Friday, February 13, 2009

Feminism in Iran

by Elizabeth Winkler

The New York Times featured an exciting article this morning about growing feminist awareness and action in the conservative Muslim theocracy. The article cites increasing education levels (60 % of university students are now women) and the ‘information revolution’ as key factors in contributing to Iranian women’s attempts to regain control and equality in their lives. The internet and satellite television in particular have been instrumental in providing windows into the lives of Western women and the possibilities of gender equality.

Today, one in five Iranian marriages ends in divorce, a fourfold increase in 15 years. While the West tends to deplore increasingly high divorce rates, in Iran, these numbers are a positive indicator: women who are beaten, tortured, forced into polygamous marriages (or even marriages they simply didn’t want) are now turning more and more to the courts to fight for divorce and custody of their children.

Nevertheless, equality and freedom remain distant realities for the vast majority of women. Despite the progress made by various activist movements, girls can still be forced to marry at 13, men can ban their wives from working, can engage in polygamy, and are granted custody of children over the age of 7.

Women inherit only half what their brothers do (making life as a divorcee often impossible to sustain), and their court testimony is worth half that of a man (muffling any legal action they attempt to take before it even begins). On top of all this, stoning continues to remain inscribed in the penal code as the punishment for adulterous wives, and a woman who refuses to cover her hair faces jail and up to 80 lashes.

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