This issue of
Iran Reports delves into a range of issues surrounding the Women, Life, Freedom movement, and how it has challenged the Iranian state’s policies on veiling, gender inequality, and political control, leading to one of the longest-lasting protests in post-revolutionary Iran.
This collection of essays starts with Mehran Kamrava’s overview of the movement and its significance, characteristics, and domestic consequences. Kamrava claims that the Islamic Republic state’s social policies have primarily targeted women in order to impose its conservative interpretation of Islam. He argues that the protests which started in September 2022 are different from similar previous events as they broke out over forced hijab, posing an ideological challenge to the state. According to Kamrava, other significant elements of the protests include the central role of women and the movement’s scale and duration. He contends that while the protests have exacerbated the loss of state legitimacy, the security forces have remained loyal to the state. Kamrava claims that the protests would have long-term social consequences and argues that the latest chain of unrest indicates a gap between the state and society, with women playing a dominant role.
In the second essay, Amir Hossein Mahdavi explains the institutional factors that led to the eruption of the movement, examining its political implications. Mahdavi highlights the fact that the Islamic Republic has failed to make governance more efficient, leading to declining public trust in the government. Supreme Leader Khamenei’s powerful role and significant involvement in governance have rendered elected institutions irrelevant. Mahdavi also highlights the implementation of the “second phase” of the revolution, which aims to install officials loyal to Khamenei in all branches of the government in preparation for his eventual demise. According to Mahdavi, this has created a form of “internal colonialism,” where the pro-Islamic Republic elites have monopolized the political scene in the country. Mahdavi also places the movement in the context of ongoing sanctions against Iran, as well as dim prospects for restoring the JCPOA, which have exacerbated people’s dire economic conditions.
Taking a historical approach, Zahra Tizro highlights the contradictions faced by Iranian women as a result of the state’s competing discourses on ways of being. She explains how Iranian women’s roles and rights have changed over time. According to Tizro, these tensions have extended to all areas of life for women, making it difficult for them to navigate through it all and bargain for their rights. She argues that the structures of power and knowledge need to change to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.
In his essay, Mohammad Hossein Badamchi also frames the protests as a struggle against the persistence of patriarchal oppression and women’s subordination. He traces the significance of the hijab and how it became a tool to control women’s bodies. Badamchi notes that until recently, the issue of hijab was never taken seriously in political debates. Some women activists have also been more concerned with legal rights than the issue of the dress code and compulsory hijab, which they see only as secondary. The Women, Life, Freedom movement has revived the debate on compulsory hijab and highlighted how it directs every facet of women’s lives.
Together, the four articles provide analyses of a movement with significant political, economic, and social consequences. All of the essays conclude that the only way to address widespread discontent is through reforms. However, the aftermath of the movement has shown that the Islamic Republic state is unwilling to make compromises and, instead, has tightened its grip on women’s freedom.
Mohammad Hossein Badamchi is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Institute for Social and Cultural Studies in Tehran, Iran.
Hamideh Dorzadeh is a Researcher and Coordinator of the Iranian Studies Unit at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS). Prior to joining the ACRPS, she was a translator and research assistant for the Islamic Bioethics Project at Georgetown University Qatar. She has also worked as a research consultant for the Quadrennial/Rubaiyat project at Qatar Museum, where she researched Qatar’s demographics, social, historical, environmental, and economic developments.
Mehran Kamrava is Professor of Government at Georgetown University in Qatar. He also directs the Iranian Studies Unit at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies. Kamrava is the author of a number of journal articles and books, including, most recently,
Righteous Politics: Power and Resilience in Iran (Cambridge University Press, 2023);
A Dynastic History of Iran: From the Qajars to the Pahlavis (Cambridge University Press, 2022);
Triumph and Despair: In Search of Iran’s Islamic Republic (Oxford University Press, 2022);
A Concise History of Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2020);
Troubled Waters: Insecurity in the Persian Gulf (Cornell University Press, 2018); and Qatar: Small State, Big Politics (Cornell University Press, 2015).
Amir Hossein Mahdavi is a PhD scholar in Political Science at the University of Connecticut. A former newspaper editor in Iran, he holds MAs in History and Middle Eastern Studies from Brandeis University and Harvard University respectively. Mahdavi’s research interests include political institutions and the political economy of authoritarian regimes. Previously, he was a scholar with the Institute for Quantitative Social Science and the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandies University. His analysis has appeared in
The Washington Post, and
Julie Mariotti is an MA student at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, with a keen interest in international relations, geopolitics, and global security. She is an intern at the Iranian Studies Unit of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.
Zahra Tizro is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Social Change Department of Psychological Sciences, School of Psychology, University of East London. Her research interests focus on gender, sexuality, and violence from a cross-cultural perspective. Tizro is the author of
Domestic Violence in Iran: Women, Marriage and Islam (Routledge, 2012).