Saturday, June 14, 2008

why the Women's Movement ist (more) successful?

Why the Women’s Movement is (more) Successful?
A Sociological Reflection on the Women’s Movement in Iran.

by Aseman Moghadam

A review of the activities and achievements of the women’s movement in Iran, makes clear that for some time this movement has – in many ways and forms - moved ahead of other movements and political efforts. Among others, the freedom of Nazanin [1], pardon of Makrameh [2], the noticeable increase of international solidarity with the “ Change For Equality Campaign”[3], the presence of men and youth in this campaign side by side with the women, the questioning of the absolute nature of patriarchal regime, debates on gender taboos as well as the bestowing of the Olaf Palme Prize to Parvin Ardalan, are some of the achievements of the this movement in the past solar (Iranian) year.

Therefore, it is appropriate , that when speaking of the battles fought by the Iranian women, instead of noting and repeating a sense of solidarity with this movement, we earnestly study this movement first within its active structures such as the “ Change For Equality Campaign” and second in its equality seeking aspirations, and view it as a role model in our endeavour to recognize new and effective modes of struggle and action.

Here the questions arise , of what makes the women’s movement in Iran different , and what are the values based on which this movement develops and grows?

The South Korean sociologist Kim Dong-Chun, , has in his research presented a comparative study of the social movements in Korea and Western European countries , and assessed the Korean social movements based on the special conditions and specifications of the developing countries [4]. He is of the belief that in the developing countries , social movements further contact between the less well off classes and the intellectual layers of society and grow with reliance on the joint movement of these two. In the opinion of Kim Dong, this is rooted in the fact that the goal of these movements is to bring about radical change in society [5]. Kim Dong-chun also is against the dominant Marxist theory in the sociology of social movements which consider class differences as the main force of social action in the developing countries [6] . Supporters of the idea of mobilization of resources, such as Jenkins and McAdam , who pay specific attention to the strategies of social movements , and see these as the representatives and agents of social transformation, stress the fact that in social movements those actors reach their goals who are capable of mobilizing and activating social and human resources to a great and considerable degree. What those who support this theory mean as constituting social resources, is especially the actions and efforts of various social groups and individuals [7]. Furthermore, some of those backing the theory of a mobilization of resources, who affiliate themselves with the theory of Political Process, believe that the sources and origination of social movements is a form of reaction and collective response of a layer or layers of society to the given structures- or certain given and yet positive conditions of a society [8]. Here positive conditions, however, do not refer to a clear and given possibility for legal , formal and long term change. Rather, special and positive conditions refer to accidental and specific moments which allow the activists of and participants in a social movement to gain courage and momentum.

This article seeks to study and explain the developments in the Iranian Women’s movement, based on these noted three theories.

The Iranian women’s movement flourished once in the aftermath of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution and again during the “reform” period of the seventies and eighties of the current solar calendar Century [9]. The origin and cause of this manifestation , was both times in the direct correlation of the existing political currents and ongoing dialogues. Matching the theory of political process with the grounds for the coming into existence of the women’s movement, it is made clear that this movement was in its formation a reaction to the given appropriate political and historical conditions. Here it is necessary to explain that these appropriate conditions do not refer to the suitability of political and historical conditions to the demands of the given movement. It is clear that neither under the tyranny of the Qajar period, nor while Islamic fundamentalists rule, no basic changes had or have taken place, which could allow the women’s movement to lean on and grow. But the social dialogues of these two periods , which themselves came about and grew out of the common bonds with social movements following their political activities and created short term currents as well the existence of suitable conditions for the development of such movements, gave them room for growth.

Leaning on the Political process theory, one can explain the social conditions which surrounded the Iranian women’s movement from the time after the Constitutional Revolution until today and its natural development. And this in the essence that each time, the women’s movement has come about naturally and in reaction to the existing limitations and political as also historical cause and effects. The measure and flow of historical and political phenomena while increasing the common causes of women, encouraged them towards group action.

The Iranian women’s movement, due to its critical and sensitive role, has during its current growth - as in the time after the Constitutional Revolution and in the process of the struggles of the national movement - presented us with a new and tangible model. The model of struggle of the woman’s movement crystallizes itself in the ways and means it chooses to face the restrictions, laws and social phenomena , which Mr. Masoud Behnoud has noted thus, in his article “For March 8th, handcuffs of gold and silver” : “in the male annals of history , they wrote unwillingly of the women’s demonstrations in front of the Shamsolemareh building, when women brought out their pots and pans from under their full veils, and beat on these with their spoons , meaning we are hungry, as the first form of civil protest.” Also he refers to women standing before tanks during the 1953 Coup , at the Amin hozor crossing. If we take these two examples referred to by Mr. Behnoud , as two instances of the struggles of the women’s movement within the last 100 years, it will be made absolutely clear that that Iranian women have entered upon their battles with specific, planned and effective actions.

The unprecedented International solidarity with the Iranian movement within the last years and their success in networking among the various layers of society, throughout the country as well as with organs abroad, can be viewed with the support of those backing the idea of the “mobilization of resources”, as the convincing success of this movement in mobilizing resources and human capital. Although the women’s movement has so far not been able to push back the ruling forces, it has been successful in bringing a large sector of the population - which had in the last decade in their silence and inactivity turned into passive enablers of the regime - to its own side and encouraging them into action and expression of opinion. Although the women’s movement has (yet) to bring forward a reevaluation of the Koran and has not achieved a change in the laws, it has by questioning Shariah (the body of Islamic religious law), broken the taboo of absolute adherence to these. It is fitting to say that the slogan of civil disobedience that has for many years been advertised by the different sections of the opposition, and yet due to the lack of the adequate political and activist structures been reduced to the pushing back of the veil or wearing a modified version of the mandatory female “uniform”, was under the influence of the formation and demands of the women’s movement not only made operative , but went further than the limitations of dress and veil, to cover a disobedience of the Shariah laws. Although, it is far too early for us to consider these developments as a form of social transformation in its classical sense
as viewed by the supporters of the theory of mobilization of resources. However it is clear that according to this theory , the women’s movement as the representative and agent of social change , especially through its success in activating human resources and in gaining the support and backing of various social groups, has taken a constructive step in the process of the transformation of society.

The pliant and fluid soul of the women’s movement on the one hand, and its effective activities on the other , have furthered its reach among the various layers of the society and allowed greater harmony with the mode, culture and atmosphere which exists in this society; so that the sum of these specifics creates a suitable condition for the growth , and meaningful as well as attractive influence of this movement within the society. The promotion and realization of the real steps and demands among the various layers of society, especially within the last several years for example via the“ Change For Equality Campaign”, is in verification of the view of the Korean sociologist, Kim Dong-chun, noting that in developing countries, social movements create a relationship between intellectuals and various social classes and grow in turn via the joint activities of these. A very important and noteworthy point here lies not only in the success of the women’s movements among the various layers of the society which have been encouraged into becoming active, but also in laying before all the large field of actions which are possible. Although, certainly discussion about the wide spectrum of the mobilized resources requires more research.

Another specific mark of the Iranian women’s movement is its lack of ideological positioning. Even while this movement has arisen against the ruling and state ideology, it does not fit its own justice and equality seeking aspirations within any form of ideology. And thus the women’s movement exactly because of its non-ideological and self-made structure has not become an organization. Also, this movement from one side due to its concrete demands and from the other based on its social makeup and consequently its honesty in the selection of its aspirations , does not involve itself in the struggle for power, neither within its own structures nor in relation with the given ruling and state forces. Of course this does not mean that there is an absolute lack of inner structural competition for power, but indicates that this structure reduces concentration on competition for power, and gives priority to active options for the realization of common goals. Contrary to the mistaken notion that among the ranks of women, based on gender solidarity and the common experience of “common injustice”, no hierarchy ensues, we must note that the lack or relative weakness of such a hierarchy and power seeking rivalry is one of the specific features of the women’s movement and not of sisterly solidarity. Thus, the named structure contrary to the usual and common organizational ones, which concentrate the energy and efforts of individuals towards within the organization and the own given group, leads the sight of women activists to the outer world and to coming into contact herewith.

In this connection, women, by opening the doors of dialogue regarding the movement’s internal as well as latent conflicts , and honestly and openly noting the existence of power rivalry, came to consciously face this phenomena and to seek to protect their movement against the dangers and negative aspects of a centralized power-seeking.

Although the women’s movement has in giving natural and yet constant rise to its demands, been faced with limitations and serious barriers such as the denial of voting rights to women in the period after the Constitutional Revolution, the dissolution of the women’s society during the rule of Reza Shah and execution of the anti-women Shariah Laws under the rule of the Supreme Leader, in looking back at the last hundred years we can note that the women’s movement has - due to its inner structure - been always proceeding forward, so that it has even attracted the potential of other forces to itself. Also, by laying its fingers on important and specific themes and subjects and in working to achieve concrete and tangible demands, it has taken the understanding of struggle from an ideal, slogan-filled and constrained sense and has given it a practical and realizable form and framework. As the result of this , the dialogue given rise to by women has gone from an intellectual one to a daily, tangible and people- involving form. Therefore, it would not be unrealistic to say that the Iranian women’s movement from among the wide spectrum of those belonging to the opposition, from progressives to those against the regime and the opposition abroad, is more successful than others.

If we consider the given realities in the women’s movement under the terms of the above made statement, the result is that the women’s movement in Iran by carrying through its current strategy and methods, can in the long term give channel to social change and aid in bringing this about. Because this movement, has until now, played an important and exceptional role in the formation of social and political opinion, which is the source of the progress and developing process for any social transformation.

[1] Nazanin Mahabad Fatehi, was previously sentenced to death by hanging, for killing a man who ambushed and tried to rape her at the age of 17.
[2] Makrameh Ebrahimi was sentenced to death by stoning and granted a pardon only after much effort by her lawyer and a national as well as international campaign. (Her partner Jafar Kiani was stoned to death in July 2007, before his name and whereabouts were available to local activists.)
[3] The Change for Equality or One Million Signatures Campaign
[4] Kim Dong-chun, 1997
[5] Hee- Young Yi, 2005
[6] Jenkins, 1983
[7] McAdam, 1988
[8] Miethe, 1999
[9] Tarrow, 1991

No comments: