The Battlefield – Women in Iran by Azadeh Hosseini, is an Iranian freelance journalist in London.
It was 26 September 2015 and I was reading the daily news about Iran, as usual. Then I saw it: Iranian women Futsal team won AFC Women’s Futsal Championship for the first time in history. They had played Japan in the Final and defeated a strong team. This victory is bigger than what it seems to be, but why?
It wasn’t that long ago when the captain of Iran women’s futsal team missed Asian championships because her husband didn’t allow her to renew her passport. The news went viral on the internet and many had shown their solidarity. But this is just the tip of the iceberg of women’s position in Iran.
According to the Islamic Civil Law in Iran, travelling abroad for Iranian women is depends on their marital status and age; Single women under 18 need permission from their father or any hierarch and for married women must have their husband’s permission in order to be able to get a passport. In September 2015, Niloufar Ardalan, the captain of Iranian women’s futsal team, was not permitted by her husband to lead her teammates in the AFC Women’s Futsal Championship being held in Malaysia.
What really makes this victory more valuable than a simple game is Iranian female athletes succeeding despite the pressure they faced from both government and society. They had to cover themselves from head to toe and be less comfortable than their competitors.
They could have been easily left out of the tournaments because of most idiotic reason such as husband’s permission to leave or failure to have “proper hijab”. And yet they didn’t give up. In my eyes and of course many others, they are real heroes.
Being a woman in Iran is not easy. You have to prepare to enter this big battlefield from a young age. As a woman, you have to encounter society most of the day and for some, your home would be another battlefield. Iranian women are forced to live through a chain of restrictions from what to wear in public to their workplaces and even very private aspects of their lives.
According to Islamic regulations in Iran, women must cover their head, dress modesty, which doesn’t draw attention to their figure, and definitely NOT in tight-fitting clothing. Dark colors are encouraged, while nail polish, sandals, leggings and long boots have also been banned by the morality police.
Many Iranian women find their own bold way to work within the rules to express themselves; Bright and flashy colors instead of dark and dull to push back the rigid dress-code. They subvert restrictions on clothing, regulations that have been enforce in the country since the 1979 Islamic revolution. These women turn classic hijab, something which is considered oppressive into trendy and chic attire.
Esmail Ahmadi-Maghaddam, head of the national security forces in Iran, confirmed that only last year around 3.6 million women in Iran were warned, fined, or arrested by the morality police for inappropriate dress. And yet women dress bolder to express themselves and show off their figures.
Despite legal and cultural discrimination against women of Iran, they have advanced significantly in many areas like education and business. Restrictions on women in the business world are less than other areas, like politics. A new wave of successful Iranian female entrepreneurs has emerged in recent years. This has been overlooked, compared to the other reports emanating from the country on women’s living situations.
Nazanin Daneshvar is one of these young successful female entrepreneurs in Iran. She is the CEO of an e-commerce company Takhfifan (discounts in Persian). This Internet start-up has grown with 60 employees, majority women, and covers many customers in all Iran’s cities. But that wasn’t easy. She struggled a lot to be taken seriously and now after five years, this company finally found its place in Iran’s market.
Latest research results show that there are more women than men in higher education. Apparently seeing women in CEO and entrepreneur positions is getting more normal than it used to be. For many it was quite hard to trust women in businesses. The number of young women who enter the market is much higher than a decade ago. Iranian women have grown in confidence.
Fatemeh Moghimi is the owner of one the biggest trade and transport company in Iran. She established her empire around 30 years ago. In the beginning she faced many social barriers, and now she is mentoring new, mostly female, entrepreneurs.
Although Iran’s employment law protects equal pay in government jobs and there’s maternity leave as long as 12 months in some departments. But job insecurity is more for the female workforce than men. Some women may lose their job after maternity leave. There are instances of them being replaced by men. Work market still leans in favour of a male workforce.
According to Iran’s National Statistics Organization, women in Iran also suffer from higher rate of unemployment, which is two times more than men.
According to a recent report by Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, “Concerns previously expressed over gender inequality in law and practice persist. Recent legislative attempts made by the Iranian Parliament appear to further restrict the rights of women to their full and equal enjoyment of internationally recognized rights,” the report stated.
Iranian women face injustice in different layers; from marriage, divorce law and custody to criminal law and not to mention cumbersome regulations imposed on Iranian women. The Islamic government promotes discriminatory policies and has reacted to women’s rights movement with suppression. In recent years many women have been subjected to varied punishment, including imprisonment.
And yet Iranian women are blossoming more than ever and pushing back all these barriers patiently.
© Azadeh Hosseini
Azadeh Hosseini is an Iranian freelance journalist at London. She recieved her B.A in Political Science at University of Tehran and M.A in International Relations at University of Westminster. She’s been trained to be a journalist by BBC trust. She started working when she was in Iran but shortly she left her home country for U.K. Since then she’s been working as a freelancer. Meanwhile she has been mentored by media veterans.