Introduction: What is Iran’s essence?

Eric Hooglund, Leif Stenberg

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript


One undaunted female political activist has been Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, who served in Iran’s sixth majlis (parliament), 2000-2004, and is the author of Chapter 5, ‘The One Million Signatures Campaign and its impact on legislators and legislative policy in Iran.' This campaign was launched by 51 women’s rights activists in Iran during August 2006. The objective is to collect one million signatures on a petition requesting the majlis to amend laws that discriminate against women, including, among others, in matters pertaining to marriage, divorce, polygyny, the age of criminal responsibility, citizenship, diyeh (blood money for wrongful death), inheritance, domestic violence (especially honor killings), bearing witness, compulsory dress codes and social security. Haghighatjoo examines the extent to which the campaign has influenced policy makers, particularly those in the Iranian parliament. She is interested in assessing whether the campaign actually caused a change in the attitudes of elected deputies toward women’s issues, especially with regard to recognizing the prevalence of legal discrimination against women. In cases where such an attitude change may have occurred, did this change lead to any moves to amend laws in favor of women and thus provide for more gender equality? Part III, Social inclusion/exclusion, analyzes diverse aspects of society, ranging from discourses about an ideal society to some real-life problems experienced among those living at society’s margins. In chapter 6, ‘Discourses of nationalism, modernization and gender in twentieth-century Iran, ' Rouzbeh Parsi compares the debates about nationalism, aspects of modernization, including popular sovereignty and secularism and women’s rights during the early 1920s with the debates on these same issues in post-revolutionary Iran, especially since 2000. He argues that there are both continuities with and sharp breaks from the past. In terms of continuity, it is interesting that the composition of those active in producing the debates: both in the past and 80 years later has been relatively constant: mainly intellectuals, journalists, senior clergy, politicians and students. With respect to the discourses about gender, however, Parsi sees major discontinuities. Whereas in the 1920s European modernist ideas (including notions of women’s rights) were popular, this was because they were perceived as means of safeguarding Iranian national identity against European political encroachment. In particular, ‘liberating’ women from tradition did not mean gender equality but rather educating women to serve the nation by nurturing their children. By the early 2000s, the discourse is about gender equality, as can be seen in the aforementioned One Million Signatures Campaign (Chapter 5). Although the ideal imagined Iranian nationalism, both in the 1920s and contemporaneously, is associated with the Persian language and the religion of Jafaari Shia Islam, in reality Iran is a country in which live diverse ethnic and religious minorities.13 The largest ethnic minority, the Azeri Turks, comprise up to 25 percent of the total population, although they share with the dominant Persians (about 65 percent of the population) the same Shia sect of Islam. A small minority of Persian-speakers are religious minorities, including Bahais, Jews, Sunni Muslims and zoroastrians. Speakers of some other languages are both linguistic and religious minorities, including Armenian and Assyrian Christians, a majority of kurds (65 to 75 percent), who adhere to Sunni Islam, and Baluchis and Turkmen, who also are Sunni Muslims. Baluchis historically have lived in the southwestern province of Sistan and Baluchestan, officially classified in government documents as a ‘deprived’ area due to its paucity of economic and social infrastructure and its significantly higher rate of poverty than any other region of Iran. Azadeh kian’s chapter, ‘gender, ethnicity and identity: surrender without consent among Baluchi women in changing contexts, ' examines the unique and intertwined economic, gender and social issues that confront women of this minority. Baluchis have a long history of migrating north to the more prosperous province of Golestan, where the dominant population is comprised of ethnic Persians. for Baluchi women migrants in golestan, the experience of living in an ethnic Persian-dominated environment has exposed them to new ideas and values, which, in turn have prompted them to question gendered relations within the family and women’s submission to men’s control. In contrast, Baluchi women who still live in Baluchestan hardly have experienced any of the educational and other changes discussed in Bahramitash’s chapter. consequently, kian’s research among them demonstrates that they tend not to question traditional cultural and tribal norms that value their subordination to men and the family in matters pertaining to the social perceptions of extended family reputation, especially in such matters as how much education girls ought to receive, whether they should work and whom they may marry (not a non-Baluchi male). If Baluchis as a group experience varying degrees of social exclusion in their relationship with the dominant Persians, the level of social exclusion is even more pronounced among those youths and others whom authorities consider to be living deviant lifestyles.14 Since the 1990s, the state has deemed drug use and addiction as a major form of social deviancy, and, as Janne Bjerre christensen discusses in Chapter 8, ‘Changing drug policies: institutionalizing a new social order, ' the state has been experimenting with ways to combat this problem. Bjerre christensen initially examines the reasons and political controversies surrounding the movement to alter government policy from one whereby authorities perceived drug addicts and users as criminals and deviants to one whereby the former came to view the latter as patients in need of treatment and social rehabilitation. However, the Islamic republic’s drug policies continue to be fraught with political ambiguities, argues Bjerre christensen, because the reformers tend to be advocates of medical treatment strategies while the conservatives tend to lean more toward seeing drug addiction, along with other social problems such as prostitution, as crimes deserving of punishment. complicating the way official discourse presents the drug use problem, especially for conservatives, is the fact that many addicts are veterans of the Iran-Iraq War, the very social group that government propaganda valorizes as examples of patriotic Iranian Muslims who have sacrificed for their country. While the minority of drug addicts are women, a more serious consequence of drug addiction is that addicted men with families become unable to support them, a situation that has forced many wives of addicts to become de facto household heads, responsible for the financial well-being of their children, but with inadequate social support networks.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNavigating Contemporary Iran
Subtitle of host publicationChallenging Economic, Social and Political Perceptions
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781136488382
ISBN (Print)9780415678667
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes


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