Fundamentalist Views on Women
Throughout the world, women still suffer from discrimination and oppression, for no
reason other than their gender. In essence, the plight and suffering of women is the same
for all of us. Today, major issues such as peace, social and economic development, and the
spread of democracy have become unavoidably entangled with the issues of women.
Despite its defiance, the male-dominated regime is retreating step by step. Yet at the
same time, a reactionary, violent and suppressive force called fundamentalism is emerging.
Misogynous in character, fundamentalism or religious fanaticism, best represented by
Khomeini and his successors in Iran, is threatening all the achievements of the civilized
world, particularly those of women. Under the banner of Islam, the fundamentalists are
denying the equality of women and men.
Islamic fundamentalism establishes its thesis on the differences between the sexes and
the conclusion that the male is superior, and hence, the female is a slave at his service.
A parliamentarian in Iran is on record as saying, "Women must accept the reality of
men dominating them, and the world must recognize the fact that men are superior."
Ultimately, the fundamentalists do not believe women are human. One of the Iranian
regimes key ideologues says: "Women and men are equal in their humane essence,
but they are two different forms of humans, with two different sets of attributes and two
From the fundamentalist mullahs perspective, sexual vice and virtue are the
principal criteria for evaluation of women. The most ignoble and unforgivable of all sins
is sexual wrongdoing. Piety, chastity and decency are measured by sex-related yardsticks,
and seldom applied to political and social realms. Fundamentalism conceives of woman as
sinister and satanic; she is the embodiment of sin and seduction. She must not step beyond
her house, lest her presence in society breed sin. She must stay at home, serving her
husbands carnal desires; if she fails to comply, she is compelling her man to commit
sin outside the home.
The top officials of the fundamentalist regime in Iran emphasize that it is the
"sacred" responsibility of a woman to serve her husband and take care of the
household. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the mullahs "supreme leader," has
declared that "womens first job is to be a wife and mother." Khamenei
dismissed the notion of womens equal participation in social life in July 1997 as
"negative, primitive and childish."
When Mohammad Khatami became president in May 1997, there were optimistic predictions
that changes were on the way. Despite all the propaganda, Mullah Khatami and his
administrations deeds point to the fact that mullahs "moderation" is
nothing but a mirage. Khatami is just as committed to the medieval system of Velayat-Faqih
that Khomeini founded. His administration is no different than previous governments, and
rests on the same basis of fanatic fundamentalism. In that context, his views on women
come as no surprise. Speaking to Salaam newspaper on May 11, 1997, just days before
his election, Khatami declared: "One of the Wests biggest mistakes was the
emancipation of women, which destroyed the family... Staying at home does not mean being
pushed to the sidelines... We must not think that social activity means working outside
the home. Housekeeping is among the most important of tasks."
Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Khatamis predecessor, who currently heads the
powerful Council to Determine State Exigencies, is on record as declaring unequivocally
that women are inferior and must be treated differently under the law: "Justice does
not mean that all laws must be the same for men and women... The difference in the
stature, vitality, voice, development, muscular quality, and physical strength of men and
women shows that men are stronger and more capable in all fields... Mens brains are
larger... Men incline toward reasoning and rationalism while women basically tend to be
emotional. These differences affect the delegation of responsibilities, duties and
Mullah Mohammad Yazdi, the Head of the Judiciary, also emphasizes the subservience of
women: "If kneeling before God were not obligatory, wives should have knelt before
their husbands." He also said: "A woman is wholly the possession of her husband,
and her public life is conditional upon her husbands consent."
These blatantly prejudiced views shed light on how discriminatory legislation against
women has been proposed, adopted, and enforced in Iran since 1979. All the existing laws
in Iran, which deal with the rights of women, arise from the stereotyped presumption that
men are endowed with the right to dominate women. A man can divorce his wife freely and
has the right to retain custody of their children. Article 105 of the Civil Code
stipulates: "In the relationship between husband and wife, heading the family is
characteristic of the husband." The Islamic Council of Guardians decreed that "a
woman does not have the right to leave her home without her husbands permission,
even to attend her fathers funeral."
There are inequalities in punishments for similar crimes. While in most cases harsher
punishments are issued for women, their credibility as witnesses and inheritance rights
are half those of men. Article 115 of the Constitution specifically excludes women from
the presidency. The law also excludes them from appointment to judgeships. Yazdi, the Head
of the Judiciary, commented on December 15, 1986: "No matter at what stage of
knowledge, virtue, perfection, and prudence a woman is, she does not have the right to
rule... Even if a righteous accredited woman possesses all qualifications, she cannot
assume a leadership position nor can she pass judgment, because she is a woman." In
the words of another Iranian official, women are "immature" and need
The fundamentalists look at the world and the hereafter through sex-tinted glasses.
Throughout history, they have fabricated their own fantasies and moral lessons and
attributed them to the Prophet Mohammad. I wish to emphasize that I address these issues
as a Muslim woman. In my view, fundamentalism clearly runs counter to Islamic thinking.
There is no Quranic justification whatsoever for denying women the right to lead, to rule
or to judge. On the contrary, Islam and the Quran hold men and women equally responsible
before God. Thus, their equality in leadership and social responsibility is also stressed
on various occasions.
Contrary to all of Khatamis attempts to put a positive spin on the mullahs
misogynist treatment of women for international consumption, his cabinet does not include
even one woman. The appointment of a woman, Massoumeh Ebtekar, as deputy for environmental
protection, was supposed to reflect "moderation" and Khatamis attention to
womens rights. But this woman vice president is no "moderate," and is
notorious as a staunch advocate of suppressing womens rights. As a Spokesperson for
the hostage-takers who captured the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, she once told an ABC
Television correspondent that she was personally willing to take a gun and kill the
hostages. (The New York Times, January 28, 1998). In an interview with Die
Tageszeitung on October 18, Ebtekar defended discrimination against women and medieval
punishments, like stoning. In response to a question on stoning to death, Ebtekar said:
"One should take the psychological and legal affairs of the society into
consideration as well. If family rules and regulations are broken, it would result in many
complex, grave consequences for all of the society."
In response to a question about revoking laws such as the one stipulating that women
need their husbands written permission to travel, she replied: "Man is
responsible for the financial affairs of the family and for seeing that members of the
family are not harmed. Thus, a woman needs her husbands permission to make a trip.
Otherwise, due to problems that would arise, a rift would come between them."
Actually, it is this distorted, misogynous interpretation of Islam that provides the
Iranian law and government with the basis for its sermonizing on the inferiority and
subservience of women, encouraging more violence against them. As head of the
Revolutionary Cultural Council, Khatami officially refused to commit the regime to the
international convention banning discrimination against women the United Nations
Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Not
surprisingly, the plight of women has not improved since he took office, despite the
barrage of propaganda purporting otherwise. Official statistics released on July 4
indicate that the dropout rate for girls in rural districts is 90 percent. During the
1995-96 school year, 54,829 girls left school before graduating, 65 percent of whom were
from the country.
Abrar newspaper reported that women living in urban areas make up just 9.5
percent of the workforce; in rural areas this pitiful figure drops to 8.8 percent. In an
international study comparing the workforce conditions for women around the world, Iran
was rated 108th out of a field of 110. Khatamis advisor on womens affairs,
Zahra Shojai, acknowledged in remarks reported by Islamic Republic News Agency
on May 8 that even highly qualified women are discriminated against in employment in
government offices: "Some officials are of the opinion that men have more of a role
in running the family, so they favor the men." In the same conversation, Shojai
referred to the chador as "the superior national dress of the women of Iran."
New legislation to segregate health care, currently under consideration in the
parliament, underscores the misogynist outlook of the mullahs. The plan, which Iranian
medical professionals are doing their best to fight, will limit Irans women even
further from health care facilities. On April 11, 1998 prior to this latest controversy,
Revolutionary Guards and agents from the Intelligence Ministry attacked a gathering of
1,800 protesting physicians in Tehran. A group of the professionals, including a number of
women doctors, were beaten and dragged off to unknown locations.
Reports from inside Iran reveal that the mullahs regime has also intensified its
attacks on the population, particularly against women and youths, and harassment in the
streets by the so-called "Hezbollahi" (Party of God) mercenaries is on the rise.
Agence France Presse reported on November 30, 1997 that "Iranian security
forces arrested a large number of women for improper veiling or attire that was not
compatible with Islamic regulations." The AFP correspondent witnessed police forcing
many young women into patrol cars in northern Tehran. About ten young women, some of whom
were wearing colorful head scarves and light make-up, were witnessed in a police vehicle
in Vanaks shopping mall.
Such incidents shed light on the circumstances of girls and women in Iran. Even a brief
glance reveals the catastrophic consequences of their abuse and exploitation at the hands
of the fundamentalists.
Sale of Girl Children
Girl children suffer the worst conditions in Iran today. According to the clerical
regimes rules and regulations, a girl child can virtually be bought and sold with
the consent of her male guardian. Article 1041 of the Civil Code provides that
Marriage before puberty (nine full lunar years for girls) is prohibited. Marriage
contracted before reaching puberty with the permission of the guardian is valid provided
that the interests of the ward are duly observed."
It has become common practice to sell or force very young girls to marry much older
husbands, giving rise to all sorts of social ills. Adineh magazine wrote in summer
1991: "An 11-year-old girl was married off to a 27-year-old man. The father, who had
seven daughters, received $300 for his consent. The morning after the marriage ceremonies,
the girl was taken to hospital suffering from severe lacerations to her genitals."
The state-controlled daily, Ressalat, reported on December 15, 1991, that due to
extreme poverty and the absence of the most basic facilities, the deprived people of
northern Khorassan sell their young girls for as little as $33. The buyers, mostly from
Gonabad, take the girls away and put them to work on farms and in workshops. In the
impoverished province of Sistan-Baluchistan (southeastern Iran), girls eight - ten years
old are sold by their drug-addicted parents for $4. Children are
routinely abused in the labor force, and girls as young as four are used in the brick
manufacturing, carpet weaving, textile and clothing industries.
According to the penal code, a nine-year-old girl can be punished as an adult by
flogging, execution and even stoning. Given the arbitrary punishments and the virtual lack
of due process of law, large numbers of children have been executed, in many cases without
being officially charged or even having their identities established.
Rape of Female Prisoners
In a report on November 22, 1994, the United Nations Special Rapportuer on violence
against women said "the public stoning and lashing of women serves to
institutionalize violence against women. The Special Rapportuer has received many
allegations of such violent punishments being inflicted on women in the Islamic Republic
According to a special "religious decree" issued by Ayatollah Khomeini,
virgin women prisoners must be raped before execution to prevent their going to heaven. A
Guard conducts the rape the night before their murder. The next day, the religious judge
at the prison issues a marriage certificate and sends it to the victims family,
along with a box of sweets.
Tens of thousands of women have been subjected to cruel torture and execution. One
method is particularly revealing: the Revolutionary Guards fire a single bullet into the
womb of women political prisoners, leaving them to bleed to death in a slow process of
excruciating pain. Even pregnant women are not spared, and hundreds have been executed
with their unborn children. Many defenseless women prisoners are held in what are
euphemistically referred to as "residential quarters" in prisons, where the
Guards systematically rape them in order to totally destroy them.
In an eyewitness report, Amnesty International revealed how the small children of many
young women in Evin Prison are viciously abused. Witness Helmut Szimkus, a German
engineer, told Amnesty International they are kept "because they are an asset to the
prison authorities for gaining confessions." Szimkus, who was released after serving
a lengthy sentence in an Iranian prison, said he witnessed several cases where Iranian
children were tortured in the presence of their parents. "One time these guys
[torturers] raped a nine-year-old girl. The parents had to watch. The father shook and
rattled so badly that he could no longer sign the espionage confession they put before
The social environment imbedded in the misogynous views, laws and policies of the
fundamentalist regime naturally spawns corruption, making it increasingly difficult for
women to survive. Women bear the brunt of the economic difficulties and social barriers
and restrictions. Large numbers of deprived women have been forced into prostitution or
become addicted to drugs. Meanwhile, the clerical regime, touting Islam, claims to accord
"divine respect" to women.
"It is appalling. Never has prostitution been so rampant. But everything is done
behind the veil," Mahin, a 47-year old female Iranian jurist purged by the mullahs,
told Helen Kami, the French journalist for Elle magazine who visited Iran in
January 1997. Kami writes: "Prostitutes regularly roam Gandhi Street in north Tehran.
At 5 p.m., we go to Istanbuli Street, also in north Tehran. The cab drivers, looking for
wealthy or foreign patrons, are driving slowly. In exchange for only $1 (500 Tomans), they
can provide you with girls, alcoholic beverages, heroin and hashish."
Many more of the social consequences of the mullahs rule date back to the
destructive, meaningless Iran-Iraq war, dragged on by Khomeinis regime for eight
years. In this case, too, women and children suffered most. Since it was very difficult
for a widow to provide for herself and raise a family in Irans highly patriarchal
society, multitudes turned to prostitution as the only means of survival. According to the
Associated Press of July 21, 1989, the arrest of a war widow for prostitution
touched off a national scandal, because the woman had prostituted herself as a last resort
to feed her family.
Ressalat, a state-controlled newspaper, reported on July 3, 1991: "Three
large brothels were discovered and shut down in Tehran in the past month alone.
Thirty-eight women were arrested. Most of the arrested women said during interrogation
that they had turned to prostitution as a result of poverty."
Unemployment and skyrocketing prices make it impossible for millions of Iranians to get
married and raise a family. At a seminar on the difficulties of getting married, Ayatollah
Haeri Shirazi proposed in January 1997 that authorities promote an unofficial, temporary
marriage called sigheh, that can last less than 24 hours and be repeated as many
times as desired. This form of exploitation of women has become very widespread, and
legitimizes sexual relations with very young girls. Quoting Mahin, the Iranian jurist, the
Elle magazine reporter wrote in January 1997 about the life of a 9-year-old girl
whose destitute parents arranged for her to be a sigheh. The man visits his
temporary "wife" every weekend at her fathers house, for which privilege
he pays her father about $12 per visit.
Not surprisingly, AIDS is spreading in Iran at an alarming rate. Despite the serious
health and social problems this poses, little is being done to address the crisis.
Stoning in Iran: A Medieval Atrocity Conducted In Modern Times
The desperate women forced into prostitution, as a direct result of the regimes
policies, have to endure very harsh punishments, including public flogging and death by
stoning. In one case, a religious judge convicted 17 members of an alleged prostitution
ring. Among them were 14 brothers and sisters from a single family. Ten women and one man
were stoned to death, two women and another man were hanged.
At least seven individuals have been stoned to death in public since Khatamis
election. On August 12, Agence France Presse reported that a 20-year-old woman who
had been stoned "came to life" in the hospital morgue. The unidentified woman
had been condemned to stoning by Boukans Islamic court. After the verdict of stoning
to death was carried out, the coroner confirmed her death, but she began to breathe at the
The penalty for fornication, under articles 100 and 102 of the penal code, is only
flogging for the unmarried male offender, but stoning to death for the unmarried female
offender. Adulterers may be stoned to death, irrespective of their gender, but a man is
buried up to his waist, and a woman up to her neck. Article 119 stipulates that the stones
should not be so large as to kill the victim quickly, nor too small to cause severe
Caught in a vicious cycle of social humiliation and coercion, economic dependence,
family insecurity, fear for their childrens lives as well as their own, shame, lack
of confidence, daily harassment for "improper veiling," insults, and sexual
abuse, Iranian women lead a bleak life. Feelings of despair and helplessness cast dark
shadows over the lives of many, giving rise to a growing trend of suicide. A study in 1992
showed that twice as many women commit suicide as men.
Another study in 1993 stated, "lower class women complain that the major problem
is feeding their family... The problem is somewhat different for middle-class women.
Psychologists say the reason for suicides of most women in this class is deprivation of
individual freedoms. Lack of jobs or financial support for widows is the next reason for
suicide. Iranian widows or divorcees have no source of income. When society doesnt
provide employment opportunities, such women must remarry, turn to prostitution or commit
A confidential report to the regimes parliament on September 2, 1992, said the
sudden surge in the rate of suicide among women across Iran was due in part to the
pressures exerted on the wives of Revolutionary Guards and soldiers who had served in the
Iran-Iraq war, who suffer from psychological disorders. The report pointed out that the
most severely affected men were those who spent time at the front when they were
teenagers, where they had killed or captured scores of people or witnessed sexual
intercourse with animals. Many women suicides pointed to the psychological imbalance of
their husbands as the sole reason for their decision to kill themselves.
The report added that girl children as young as ten, instead of spending their days
playing with other children, were being forced to marry men three to four times their age.
Meanwhile as "married women," they are banned from attending school. Zan-e-Rouz,
a womans magazine, wrote on Feb. 26, 1994, that a 14-year-old high school girl died
after setting herself on fire to avoid marrying a 42-year-old man. Reuters reported
on July 12, 1994, that "A 14-year-old Iranian girl, set to wed a man of 50 in an
arranged marriage, burned herself to death."
Women in Leadership: Key to Change
What can be done to change this cycle of misery, humiliation and suffering for women in
Iran and elsewhere? What is the greatest problem for women, the great deprivation, which
overshadows the rest?
The systems based on gender discrimination strip women of their dignity and most
elementary rights; therefore, women should direct their energies at eradicating such
values and consequent systems. If the phenomenon of fundamentalism is to be uprooted,
women must be involved. Today, the grave responsibility of forming a united international
front against fundamentalism must be bestowed upon women. This is their historic mandate,
because they have the most at stake.
This is a lesson learned through the blood, sweat and tears of the women of the Iranian
Resistance. Just as misogyny is the driving force of Khomeini-style fundamentalism,
Iranian women have become the driving force of the Resistance against the religious,
terrorist dictatorship of the mullahs. Today, after more than a decade and a half of
resistance, Irans women have taken on the responsibilities of leadership at the
highest levels, thanks to the efforts of Maryam Rajavi, the Iranian Resistances
As Mrs. Rajavi emphasizes, before all else, women must prepare the ground for uprooting
gender oppression by engaging in political and social activism. Along the same lines,
women must take on the responsibilities of political and social leadership. In the
movement for equality, at least 50 percent of the positions of responsibility must be
occupied by women. Fifty percent of the members of the Iranian Resistances
parliament are women. The general command of the National Liberation Army of Iran, the
Resistances military arm, an all-volunteer, modern armored army, is essentially made
up of women. The leadership council of the Peoples Mojahedin, the pivotal
organization in the movement, consists entirely of women.
Some might think that such leadership is the last stage of equality. I contend,
however, that it is a cornerstone to equality. But the leadership of women can only be
achieved by intertwining the movement for equality with a pervasive progressive political
movement. Nothing can be achieved by a women versus men confrontation.
It should be also underscored that "womens rights are human rights."
These rights encompass all the individual and social freedoms cited in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, according to which women are the masters of their own bodies
In a word, womens activism is the most effective means of fighting
fundamentalism. Women must be included in decision-making and political power so that they
can implement their will and play their role as leaders of society.
Sarvnaz Chitsaz is currently the chairwoman of the National Council of
Resistance of Irans Committe on Women. Prior to her appointment, she was the
NCRs U.S. Representative.
Born in 1957 in the capital city of Tehran, Ms. Chitsaz is one of the most effective of
the Resistances political officials, and was one of the movements first women
to take on an active role in international political circles. She has represented the
Resistance in numerous international conferences and seminars, and regularly meets with
foreign dignitaries and officials to acquaint them with the views of the Iranian
Resistance and its President-elect. She works especially closely with womens
organizations in countries around the world.
Ms. Chitsaz studied political science in the United States at Iowa State University.
After the revolution of 1979, she became active in politics in the movement led by the
Peoples Mojahedin Organization of Iran, which had emerged as the democratic
opposition to fundamentalist rule. From 1981-84, she campaigned on behalf of the
Resistance in various regions of the U.S. Her commitment and work on behalf of the
movement continued, and in December 1992, she was elected to the Iranian Resistances
parliament-in-exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Soona Samsami is the US
Representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Born November 14, 1959 in
Isfahan, Iran, Ms. Samsami came to the United States in 1979 and in 1982 graduated in City
Planning from Michigan State University. In December 1992, she was elected to the Iranian
Resistances parliament-in-exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
In 1994, Ms. Samsami spoke at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. In 1996, she
coordinated exiled womens organizations at the World Conference of Women in Beijing,
China. In 1997, she spoke at the Front-line Feminism seminar at the University of
California at Riverside. In 1998, Ms. Samsami was a member of a panel of speakers at the
U.S. Congress in a briefing on U.S. policy on Iran. Also in 1998, she administrated
efforts among the Iranian-American community to elicit a statement in support of the
Iranian Resistance, signed by a majority in the House of Representatives.
In 1998, the NCR President appointed Ms. Samsami as the NCRs U.S. Representative.