changers
About 150 years ago, Iranian women validated their political presence through their contribution to the tobacco protest against a concession granted by the shah to Great Britain. In the beginning of the 20th century, women in Iran participated in the Constitutional revolution, which led to the curbing of the shah’s absolute powers and the establishment of parliament.
Women played a major role in the Iranian nationalist movement, under the leadership of Mohammad Mosaddegh in the 1950s. They supported the prime minister in his decision to nationalise the oil industry and his efforts to confront the British blockade that was imposed to obstruct nationalisation.
When the armed resistance began against the rule of the shah in the 1960s, women participated actively and joined the two main militant organisations — the Organisation of Iranian People’s Fedaian, and the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran.
All this history of political participation did not serve the Iranian women when the leaders of the Islamic Republic rose to power. In a description of women and an enumeration of their distinguishing characteristics, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani insists on “weakness” and “a failure to bear the different burdens and responsibilities”.
As one of the architects of the regime of the Islamic Republic, Rafsanjani said in 1986: “Justice does not mean that all laws should be the same for women and men… The differences in body, height, sturdiness, voice, growth, muscle quality, physical strength, perseverance in the face of disasters and resistance to disease in women and men show that men are stronger and more capable in all these areas… Men’s brains are larger… These differences affect the delegation of responsibilities, duties and rights.”
That seemed the position of all clerics in Iran, with none of them able to answer the following questions: Do women get self-confidence from men in light of this vision? What if a man neglects his wife or cheats on her? What will she do? How can justice be achieved in such a case?
No soul can imagine the extent of oppression and humiliation in Iran. Perhaps only in the Islamic Republic would a female opposition figure be flogged then put to death while pregnant for “concealing information and inciting against the regime”.
Against this distressing reality, the women in the Iranian opposition today are not only enjoying equal rights with men, they are also playing a full role in all fields, even those that are supposed to be limited to men.
From Iran to my country, Algeria, we should honestly admit that we have gone through a similar experience of resenting women. Yet, I am absolutely certain that no one can doubt the contribution of the Algerian women to the revolution. I am also quite sure that no one can question that some women militants have become a symbol of resistance in our country, notably Djamila Bouhired, Djamila Boupacha and others.
Against the backdrop of these admirable contributions, I wanted, as a prime minister in 1990, to appoint a woman minister for Mujahideen so as to honour women militants and highlight our appreciation of women’s role in the independence struggle.
I was summarily surprised by the reaction of activists who expressed concern over the initiative. Others plainly opposed the idea. These reactions forced me to back down on this project, which I viewed as a gift for all militants.
Besides this initiative, I worked on my government’s plan to ensure parity in ministerial positions, with the aim of achieving equality between men and women. This course of action was opposed by high-ranking officials as soon as it was proposed.
When I offered ministerial portfolios to women, they accepted but later turned them down for fear of disagreements with their husbands. In 1989, when I held the position of Foreign minister, I tried to name the first female ambassador but as Algerian law stipulates that a husband and a wife should not be separated, I had to find a solution. I found it when I named a qualified woman and gave her husband the second position. With the government and the president refusing the idea, I eventually had to name the husband and wife to the same rank.
In my country, the lack of self-confidence drives women to decline senior positions and men’s tendency towards predominance constitutes a real obstacle.
Here, we can understand the relevance of the Iranian opposition’s model, which made room for women’s active participation in political life. The achievements of the opposition in this context are a real threat to the mullahs’ regime, with women probably being the potential main contributor to their eventual demise.