The cases of Iran and Azerbaijan

The global-local intersection of feminism in Muslim societies: the cases of Iran and Azerbaijan

Nayereh Tohidi

THE arguments made in this paper are based on empirical studies of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan, as well as on a review of studies of several other societies in the Muslim and non-Muslim global South. Through a brief review of Iran and a few references to post-Soviet Azerbaijan, the interplay between local and global factors in shaping the course of women’s movements and feminism is demonstrated. Attention is paid primarily to the positive impact of two specific aspects of globalization on women’s movements and feminism in these two societies: the international human rights regime (comprised of the United Nations and international nongovernmental organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch) and global feminism (comprised of feminist discourses, the international women’s movement, and transnational feminist networks).

As in other countries, it is the history, internal developments, and dynamism of each society, particularly the social praxis of women, that have played the main role in shaping the course of women’s movements in Iran and Azerbaijan. But external factors also, both during colonial times and in the present era of globalization, have influenced women’s movements and feminism in Muslim and non-Muslim societies. In the past, the global and external factor for women in the Muslim world was predominantly of a colonial nature.

In colonial and postcolonial studies of Muslim societies, the gender- and class-based differential impacts of colonialism (in countries like Egypt, Syria, Iraq) or of Western hegemony (in countries that were never colonized, such as Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan) have been extensively studied. On women’s rights movement and feminism also, colonialism or Western domination left contradictory impacts. (1)

The external/global factor, due to the much more deeply penetrating and transformative processes of globalization, is distinct from the colonial system of the past. Globalization, replete with contradictions, is more akin to the Industrial Revolution in its impact on societies, its intervention directly into daily life as well as economies, institutions of governance, and world order (Giddens, 1994; Held et al., 1999). Because of increasing globalization, no gender regime and therefore no women’s movement in any locality (country or community) can be studied and understood without taking global influences into account. An obvious, recently illuminated case in point is the situation of women in Afghanistan. Women’s status and rights in Afghanistan cannot be accounted for without understanding the interaction between the local (history, geography, geopolitics, political economy, culture, and Afghan women’s own agency and struggles) and the global or international factors, including the intervention of the superpowers (the Soviet Union and the United States), the regional powers (including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran) and the subsequent interventions of international human/women’s rights groups and feminist networks.

Before reviewing the case studies, some conceptual and theoretical clarification and definitions that make up the framework of this study are offered.

Globalization and “Global Feminism”

Globalization processes, especially since the 1970s, have affected feminist mobilization for change in many different societies. Feminist interventions, in turn, have aimed to affect the parameters and direction of globalization processes (Eschle, 2001: 192). The increasing globalization and integration of the world through international trade, migration, faster and less expensive transportation, and new electronic communication and information technology, have led to a situation in which a growing number of women and men belong to more than one community. Communities and group identities are overlapping and de-territorializing, and an escalating number of individuals who become multicultural and multilingual are adopting more fluid and multiple identities (Jaggar, 1998; Appadurai, 1996).

Globalization is accompanied by intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole (Robertson, 1996: 8; Giddens, 1994: 5-7). This and other effects of globalization have important implications for gender relations and women’s status in all societies. Anthony Giddens, for example, points to the indirect impact of global processes on social pressure for democratization in the form of “the expansion of social reflexivity and detraditionalization” (Giddens, 1994: 111). As they become better informed about new and varied political alternatives in the world, populations become less likely to accept traditional models of political and gender regimes. Globalization “allows for the subversive possibility of women seeing beyond the local to the global” (Eisenstein, 1997: 17). Even those who never physically leave their communities of origin are more likely now to evaluate their own lives by placing their rights, options, and restrictions in a comparative and global perspective (Jaggar, 1998). “Exposure to geographically disparate influences and to issues framed in a global context can encourage the reflexive scrutiny of localized traditions and behavior patters and lead to the construction of new social relationships” (Eschle, 2001: 147).

Women, especially in the global South, are located at the center of contemporary globalization processes. Although local/national contexts are the primary sites for feminist struggles and intervention, global/international forums such as United Nations world conferences and transnational economic structures such as the IMF, World Bank, and transnational corporations have become more important in women’s lives, hence requiring feminist intervention.

Throughout the world, the debt crisis; severe “structural adjustment” policies; unhealthy and unbalanced patters of consumption; plant relocations by multinational corporations from the global North to the global South; environmental degradation in both “worlds”; militarism; the trade in heroin and cocaine; and sex tourism and international traffic in women are among the main adverse effects of globalization that concern many feminists, especially in the global South, both in the areas formerly known as the “Third World” and the “Second World,” now usually called post-Soviet, post-Communist or new transitional economies, including Azerbaijan. (2)

Culturally and politically, women are situated in the vortex of contending social forces: centripetal tendencies toward increasing globalization and integration and centrifugal tendencies toward nationalism and fragmentation (Jaggar, 1998: 7). As in Iran, a main concern with respect to the cultural and political impacts of globalization is that women “are frequently taken as emblems of cultural integrity, so that defending beleaguered cultures becomes equated with preserving traditional forms of femininity, especially as these are manifest in traditional female dress and practices of marriage and sexuality” (Jaggar, 1998: 7).

In response to these global challenges and practical concerns (such as violence, democracy, universal human rights, morality, and ethics), a global discourse community is emerging among feminists (Jaggar, 1998; Eschle, 2001). This emerging global feminism is an outgrowth of globalization and at the same time a critical response to it. The beginnings of global feminism are visible in official and semiofficial venues, such as the regional and world conferences on women sponsored by the UN since 1975, and especially their accompanying forums for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

The emergence of global feminism is also evident in a multitude of ongoing interactions among grassroots groups and transnational feminist networks addressing regional or global concerns, such as the Network of East/West Women, Encuentros Feministas, Women Living under Muslim Laws, and the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (Jaggar, 1998: 8).

The Interplay of the Local and the Global or the Particular and the Universal

Intensified globalization has made conventional demarcation between the “internal” and the “external,” or the “local” and the “global” or the core-periphery model somewhat artificial as it is becoming more difficult to determine where the local stops and the global begins. The “cultural flow” of globalization is not simply from the global to the local, but also the reverse (Abu-Lughod, 1991: 132) and forces from various metropolises that are brought into new societies tend to become indigenized in one way or another (Appadurai, 1996: 32). Although many feminists feel compelled to “think globally and act locally,” some actions have to be carried out globally if certain changes are to take place locally. (3) Given the situation of Afghanistan, for example, no local improvement in women’s status can take place without a global action to alter present devastation. The concerns of women around the world have to be addressed, then, in the historicized particularity of their relationship to multiple systems of subordination and oppression: patriarchy and/or male supremacy at local levels (family, community, and nation) and international sexism and economic hegemony at the global level. As Uma Narayan (1997) puts it, “we need to articulate the relationship of gender to scattered hegemonies such as global economic structures, patriarchal nationalisms, `authentic’ forms of tradition, local structures of domination, and legal-juridical oppression on multiple levels.”

While women’s movements and feminism have become increasingly global, sisterhood is not global in its romantic sense, nor is it local. Rather, women’s solidarity has to be negotiated within each specific context (Mohanty, 1998; Sharoni, 2001; Bayes and Tohidi, 2001). Amrita Basu, for example, warns us against making sweeping generalizations about commonalities among women across the globe. Such generalizations, she argues, aggravate tensions not only along North-South lines but also along other lines of cleavage, including class, race, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity, and religion. Paradoxically, the very attempts to universalize feminism in an abstract manner or uphold certain groups or schools of feminism as the “real feminism” may make it more exclusionary (Basu, 1995: 19).

I would also suggest that, while stressing local origins, characters, and concerns of women’s movements, we should also account for universal commonalities and the significant role of the global factors that interplay with the local in shaping the objectives, priorities, and strategies of the women’s movement and feminism in any given context. While theorization of the feminist movements has tended toward the poles of universalization or particularism, in practice, various movements have followed a path between these poles, thus continually undermining this dichotomy (Eschle, 2001: 202). As Alberto Melucci has described, fragmented, heterogeneous, and dynamic forms of collective action, continually reconstructed through diffuse, decentralized, and subterranean networks, usually characterize social movements, including feminist movements in the “Information Age.” He points out that however ideologically, socially, and geographically distant fragments of feminist mobilization may appear, they remain woven unevenly into a broader web of feminist activism (cf. Eschle, 2001: 221). To conceptualize global feminism by deliberately using the metaphors of weaving and of a web, Chilla Bulbeck, for example, argues that, “the world’s women’s movement need not be `one’ but can be many, modeled on the female symbol of the web or the patchwork quilt” (Eschle, 2001: 221).

Iran and Azerbaijan

Iran and Azerbaijan both belong to the Muslim world. Both are predominantly of the Shia branch, and as neighbors, both are located in the oil-rich and volatile Caspian region. Yet they are very different from each other in important ways. The discussion of Iran that follows focuses on women’s responses to the gender policy of the Islamic Republic since its inception in 1979 and how they have been shaped by the interplay between local and global factors.

In the case of the Republic of Azerbaijan (not reviewed here in length due to space limitation), women are faced with post-Soviet and post-independence socioeconomic changes that so far have been mainly detrimental to the status and living conditions of a majority of people, especially women. (4) Beginning in 1991, new challenges have included transition to a market economy, state nation-building, democratization and civil society building in the wake of interethnic strife, and bloody war over territorial disputes, displacement, and socioeconomic disruption. The postcommunist “transition” has included the replacement of Soviet egalitarian discourse and equal rights for women (at least at a formal level) with varying degrees of Western liberalism, conservative nationalism, and Islamism, all of which have significant gender implications.

Ironically, in both the Islamic Republic of Iran, which shunned global (especially Western) influences, and the secular Republic of Azerbaijan, which rushed for global integration and close ties with the West, all feminist discourse, even the discourse of equal rights, was initially avoided. In Iran such discourse was labeled as “Western and/or bourgeois,” or as an “anti-Islamic deviation.” In Azerbaijan, women’s rights or feminist discourse was seen as reminiscent of the Soviet past, or as a “Western, anti-family and anti-men” tendency irrelevant or harmful to Azerbaijani culture. In both countries, however, the trajectory of women’s experiences and responses has led them toward a growing gender sensitivity and consciousness of women’s rights–and, hence, to women’s activism and demands for egalitarian changes and feminist values, though usually not within a declared feminist framework.

A majority of Iranian women (religious as well as secular) joined the revolution to oppose the repressive regime of the shah. But the Islamist regime that replaced the shah began its reign with forced sex segregation and attacks on the civil rights and freedoms of people, which especially affected women. This resulted in growing disillusionment and a turn against the ruling patriarchal theocracy. Not only the secular opposition but also the “new religious intellectuals” and an increasing number of Muslim reformers have articulated demands for revision in the dominant interpretation of Islamic texts, reform in the Islamic law (sharia), and secularization of the legal system–that is, separation of religion and state altogether. Whether it is within a faith-based framework (“Islamic feminism”) or various schools of secular feminisms, gender debate and women activists and intellectuals of diverse inclinations (religious members of the Shia majority and of minorities such as Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian, Bahai, and Sunni Islam, as well as secular activists) have become a critical component of the growing pro-democracy and reform movement in Iran.

In Azerbaijan, as in most other newly independent republics of the former Soviet Union, the initial ethnocentrist nationalism identified women and traditional feminine roles and behavior codes as identity markers of “authentic” Azeri women, placing women’s political and civic activism within the limits of male-dominated nationalist parties and centering it exclusively around nationalist causes. This pattern has begun to be questioned by some women due to the interplay between the national/local and international/global influences. Nationally, women face post-Soviet conservative and regressive challenges to women’s civil as well as social rights; at the same time, women are influenced by global feminism, gender-sensitive international donor agencies, and gender sensitization projects sponsored by the United Nations. A growing interest in gender and women’s studies and an increasing number of NGOs dealing with women’s issues have emerged in more recent years leading to a sort of “national feminism” that will probably evolve into various strands of feminism in future.

Having discussed some negative impacts of globalization on women’s rights and status in Muslim societies elsewhere (Tohidi and Bayes, 2001) and the downside of the international factor, including the donor agencies in post-Soviet “transitional” countries, specifically Azerbaijan (Tohidi, 2000, 2003), I here limit myself to highlighting some positive gender implications of globalization. My focus is on the stimulating and facilitating role that the international human rights/women’s rights regime and global feminism have been playing in influencing the trajectory of women’s activism from initial Islamism in Iran and initial nationalism in Azerbaijan toward increasingly feminist and democratic orientations.

“Freedom is Neither Eastern nor Western; It Is Universal”

Labeled as “Westoxicated” (gharbzadeh), modernized and unveiled women of the new middle class were one of the main targets of the dominant anti-West discourse in the 1970-1980s. Using religion as a tool to seize state power, and taking advantage of people’s anger at the West–stemming in part from the American-and British-sponsored coup against the popular, nationalist, and secular government of Mohammad Mossadeq that led to years of repressive dictatorship by the shah (Gasiorowski, 1991)–the retrogressive clerics (ulama) turned widespread feelings of anti-imperialism into an anti-modern and anti-West state ideology. Women’s rights and modern changes in gender roles–for example a mildly reformed family law achieved under the Shah’s regime that had restricted polygamy and the unilateral right of men to divorce and child custody–were among the first targets of attack by the ruling Islamists. (5) Women, therefore, were the first group to display signs of opposition to the Islamist regime. Initially, women’s opposition took the form of militant street demonstrations and sit-ins. Later, in the face of harsh repression, women pursued a course of subtle, slow, yet persistent resistance and subversion.

The influence of the global or international factor in the struggle for women’s rights was evident in the very first display of defiance in 1979, which coincided with an unprecedented massive celebration of International Women’s Day (March 8). This day of celebration, signifying a sense of solidarity with women’s movements globally, turned into a weeklong protest against the new pressures women faced at the local/national level: the declaration of mandatory veiling, regressive measures concerning women’s rights in the family and the workplace, and the removal of women judges from the courts. One of the most prominent banners raised by thousands of women protesters carried the slogan “Freedom is neither Eastern nor Western; it is Universal!” Such acts of resistance or any manifestations of feminism in the 1970s and 1980s were, for the most part, ignored or branded as divisive and as “bourgeois deviations” by many secular leftists, or as Western and Westoxicated by nationalists and Islamists (see Tohidi, 1994, 1996c; Paidar, 1995).

As the banner displayed in the 1979 protests showed, there has been an ongoing effort on the part of Iranian feminists to prove that women’s quest for equality and emancipation is universal rather than Western. Attempts have also been made to provide evidence for the history of women’s movements in the East, including the Muslim world. Iranian feminist scholars and activists have tried to show that Iranian women’s current search for equal rights and feminist values is not simply a foreign or Western import, but is an authentic process with a national background, the indigenous roots of which go back to over 100 years, manifested first during earlier modernist reforms, especially the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911. (6) During the first decade of the Islamist regime, which coincided with the Iran-Iraq war, secular women activists, newly emerged women’s organizations, and all women and men involved in Islamic or secular political opposition to the theocratic nature of the government experienced brutal and bloody repression that resulted in demoralization, exodus, and a switch to passive forms of resistance. Through a vigorous campaign, the ruling clerics prescribed and dictated a uniform and exclusively Islamic identity for women in Iran, modeled after key non-Iranian Islamic women, chiefly Fatima (daughter of the Prophet and wife of the first imam of Shiite Muslims). In practice, however, this eight-century model of Muslim woman remained ambiguous, contradictory, and irrelevant to contemporary realities.

An anti-West and also antimodern, ascetic, masculinist, and militaristic political culture dominated Iran during the first decade of the Islamist regime, especially the eight years of the Iran-Iraq War. By the beginning of the 1990s, the end of the war, together with Ayatollah Khomeini’s death in 1989, coincided with the relaxation of repression in culture, the arts, films, and music. This was due to the loss of the country’s charismatic leader, subsequent rivalry over succession, and the unfolding of ideological frictions, along with the gradual exhaustion of revolutionary zeal after a decade of violent repression of dissidents and the heavy casualties caused by a pointless war. The relative relaxation of society in general was also in line with the postwar stage of “construction” (sazandegi) promoted during the presidency of Hashemi Rafsanjani.

All this led to the opening up of small spaces for intellectual and spiritual reflections and religious and ideological debates and revisions. Secular activism, especially by women, began to be seen gradually in artistic films and in literary creativity, critical journalistic writings, and the scholarly revisiting of Iranian women’s history and identifies. (7) In opposition to conservative clerical prescriptions for a restrictive and homogeneous gender identity, women have been successful in the construction or configuration of more inclusive, multiple, and fluid identities based on the creative synthesis of Iran’s local pre-Islamic, Islamic, and modern and Western/global influenced aspects of history and culture. (8)

From Sectarian Islamism to Dialogue and Global Integration

Despite the Islamists’ feigned disregard of the international community’s opinions, they have been quite sensitive about how they are perceived and received by the world community. Also, despite anti-Western rhetoric, in particular labeling the United States the “Great Satan,” many Islamists in Iran, male and female, have a “love-hate” attitude or ambivalent feelings toward the West in general and the United States in particular.

Since the 1979 revolution, Iranian women’s interest in reaching out and attempts to do so–to interact transnationally and establish international connections–fall into three categories: missionary and ideological, diplomatic and pragmatist, and integrative and networking. (9)

The Missionary Approach

The first category consists of Islamist women associated with the ruling hardliners whose main purpose in establishing international contacts has been ideological propagation of an Islamic revolution and export of their constructed “model of Muslim womanhood” (olgu-ye zan-e Musalman) to the rest of the world (Mehran, 2002). This model, symbolized by Fatima, refers to a traditional patriarchal gender regime emphasizing sex differences and a sex-based division of labor rather than equality of male-female rights and roles. Initially, most active in this category was the Women’s Society of Islamic Revolution, replaced later by the Women’s Society of the Islamic Republic of Iran (WSIRI), founded by female relatives of Khomeini. Each issue of their quarterly publication, Neda, includes reports about women in (usually) other parts of the Muslim world or interviews with women converts to Islam in Western countries.

One reason for the recent moderation in Neda’s orientation and in the approach of such formerly radical Islamist women is the failure of their extremist goals both inside and outside Iran (for example, they failed to establish Fatima’s birthday as Woman’s Day in all Muslim countries, and to set up Fatima as an Islamic counterpart to the Roman Catholic Church’s Mary). Some of these Iranian Islamist women have become less sectarian in order to reach out and expand their conservative gender agenda globally across national, cultural, and confessional lines. An interesting example was a workshop they organized on “The Life and Status of the Virgin Mary” during the NGO forum at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Reflecting a Catholic-Muslim alliance against feminists led by the Vatican, the underlying goal of this workshop was to propose “Virgin Mary” as the global “symbolic model for women and perhaps men … at the threshold of the twenty-first century.” (10)

Islamism as an ideology “exported” by these missionary women is usually reconstructed and transformed in the context and practice of each foreign community. (11) For instance, their impact in one community can result in a rise in violence against women not wearing the proper hejab; in another community, they may trigger an interest in wearing headscarves. Another reason for the inconsistency of impact is the inconsistency of the message and the messenger. Many Iranian Islamists in the 1980s claimed that “contraception is anti-Islamic,” and then endorsed it as Islamic when the Iranian government waged a campaign for population control in the 1990s.

Certain recent developments in various Muslim countries, however, have been considered manifestations of the global impact of Iranian Islamism. Among them was the attempt by the Bashir regime in Sudan to impose the Iranian Islamist version of the veil (chador) on Sudanese women in the early 1990s, as well as the increase in mut’a (temporary marriage or sigheh) even in some Sunni communities in countries like Algeria and Sudan (see Women Living under Muslim Law, 1996). Mut’a marriage was previously permitted only by the Shia and was unknown or condemned among Sunnis. (12)

In terms of political influence, the Shia-Sunni divide has outweighed Islamic unity in neighboring countries and regions like Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, all the Gulf states, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Homegrown Islamist movements in Pakistan and Afghanistan have more conflict than unity with Iranian Islamists. According to Shahla Haeri, women members of the Jamaat-i Islami of Pakistan show no interest in the Iranian version of Islamism. Ordinary Muslim women in Pakistan talk about Iranian “excesses” and “contradictions.” “What turns them off the most is the black chador.” For instance, many women were shocked to see the wife of the Iranian ambassador to Pakistan wear very Western dress underneath her chador. Pakistani women, who maintain a colorful native dress code, often asked Haeri, “Do not the Iranian Islamists see the contradiction in wearing Western clothing under their chador?” (13)

In Caucasian and Central Asian Muslim communities, radical Islamist women from Iran have also not been well received. For most women in these Muslim communities, the black veil, glorified by Iranian radicals, is the most noticeable reason for dismay. Even in the Shiite majority Azerbaijan Republic, where the WSIRI and many Iranian male Islamists have campaigned to win broad support, the Islamist trend is diverse, influenced not only by Iran, but also Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

In June 1992, when a delegation of 22 Islamist women headed by Zahra Mostafavi (Khomeini’s daughter) visited Baku, Azerbaijan, wrapped in heavy chadors in the heat of summer, they were met with stares and disdainful reactions everywhere they went. Reactions were similar in Tajikistan and the rest of Central Asia during visits in the early 1990s. On one occasion, a middle-aged Azeri woman asked me to translate a question to two completely covered younger visitors. “Don’t you feel hot under this heavy black garment in this hot summer?” she asked. “But the fire in hell is much hotter if one fails to follow Allah’s orders,” one of the Iranians replied. Baffled by her response, the Azeri woman mumbled, “What a cruel God you have! The Allah of Islam that I know of is much kinder to women.” (14)

Negative reaction internationally to the chador was so broad and obvious that it engendered a heated debate in Iran in the print media and among Islamist women activists, male Islamist diplomats, and associates of the Foreign Ministry. Some male Islamist diplomats involved in transnational transactions argued against women delegates wearing the chador while attending international events in foreign countries because of its “counterproductive impact.” Instead of the chador, they recommended wearing the modest hejab known as a manto-rusari (head scarf with a long loose overcoat) that is favored by less conservative Muslim women. But some extremist women Islamists insisted that they should not compromise on such a “critical Islamic symbol” and succumb to international pressures. (15)

For the pragmatic ruling male elite in Iran, the geopolitical stakes are high in the Caspian region. For both internal interethnic and external geopolitical reasons, Azerbaijan holds a special and sensitive place in Iran’s foreign policy. In Iran’s rivalry with Turkey, Russia, and the Western powers over political and economic influence in the Caspian region and Central Asia, an ideological compromise by the Iranian government with regard to the form of hejab might seem a small concession. Yet it took over seven years, a change of presidents, and then a shift in the orientation of the Majles (parliament) after the February 2000 elections to revive the debate around the question of chador versus mantorusari. Later, this debate resurfaced with greater vigor than before through the more open and reform-oriented print media. It was initiated by three newly elected female parliamentary representatives who are determined to wear a moderate hejab

(manto-rusari) in the Majles. Supported by a few other women representatives, they noted that the majority of Muslim women worldwide and in Iran wear other modes of dress. (16) Some prominent, newly elected male deputies also made public statements in support of the new female deputies arguments.

Until recently, any criticism of the chador, especially by a woman, was taboo. In May 1999, for instance, secularist Turkish deputies barred an elected female deputy, Marveh Kavakchi, from taking her seat in parliament because she was wearing a headscarf. In reaction, about 200 chador-clad Iranian women, led by a conservative female deputy, took to the streets of Tehran to protest against the Turkish deputies “for violating the basic rights of a Muslim woman.” Kavakchi, however, voiced her anger against this demonstration, saying, “I do not need the support of those who do not believe in democracy and the right to choose one’s style of life and dress code, be it the Iranian Islamists or Turkish secularists.” (17) She was proved correct when less than a year later the same Islamist women in Iran threatened to bar elected deputies from parliament because they chose not to wear a chador.

Thus, one of the first impacts of international contacts with Muslim and non-Muslim women outside Iran, especially with neighboring Turkey, post-Soviet Azerbaijan and Central Asia, has been a challenge to the chador; a challenge that has helped open debate, negotiation, and criticism about the hejab. This interplay between the resistances of many Iranian women against the compulsory veiling at national level with the international push against it has resulted in increasingly more flexible dress codes in terms of style and color. Currently a growing number of young women in Iran are seen with stylish clothing and colorful scarves showing of good part of their hair.

Some crossnational influences on Iranian Islamists in Azerbaijan are also noteworthy. One is a trend in support of Islamic hejab–not the chador, but the manto-rusari–among some Azeri women. This trend is in line with a similar style worn in neighboring Turkey, but those Azeri women activists who are pushing for adoption of the headscarf are closely connected to the pro-Iran Islamic Party of Azerbaijan (Tohidi, 2000).

In late 1999, following an intense campaign and petitions, Azerbaijani Islamic women activists won a court case in support of their demand for the right to choose a hair-covered picture for a woman’s passport. Previously, the authorities in Azerbaijan refused to issue a passport with a picture of a woman wearing a headscarf. There were, however, local reasons in addition to the international influence of political Islam behind this pro-headscarf trend. Many of the Azeri Shiite women who have begun to wear the headscarf have been able to travel to Iran for a pilgrimage to Mashhad or have made a pilgrimage to Mecca (in Saudi Arabia). One resolution they make during such pilgrimages is to wear modest dress for the rest of their lives. These pilgrimages earn women the honorific rifles of Mashhadi khanim or Hajjiyeh khanim; wearing a headscarf would signify the right to such rifles, which are also indicative of class status.

Another effect Iran has had on gender issues in Shiite-majority Azerbaijan concerns the so far failed attempts to formally restore the sharia in family law. Some religious authorities and even some women have suggested legalization of “conditional polygyny” and an informal revival of the practice of temporary marriage as a solution to the current imbalance in sex ratios (Tohidi, 2000). Because of growing economic hardships, war, the exodus of young males, and the tradition of endogamy, a large number of young women are finding no chance to marry and raise a family. In the strongly family-centered society of Azerbaijan, this is viewed as a “catastrophe” for women. In the mid-1990s, due to the growing rate of marriage between Azeri women and Iranian male visitors to Baku (some already married), the Iranian authorities, worried about unwanted political implications, introduced rules and legal restrictions against such transnational marriages. In this case too, the gender-related effects of the interplay between certain recent consequences of globalization (such as labor force migration) and local demographic and cultural attributes are clearly observable.

The Pragmatist Approach

The second category, which has gradually replaced the first, draws from the new elite of professional and highly educated Islamic women, well connected to state organs and the new bureaucracy. Their active presence at international conferences and their work to establish international connections are supposed to be in the service of public relations and diplomatic strengthening of the Islamic state, especially its gender image. Yet, in the process of their own experience with sexist barriers at the local levels and their contacts with the international community, especially with women’s organizations and feminist discourses, many have come to be less ideological, more open-minded and pragmatic, and more conscious of women’s rights.

During the 1990s in many countries (for example in Latin America, as demonstrated by Mendoza, 2000), the locus of feminist activism moved extensively into the transnational arena. In Iran and Azerbaijan, women’s local activism not only became increasingly mediated by the transnational and global factors, it also experienced a shift toward de-ideologization, de-radicalization, and pragmatism. This was in part due to the UN-sponsored regional and world conferences on women that stimulated the globalization of the local and pragmaticization of the ideal by facilitating transnational and international interactions, and interfaith and beyond confessional dialogue for both Islamist women activists and secular feminists. During the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing it was clear how the earlier, strict ideological or missionary approach of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s delegations was giving way to a relatively moderate and pragmatic approach informed by UN language and contemporary debates on gender issues. This was striking when compared with the missionary discourse, sectarianism, intolerance, hostility toward diversity, and ignorance about feminism and women’s issues both nationally and internationally displayed by the Iranian delegations at the Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi in 1985. I was present at both conferences as an NGO member and participant observer, and I noticed both changes and continuities in the quantity and quality and the class composition and appearance of the delegations from one conference to the other. At the Beijing conference, the diversity and difference in discourse and behavior of the Iranian participants were obvious. Their relatively tolerant attitude toward women of different persuasions, nationalities, cultures, and sexual orientations was reflective of the changes under way within Iran (Ghoraishi, 1996; Tohidi, 1996b).

Despite some movement toward moderation, a disturbing continuity was reflected in Iranian opposition to certain egalitarian aspects of the Beijing Platform for Action, placing Iran among the leading conservative Muslim states in alliance with conservative Catholic states led by the Holy See (Vatican). According to Amnesty International, even during the June 2000 Beijing-Plus Five World Conference on Women in New York, “the unholy alliance formed by the Holy See, Iran, Algeria, Nicaragua, Syria, Libya, Morocco and Pakistan has attempted to hold to ransom women’s human rights.” (18)

Nevertheless, the Islamist women’s international interactions, especially at UN-sponsored conferences, have contributed to the transformation of their approach from sectarian and missionary to pragmatic tolerance. This shift, however, has been due not only to the international/global factor but also, and perhaps more so, to the national/local factor–changing societal realities in Iran, including the economic imperatives of growing urbanization and educational attainment among women. As reported by Poya, “throughout the 1980s and 1990s, more and more families have been relying on auxiliary or solely female earnings…. Factors such as inflation, male unemployment, and the war economy increased women’s active participation in the workforce” (Poya, 1999: 12). In their real lives and practices, then, Islamic women need more compatible role models than Fatima. Moreover, the moderation in the gender ideology of many Islamists has coincided with a moderation in the Iranian government’s foreign policy–a shift (at least among the moderate faction) from an isolationist and anti-West position to one seeking to integrate into the world market and to engage in dialogue among civilizations.

Elsewhere I have illustrated how international contacts, especially the UN-sponsored regional and international conferences and gender training and development projects (led by the UNDP, UNICEF, and UNIFEM) have stimulated and facilitated the dynamism, contradictions, and process of changes within specific Islamist women’s organizations and among a number of specific Islamist women individuals, thereby paving the way for the emergence of vigorous feminist discourses (Islamic as well as secular) and women’s movements in Iran and, in the future, in Azerbaijan. (19) Here, due to space limitations, I will only quote from an article in a right-wing paper–known for its misogynist and anti-democracy positions–that lashes out against women’s international contacts after the Beijing conference. This is just one example of the anxiety hard-line Islamists feel about the impact such conferences have had on the women participants–and their reaction to the relatively moderate position the supreme leader was compelled to take during his speech on the occasion of the “Woman’s Day” a few months after the Beijing conference.

In order to deceive public opinion, particularly the inexperienced women of

Muslim countries, world conferences and international congresses on women

are held nowadays one after another by the Mafia forces of Zionism. They

use all sorts of tricks to impose their satanic goals on Muslim societies

step by step…. What is the use of this “Woman’s Day” and “Woman’s Week”

during which our pious girls are made to perform public shows and

ceremonies that remind us of the propagandist demos of the Soviet bloc and

Taghuti [“idolatrous,” that is, Western] states? … What have we gained

from wasting the state budget to send women delegates to various countries

in the world and what are the criteria for selection of the delegates? …

How are we protecting our young and naive women who take part in these

conferences from the bad influence of the West? … Has not the rise of the

divorce rate to 17 percent terrified our authorities involved in women’s

issues? … Those influenced by the “Western model of woman” … can not

appreciate our family values and our women’s primary identities as mothers

and wives. (20)

One of the UN requirements for a delegation to participate in the Beijing Conference was the preparation of a reliable, jargon-free national report on women’s conditions. During the preparatory meetings for Beijing, many elite Islamist women were compelled to come up with a reliable report. The prepared report, which noted the lack of accurate statistics about women, was sent to the ruling male elite organs for confirmation. Apparently, it revealed an embarrassing situation regarding women, and so was held up and went through several changes. This example of the eye-opening, educational, and challenging process of preparation for a world conference on women brought home the relevance of women’s studies and feminist literature. Thanks to the women’s press such exposures to international feminisms went beyond the elite women. Reports on world and regional conferences on women and about the participation of Iranian NGOs and governmental organizations have usually appeared in women’s magazines like Zanan, Farzaneh, Payam-e Hajar, and Payam-e Zan.

Furthermore, since 1990, Iran had been elected to serve among the 45 voting members of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (for three consecutive periods). More than giving the Iranian Islamists leverage to impose their ideas, this must have provided the individuals involved with a unique opportunity to be exposed to global discourses on women’s rights and be pressured to comply with some internationally accepted standards. Women’s sports and transnational games have been another active arena for international contacts and connection building. Fa’ezeh Hashemi (daughter of former president Hashemi Rafsanjani), an active sportswoman herself, has played an important role in this area.

As in many other authoritarian regimes, a large number of the women organizations in Iran, usually headed by female kin of the ruling male elite, are state-connected or state-controlled. Since Mohammad Khatami’s presidency (in whose election women and youth played a key role), however, there has been considerable increase in and activism of the “third sector” and the NGOs, although many of them, particularly women NGOs, are now under political pressure (primarily by the conservative faction) and have had a difficult time maintaining their independence. Before looking at the role of the nongovernmental sector and the third category of international connections, another transnational factor in Iran–Afghanistan–should be pointed out.

The gender dimension of the interaction between Iran and Afghanistan is particularly interesting. Despite the Taliban’s extremist version of Islamism, especially with regard to women, Iranians perceived it as a product of the United States and its ally, Pakistan, a political rival to Iran in the region. Many Iranian Muslim reformers have identified the views, especially the gender attitudes of conservative Islamists in Iran, with those of the Afghan Taliban. For the Iranian conservatives, this has proved to be damaging in the electoral campaigns. For instance, in her Zanan editorial against conservative deputies in the fifth Majles who proposed a law for sex segregation of hospitals, Shahla Sherkat began with this polemic: “The path you have taken ends in Afghanistan!” (21) Reform-oriented Islamic women, as well as secular feminists in Iran, have emphatically opposed the Taliban. Residence in Iran by millions of Afghan refugees may also have made them more aware of and resistant to Taliban rule and practice.

Another piece of evidence of the ironic impact in Iran of the Taliban’s version of Islamism is related to the debates led by Mohsen Sa’idzadeh. A prominent cleric known for his support for women’s rights and feminist theology, Hojjat al-Islam Sa’idzadeh was imprisoned and defrocked for writing a newspaper article critical of the conservative clerics in Iran who teach and preach a Taliban-like version of Islam in the Qom seminaries. His more subtle and damning point was that Islam is open to many interpretations, including the Taliban’s version; hence a choice of how to interpret Islam is just that, a choice. (22)

The Integrative and Non-Governmental Approaches

The third category includes independent and dissident Iranian women activists and feminists inside and outside Iran who have sought international connections with women’s organizations in various parts of the world. Their purposes have included earning publicity for their cause, exchanging ideas and experiences, gaining a support network and solidarity in their fight against sexism and repression in Iran, and becoming a united part of the international women’s movement. The size and diversity of this category have been increasing as more women, religious as well as secular, members of religious minorities and Muslims, inside as well as outside Iran, join the forces of reform movements or the radical opposition because of their disillusionment with the Islamist state.

Long before President Khatami’s call for a “dialogue among civilizations,” women’s rights advocates had been trying to establish an international dialogue, especially to “normalize” public attitudes toward Western women and to shatter the prevalent negative stereotypes on both sides of “Western feminism” and “Muslim women.” Most women intellectuals, political activists, and feminists in Iran have been interested in global trends and international events, particularly the international women’s movement. Women activists in Iran, including many religious activists, have not limited themselves to allying only with women of the Muslim world. They have shown as much, if not more, curiosity about the discourses, struggles, and achievements of their non-Muslim and nonreligious sisters in the West and in the developing world.

The Women’s Press De-Centering of the “West” and De-Essentializing of “Western Feminism”

The efforts to discover the national/local or indigenous roots of Iranian feminism and argue for the “authenticity” of the women’s movement in Iran have not led to essentialized particularism or disregard of the universal aspects of feminism and the importance of international/global factors, including women’s movements in the West and Western feminism. Promotion of modernity and its distinction from Westernization, and de-essentialization of notions like the “West” and “Western” have been significant and sensitive aspects of the new counterdiscourse among advocates of “new religious thinking” (nov andishise dini) as well as secular feminists in Iran. This has occurred in parallel to efforts in the West by many scholars, writers, and feminist filmmakers against essentialized and monolithic understanding of Islam and negative stereotypes of Muslims, especially the view of Muslim women in Iran as mere victims and passive products of religious fundamentalism.

During the early years of the Islamic Republic of Iran, supportive words about Western women and feminist movements were taboo. But recently, even prominent Muslim women reformers such as Jamila Kadivar, a deputy in Majles, have spoken of “the significance of the international women’s movement and its positive impact on the improvement of women’s status in Iran.” (23) A more moderate and reasonable attitude toward the West and a more global rather than isolationist approach to feminism and the women’s movement seem to be spreading among many Islamic as well as secular women activists. But while secular feminists stress universal commonalities, Islamic women emphasize cultural differences. Rather than a fascination with the West and emulation of Western women, as was the case under the previous regime, or the hostility and negative essentialization of the West and Western feminism, which has been the agenda of the ruling Islamists, the new generation of women activists (including Islamic reformers) calls for a “normal relationship with and a balanced appreciation of weaknesses and strengths of the West, including its feminist experiences.” In a spirit similar to that of Narayan and Harding (2000), an Iranian secular feminist of the new generation, Ahmadi Khorasani, calls for “decentering the center,” moving away from Eurocentrism to a polycentric global approach:

We have always looked vertically and not horizontally. I am speaking more

to the establishment of stable and lasting relations with our female

neighbors. Maybe they can help us more effectively, because our situations

are a bit more similar. Why should we always place more value on the West?

While I am not condemning a look to the West, I’m also pointing to what’s

nearby. Look at Egypt; for example, they have a very strong history of a

women’s movement. Why not learn from their experiences? (see Ahmadi

Khorasani, 2000).

Nevertheless, deconstruction of the negative and stereotypical image of the “Western woman” in general and of feminism in particular has remained a delicate and precarious task. The women’s press has used every possible occasion to pursue this goal, slowly but consistently. It was only in the early 1990s that, for the first time, classic feminist literature from Britain, France, and the United States began to be translated and published in books, book chapters, and in the pages of the emergent women’s press, and it has been followed by works of women of color and “Third World” feminists. (24) The journal Zanan (Women), edited by Shahla Sherkat, played a pioneering role in this regard, (25) leading to what some call the “Islamic feminism” that gradually grew into a challenging voice within the reform movement. (26) The challenge of Islamic feminism that has arisen from within the faith has had to be taken more seriously by the Islamist male elite and its female allies. Conservative Islamist institutes and authorities have organized seminars and produced publications to counter and combat what the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has called “the threat of feminist tendencies among our Muslim sisters.” (27)

Zanan has not been alone. In addition to Payam-e Hajar (Hagar’s Message), edited by Azam Taleqani, and Farzaneh (Learned), edited by Mahboubeh Abbas-Gholizadeh, which slowly and more cautiously followed suit, a number of more recent women’s publications such as Hoquq-e Zanan (Women’s Rights), edited by Ashraf Geramizadegan (former editor of Zan-e Ruz), Zan (Woman), run by Fa’ezeh Hashemi (and banned after one year), and especially Jens-e Dovom? (The Second Sex?), have adopted an integrative and pluralistic approach and have tried to provide a new representation of the West, Islam, feminism, and the global women’s rights movement. The most internationally oriented and independent new publication on women is Jens-e Dovom, which has been coming out as a periodical anthology since 1998 under the editorship of a young secular feminist publisher, Noushin Ahmadi-Khorasani. (28) Since 1998, she has also begun publishing a global-oriented Women’s Calendar (Salnameh-ye Zanan) for the first time in Iran. The first issue of the calendar was harshly criticized in certain conservative publications and in threatening communiques by vigilantes trying to “alert revolutionary people and government authorities, especially the ministry of culture, against the danger of feminist and deviant historiography … that promotes the pre-Islamic era, unworthy women, and symbols of promiscuity … and worships foreigners.” (29)

Zanan and more recent periodicals like Jens-e Dovom? and Hoquq-e Zanan have tried to place current feminist activities and discourse in Iran’s historical perspective and also have tried to show hidden links between the Iranian women’s movement and global feminist movements. They have pursued an inclusive and internationalist approach, trying to bridge the gap between feminisms of various orientations, secular and Islamic, liberal and radical, by including writings and biographies along with photographs of non-Iranian, non-veiled Western or non-Western, as well as veiled Iranian women (artists, movie stars, writers, activists, workers and scholars), and translations of feminist literature, including introductions to various feminist theories and description of feminist organizations and women’s NGOs. (30)

Along with the women’s press, women writers and artists, especially filmmakers like Rakhshan Bani-E’temad and Tahmineh Milani, have been playing a significant role in the cultural reconstruction of gender attitudes of, women’s roles in, and the images of Iranian women at both national and international levels.

Diaspora Feminisms

Another influential local/global element in affecting feminism in Iran is the role of exiles and migrant women in diaspora communities in the West. In the past, because of language and geopolitical barriers, the women’s movement in Iran found it difficult to establish international connections. Compared to women in colonized countries, few Iranian women were armed with the languages of colonizers, which are also the languages of global feminist discourse. This, however, is changing, thanks not only to the growing numbers of highly educated women inside Iran, but also to a rise in the presence of Iranian women abroad. In the past, mostly men could go abroad for various purposes. Iranian women who live abroad have begun to help bridge the gap between Iranian feminists and feminists of other parts of the world and facilitate connections of the Iranian women’s movement with NGOs and women’s movements in other countries. According to Shahin Nava’i, in 1999 there were 97 Iranian women’s groups outside Iran, with the largest concentration in Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia. (31) Diaspora women activists have contributed to the women’s movement inside Iran at different levels, including the political, informational, theoretical, technical, and organizational. They have made these contributions through teaching, research, women’s activist groups, and, more recently, Internet sites. (32)

The activities of diaspora Iranian women include raising international awareness and mobilizing international pressure, especially that of the international human rights community against violations of women’s rights in Iran; mailing literature and supplying women activists inside Iran with materials and scholarly works published abroad; carrying out research on women in Iran (some of which gets translated and published in Iran as well as abroad); helping the women’s press financially through distribution and sales of its materials among immigrant communities abroad; and providing Iranian women’s rights pioneers with international forums, transnational connections, and visibility by inviting them to international academic conferences or political meetings.

Among the most internationally active vocal feminists in Iran are two prominent lawyers and recipients of several international human rights awards, Mehrangiz Kar and Shirin Ebadi, and writer and publisher Shahla Lahiji. Following their participation in an international conference on the Iranian reform movement (in Berlin in April 2000), Kar and Lahiji and a number of male dissident intellectuals were arrested. Ebadi, too, was later detained and tried behind closed doors for her defense of student activists. Thanks in part to an intense campaign by international human rights organizations, the three women were released on bail after being detained for a few months. (33)

The active and established women’s press in Iran now persistently criticizes the misogynist conservatives and also challenges the reformers and the “new Muslim intellectuals” (roshanfekran-e dini) about their passivity toward or negligence of the “Women Question.” The monthly Zanan, for example, has begun to publish a series of interviews with prominent Islamic reformist men, clerical and lay, forcing them to address women’s issues both theologically and theoretically and with regard to policy. Iranian feminist women scholars from inside and outside Iran have also contributed to these debates by criticizing the shortcomings of Islamic reformers concerning gender issues. (34)

Prospects for Feminism?

Such lively gender debates and intellectual confrontation between feminists and leading intellectuals, or between women deputies and conservative authorities, did not exist in the early years of the Islamic Republic, nor during the previous regimes. Yet, women in Iran have a long way to go before they see profound changes in favor of equal rights; an immediate barrier is the present sexist laws–including the constitution itself, which needs fundamental amendment.

Women in Azerbaijan, however, have already benefited from a secular and egalitarian legal system, thanks in part to the Soviet legacy. The main barrier to the actualization of women’s rights in Azerbaijan is not the legal system, but the persistence of a modern male supremacy within an authoritarian and corrupt polity (due in part to the Soviet legacy), and the socioeconomic hazards of marketization in an economy that is an oil-based monoculture, dominated by trade instead of production, and suffering from poverty, unemployment, the commercialization of sex, and the trafficking of women and narcotics. In Azerbaijan, as in many other post-Soviet republics, these trends, which are associated with Westernization and sexual “freedom,” have provoked defensive and reactionary attitudes–reinforced by religious and conservative nationalists–that emphasize male control over women’s bodies and their sexuality, reproductive capacity, and public role.

While the prospect for a strong feminist movement is not yet clear in Azerbaijan, in neighboring Iran, society seems to be ripe for vibrant civil rights and women’s movements of diverse feminist orientations. Despite conservative and patriarchal pressures, Iranian women NGOs and the women’s press continue their creative and courageous activities. For three consecutive years, both young and old women activists (in a growing number of cities) have dared to celebrate International Women’s Day. Feminist interventions are becoming visible in the broader pro-democracy and reform movement within various institutions; they are also becoming visible in families, the parliament, government offices, factories and other workplaces, universities, schools, cinemas, mosques and seminaries, and among political prisoners. Gender has become the blind spot in Iran’s democratization; a process that is becoming intertwined with the global movements for democracy and women’s/human rights.


(1) For a summary on the findings of this vast literature, see Ahmed (1992) and Keddie (2002).

(2) For discussion on these issues, see, for example, George (1992); Enloe (1990); and Jaggar (1998).

(3) See Caplan, Alarcon, and Moallem (1999), especially the chapter by Caren Caplan and Inderpal Grewal, “Transnational Feminist Cultural Studies: Beyond the Marxism/Poststructuralism/Feminism Divides.”

(4) On Azerbaijan, see Heyat (2000) and Tohidi (1996a, 1998, 2000, and 2003).

(5) For information on the male-biased legal changes brought about by the Islamic Republic of Iran, especially in the early years of its rule, see Tohidi (1991).

(6) For the history of the women’s movements in Iran, see Bayat-Philipp (1978); Sanasarian (1982); Nashat (1983); Paidar (1995); and Afary (1996).

(7) See, for example, Lahiji and Kar (1993).

(8) On women in contemporary Iran, see, for example, Hegland (1991); Sanasarian (1992); Moghadam (1993); Tohidi (1994); Afkhami (1994); Hoodfar (1996); Mir-Hosseini (1996); Friedl (1997); Esfandiari (1997); Najmabadi (1998); Nakanishi (1998); Poya (1999); Keddie (2000); Kian-Thiebaut (2002).

(9) Some portions of the following section are an updated and modified version of a similar discussion presented in Tohidi (2002).

(10) For an extensive discussion on the Catholic-Muslim alliance around gender issues during the UN world conferences, see Bayes and Tohidi (2001, ch. 1).

(11) Distinction should be made between Islam and Islamism and between Islamic and Islamist. While Islam and Islamic refer to the religion or faith and its cultural influence, Islamism and Islamist denote a political ideology and force that is determined to seize state power.

(12) Although promoted by some Shia ulama in both Iran and Azerbaijan, many Islamic women groups have remained critical of mut`a marriage. For an anthropological study on mut`a in Iran, see Haeri (1989).

(13) Author’s discussion (5 March 2000) with Shahla Haeri, who has carried out field research in Pakistan.

(14) Author’s observation during field research and Fulbright lectureship in Azerbaijan, 1991-1992.

(15) An example of an Islamist woman insisting on upholding the black chador as the symbol of Iranian women’s “religious and national identity” is Soraya Maknun, who holds a Ph.D. from an American university and is a professor at Al-Zahra University in Tehran.

(16) See, for instance, the statement made by Elaheh Kula’i in the Tehran daily Aftab-e Emruz, 18 Esfand 1378 (8 March 2000): 1.

(17) For sources of citations and further discussion, see Tohidi (1999).

(18) News release issued by Amnesty International. AI Index Act 77/008/2000 (5 June 2000).

(19) On the case of Iran, see Tohidi (2002) and on Azerbaijan, Tohidi (2003).

(20) Mohandes Mohammad-Ali Ramin, Sobh 65 (Dei 1375/December 1995).

(21) See Zanan, no. 42 (Farvardin and Ordibehesht 1377/April 1998): 2.

(22) On Sa`idzadeh and ongoing gender-related debates among the Iranian clerics and intellectuals, see Mir-Hosseini (1999, 2002); Afshar (1998); Najmabadi (1998); and Paidar (2001).

(23) See the chapter on the Beijing Conference in Kadivar (1996).

(24) In the years before the 1979 revolution, translation of only a few Western feminist writings, such as The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, were published. More popular among the leftist women activists were translated works of Russian and European socialists such as Alexandra Kollontai, Clara Zetkin, and Rosa Luxemburg, and some Latin Americans like Domitila Barrios de la Chungara.

(25) For the evolution of Shahla Sherkat from radical Islamist to Muslim feminist reformer and the collaboration of her type with secular feminists like Mehrangiz Kar, see Kar (2001):190-96.

(26) On “Islamic feminism” or Muslim feminism in Iranian context, see, for example, Paidar (1996, 2001); Mir-Hosseini (1996); Tohidi (1996c, 2002); Najmabadi (1998); Kamalkhani (1998); Afshar (1998); Keddie (2000); and Torab (2002).

(27) Cf. his lecture given during a meeting with women deputies on October 6, 2001 (BBC World Service persian/news/011006_vleader.shtml). Also see Shafiei Sarvestani (2000).

(28) Due to recent wave of repression against the reformers, especially the reformist press, Jens-e Dovom was closed but its editor has replaced it with Fasl-e Zanan (Women’s Season).

(29) See, for example, “Khatar-e gerayeshha-ye erteja’i dar taqvimnegari …” Jomhuri-ye Eslami 5756 (9 Ordibehesht 1378/April 1999): 7.

(30) For more concrete examples of such transnational efforts by the women’s press, see Tohidi (2002).

(31) See Ava-ye Zan 38/39 (Winter 1999): 18.

(32) Examples of Internet sites on Iranian women in Persian or in English and Persian are:;;;; and

(33) In addition to these three women, several students and intellectual reformers, including some progressive clerics like Yusefi Eshkevari, are still either imprisoned or under persecution by the Revolutionary Court for speaking out against theocracy and extremist Islamist ideas and policies, including gender politics.

(34) See, for example, Zanan 57-71 (December 1999 to January 2001).


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–. “Gender and National Identity in Post-Soviet Azerbaijan: A Regional Perspective.” Gender and Identity Construction: Women of Central Asia, the Caucasus and Turkey. Eds. Ferida Acar and Ayse G. Ayata. Boston: Brill, 2000: 249-92.

–. “International Connections of the Iranian Women’s Movement.” Iran and the Surrounding World: Interactions in Culture and Cultural Politics. Eds. Nikki Keddie and Rudi Matthee. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002: 205-231.

–. “Women, Democratization and Islam in Post-Soviet Azerbaijan.” Post-Soviet Women Encountering Transition. Eds. Kathleen Kuehnast and Carol Nechemias. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center, forthcoming, 2003.

Tohidi, Nayereh, and Jane Bayes. “Women Redefining Modernity and Religion in the Globalized Context.” Globalization, Gender, and Religion: The Politics of Women’s Rights in Catholic and Muslim Contexts. Eds. Jane Bayes and Nayereh Tohidi. New York: Palgrave, 2001: 17-61.

Tomb, Azam. “The Politicization of Women’s Religious Circles in Post-Revolutionary Iran.” Women, Religion, and Culture in Iran. Eds. Sarah Ansari and Vanessa Martin. London: Curzon, 2002.

Women Living under Muslim Law. Sudan Women and Law Project. Cedex, France: Women Living Under Muslim Law, 1996.

Nayereh Tohidi is Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at California State University, Northridge. She has written extensively on women and gender, democratization, modernization, and Islamism (fundamentalism) in the greater Middle East, especially Iran and post-Soviet Azerbaijan. Her recent publications include Women in Muslim Societies: Diversity within Unity (1998).

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