For Iran's women, the real struggle goes on
Three weeks ago, in the wake of the upheavals that deposed the Shah, Iran's women took to the streets once again. As they saw it, the new Islamic regime was threatening to deny them freedoms they thought they had already won. TIME'S Jane O'Reilly went to Iran for a look at the "women's revolution." Her report:
As suddenly as they had begun, the women's marches ended. Three weeks ago, thousands of women spontaneously rose up to protest the Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini's apparent opinion that women should return to the veil, or chador (a shapeless garment that covers a woman from head to toe). When they shouted, "In the dawn of freedom, there is no freedom," they were supported by many others who feared that the promises of the revolution were not being kept: workers, ethnic and religious minorities, landless peasants, middle-class men.
By last week the protesters were off the streets. For one thing, Khomeini had backed down, saying that he had merely been suggesting modest dress. Also, the women were reluctant to endanger the already hard-pressed government of Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, who has been receptive to their complaints.
But the chief reason the marches ended may have been that the women felt they had presented their case. Said one: "The point of the marches was freedom to choose. We have nothing against the chador; we are only against compulsion. We marched for everybody's rights." Harder-line elements of the new government condemned the marchers as "CIA inspired" and "counterrevolutionaries." When Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, director of national radio and television, called for a counterdemonstration, 100,000 people flooded into the spring sunshine, half of them in chadors. Earnest men passed out leaflets to uncovered women reading: "Sister, I value your modesty above the blood I have given." Women marched under banners supporting the Islamic republic and shouted support for Ghotbzadeh, under whose tenure unveiled women have disappeared from TV screens.
Was the women's protest, then, a short-lived eruption, a minor blip in the revolution? No. Many who protested against the chador respect Khomeini, are devout Muslims and believers in an Islamic state, and above all fear being separated from the revolution and divided among themselves (as they have been traditionally). But for them the anti-Shah revolution and the outbreak against the new regime's edicts proved an experience that, in the West, would be called consciousness raising. "We women don't yet know who we are," says Lily Mostafavi, a government worker. But, she adds, "we have begun a great dialogue."