Women's Citizenship Rights in Iran between Two Revolutions

Women's Citizenship Rights in Iran between Two Revolutions
Authors: Sedigheh Mosayebnia; Hadi Noori
Journal: Social Evolution & History. Volume 23, Number 1 / March 2024


Sedigheh Mosayebnia, University of Guilan, Rasht, Iran

Hadi Noori, University of Guilan, Rasht, Iran


The main question of the present article is ‘Which logic of historical development did women's citizenship rights in Iran between the Constitutional Revolution and the Islamic Revolution follow?’ Does the course of events represent temporary movements or are they part of a historical trajectory that led to a change in the social position, that is, women's citizenship rights until the revolution of 1978? In examining this issue, the test of theory is used and Thomas Humphrey Marshall's theory of citizenship rights is applied as the theoretical framework for analysis. The research method is a historical case study. The data collection method is documentary type and the analysis method is pattern matching type. The findings of the research show that the civil rights were established in the initial form at the end of the Qajar period, and the legal provisions were provided in the first Pahlavi state and were partially established in the second Pahlavi period. In the next stage, social rights rather than political rights were put on the agenda of the Pahlavi states, which received more attention than civil rights, and then political rights were considered since the 1960s. Therefore, the historical evolution of women's citizenship rights has been in the form of civil rights, social rights and political rights, which is different from the historical experience of citizenship rights in Europe and Marshall's theory.

Keywords: citizenship right, women, Iran, suffrage, Qajar.


Nowadays, respect for the rights of citizens is one of the foundations of the strength of any government (Skaffi 2007: 4). The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Articles 1–15) considers the citizenship right as one of the basic human rights which the protection of other rights depends on (Faulks 2002: 18). There are different meanings to the concept of citizenship: on the one hand, there are questions related to immigration from one country to another, and on the other hand, there are issues within the government regarding the equal treatment of citizens and the rights of different groups (Iija 2011: 8). The issue of citizenship and the issue of gender is one of the issues affecting all societies. The concept of citizenship has always been gendered, and men and women have different relationships with this concept, with women always at a disadvantage (Amiri 1995: 24). Women's efforts to gain the right to vote were realized for the first time in Australia in 1902, then in Great Britain in 1918, in the United States of America in 1920 and in France in 1944. However, even after gaining the right to vote, women were not considered as independent persons from a legal point of view (Castells and Davidson 2003: 251).

The word ‘citizenship’ is a new word in Iranian literature. In Iran, before constitutionalism, the word ‘subjects’ was used instead of this word (Ismaili 2001: 106). Before the constitutional revolution, there were no codified citizenship rights in Iran (Soucek 2001: 51–87). In most of the nineteenth-century historiography, there is no description of the status of women, but sometimes the status of women is mentioned superficially and in harsh and emotional terms (McElrone 2005). Samuel Graham Wilson – a researcher at the end of the nineteenth century – points to the forced isolation of women (Nashat 1983: 14–15) and Sheean wrote in 1927: ‘The position of women in this country is lower than in almost all Islamic lands’ (Sheean 1927: 232).

The determinism of this holistic picture of the social position of women in the Qajar era is, of course, reducing the reality and ignoring the intellectual developments and practical actions of women in the nineteenth century (Noori et al. 2020: 113). For many researchers, the Constitutional Revolution has been considered as the beginning of women's ‘awakening’. Mangol Bayat introduces the years of the Constitutional Revolution as ‘the period of the sudden emergence of personal and political self-awareness among men and a small but growing group of women’ (Bayat 1978: 296), and Sima Bahar describes the years of the Constitutional Revolution as the scene of ‘the first companionship of a group of women and men in social activity’ and associates the Iranian women's movement with the beginning of the Constitutional Revolution (Bahar 1983: 179–180).

However, despite the formation of a relative awareness among women, due to the lack of necessary conditions, women did not find opportunities to voice their demands until the 1940/1320s. It was only  after the end of the first Pahlavi state, when an open space of freedom and relative democracy was provided for the Iranian society, that women found the possibility to express their demands and were able to organize themselves in the form of special women's organizations (Lorestani 2003: 115). Gaining the right to vote in 1962/1341 and participating in the parliament and high executive positions at the national and provincial levels could lead to greater participation of women in political and social activities, as well as a gradual change in women's attitudes towards their own capabilities (Zahed and Khaje Nouri 2003: 118). The family laws of the 1960/1340s and 1970/1350s had positive results for women who had access to the law (Payadar 2001: 102).

The problem of the present article is whether the social presence and tradition-breaking of women from the Constitutional Revolution (1906/1285) onwards should be considered as temporary movements and consequential results, or as pieces of a social puzzle that change the social position, that is, the citizenship rights, of women until the time of the Islamic Revolution (1978/1357)? What image of the social position of women in this long period can be obtained by placing the social drawing in a historical context? The main question is ‘Which logic of historical development did women's citizenship rights in Iran between follow the Constitutional Revolution and the Islamic Revolution?’


Understanding the logic of the historical evolution of women's citizenship rights in Iran between the two – the Constitutional and Islamic – revolutions requires a critical evaluation of the research literature in order to know what others are doing in our field of study, what issues have been focused on and what issues have not yet been researched (Flick 2012: 67). On this basis, two categories of research are examined.

The first category is the historical research on women's citizenship rights in Iran. Hasan Taghrangar (2004) has investigated the status of women in different historical periods. Simin Fasihi (2010) tries to show that it is possible to analyze the complaints of women in the constitutional era by referring to the four pillars of citizenship rights. Mahmoud Jalali and Safura Bani-Najarian (2012) deal with the history of the gradual and step-by-step changes in the status of women in Iran from a legal and political point of view. Zahra Khatibi (2006) has examined the social, cultural and political rights of women in the National Assembly (from the first period to the fifth period). Khalilullah Bayat (2007) tries to trace the source of the idea of citizenship rights in the thought of intellectuals and scholars on the basis of documents from 1896/1275 to 1947/1326. Gholam Abbas Tavasoli and Seyyed Mahmoud Nejati Hosseini (2004) analyze the sociological process of citizenship formation in Iran.

The second category of empirical literature examines the social position and women's movements in the contemporary history of Iran. Badr al-Maluk Bammad (1969) and Abdul Hossein Nahid in Iranian Women in the Constitutional Movement (1981) directly addressed the issue of women in the Qajar era. Also, Women's Rights Movement in Iran (2004) by Elise Sanasarian is one of the few books written about women's rights until the Islamic Revolution of Iran. Sima Bahar, in an article entitled ‘Historical Context of the Iranian Women's Movement’ (1983), considers the years of the Constitutional Revolution to be the first scene of a group of women and men joining together in social activities. Giti Neshat (1983) says that the Qajar era witnessed the expansion of the social role of women. In the late 1970s, Mangol Bayat investigated the political position of women in the constitutional era in one of the first English-language collections on Middle Eastern women's studies. The History of Women (2013) by Banafsheh Hejazi deals with the position of Iranian women in the Qajar era by examining the memoirs of travel writers. Janet Afary (2004) enumerates the main interests of the Iranian women's movement and considers it to be influenced by modern, secular and liberal ideas that appeared in the Qajar period. Nayereh Tohidi (1993) examines two works of Ma'ayeb al-Rejal by Bibi Khanoom Astarabadi in response to the books Ta'dib al-Niswan and Confrontation between Men and Women in the Qajar Era. Mansoureh Etehadieh (1994) deals with the problems of women's historiography. Golnaz Saeidi (2006) believes that before the victory of the constitution, women were fully involved in all constitutional events and in its victory.

In general, although women's history provides a tool for historians to examine the past society from a new perspective, this work has either been done in small numbers in Iran, or the studies conducted lack comprehensiveness. The historical study of women's citizenship rights is in a more marginal position. The vast amount of research on women's citizenship rights in Iran has empirically investigated the extent of women's awareness of citizenship rights and the factors affecting this awareness. The main weakness of this research is the lack of attention to the theoretical framework of the research. Meanwhile, the use of theoretical models can confront the historian with a larger and broader context than the minor historical events and direct his attention to historical processes and currents.


The literature related to citizenship rights is very extensive. Since the present article tries to explain the historical course of women's citizenship rights in Iran between the two revolutions of 1906 and 1978, Thomas Humphrey Marshall's theory of citizenship will be used as a theoretical framework. Marshall's historical-social analysis in the Citizenship and Social Class (1950) examines the historical evolution of citizenship rights over a period of 250 years (from the seventeenth to the twentieth century AD) from three civil, political and social dimensions. Civil rights were developed in the eighteenth century, political rights in the nineteenth century, and social rights in the twentieth century (Marshall 1950: 21).

Civil rights are the rights necessary for individual freedom, which include: ‘freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, the right to own property, the right to enter into a legal contract, the freedom to assemble and form an association, the freedom to live in the desired place, the right to work and the right to a fair trial. The institutions directly related to civil rights are the courts that administer justice’ (Ibid: 10).

The political rights in the nineteenth century were the product of civil rights (Ibid.: 78). Political rights are ‘the right to participate in the exercise of political power, as a member of a group that delegates political power or as a voter who chooses the members of such a group. The relevant institutions are the parliament and local government councils’ (Ibid.: 72).

Social rights were popularized in the nineteenth century with the development of universal primary education, but it was only in the twentieth century that it reached equal cooperation with other parts of the citizenry. The meaning of social rights is ‘the right to enjoy minimum economic welfare and security to the right to fully participate in the social heritage and the right to live as a civilized person based on the common standards in society... Institutions related to social rights, educational system and social service’ (Marshall 1950: 107–110).

Thus, the three fields of citizenship rights of Marshall's theory, which is the theoretical model of the present research, are designed based on the following indicators:

Table 1

Indicators of citizenship rights based on Marshall's theory

Citizenship Rights

Social Rights

Political Rights

Civil Rights

– Education

– Social Insurance and Services

– Health Services

– The right to vote and be elected

– Party freedom

– Personal Freedoms

– Freedom of Speech and Thought

– Ownership

– Enjoying Justice and legal Equality

– Employment

– Freedom of Assemble and Formation of Associations


The current research method is a historical case study, in which a phenomenon is studied using various methods of data collection over a long period of time, resulting in extensive information (Creswell 1994: 12), ‘information that is put together with the express purpose of drawing theoretical conclusions from it’ (Blaikie 2011: 281). The case study is an efficient method in social sciences that is useful for generating and testing hypotheses (Flyvbjerg 2006: 229) and in which theory is used to guide data analysis. The subject of the study is women and the social unit of Iran, which is analyzed using Marshall's theory of the historical sequence of citizenship rights. The main goal is to understand reality in the light of theory and to study the compatibility of theory with reality (Saei 2011: 198).

The method of collecting this information is documentary type and takes the form of written history (Baker 1998: 326; Flick 2012: 278). Since the current case study is descriptive, the method of analysis used is pattern matching (rival explanation type) (Griffin 1993: 1097), in which the pattern based on historical experience is compared with the predicted theoretical pattern. The successful matching of the experimental model with one of the competing models means that the theoretical model is correct (Yin 1997: 154). The three-stage theoretical model of citizenship rights is applied to the historical example of women in the period between the two revolutions of 1906 and 1978.


Civil Rights

Personal Freedoms

Reports on the Qajar society state that ‘the sidewalks of the main streets of Tehran became female/male from 4 pm’ (Bamdad 1969: 88). Azam Qudsi also says: ‘When the horse-wagon vehicle was used in Iran, the seats for men and women were separated’ (Azam Qudsi 1963: 29). In addition to this physical separation, the social presence of women was always accompanied by strict traditional clothing and moral considerations (Fourier 1989: 118; Wills 1984: 103). The extent of freedom depended on the social class, religious beliefs, ethnicity, and living area of the villagers (Paydar 1995: 37–40). Despite the desire for women's freedom and equality (Taj-ul-Sulṭān 1983: 33), by subduing the flames of the Constitutional Revolution, only a handful of active and intellectual women continued to participate in various activities (Sheikh-ul-Islami 1972: 77).

During the first Pahlavi period, the civil law was approved for the first time in the years 1928, 1934 and 1935 in three volumes and with 1335 articles, the second volume of which dealt with individual freedoms for women. For example, Article 1041 of the Civil Code prohibited the marriage of girls before the age of 15 (Qanavati 2000: 51). Although the implementation of this law in rural areas was not done properly (Sanasarian 2004: 148), with the approval of Article 8 of the Family Protection Law, the courts were empowered to grant divorce licenses only in certain cases (including 13 cases) (Artidar 2007: 93) or women were given the right to divorce under special conditions (Dolatshahi 2002: 69, 87; Golpaygani 2006: 598–603). In addition, as a result of the discovery of the female hijab in 1934, educational institutions, especially the University of Tehran, opened their doors to both boys and girls. Public places such as cinemas, cafes and hotels were required to pay heavy fines if they discriminated between men and women (Abrahamian 2004: 179; Avari 2009: 37). Due to the strong opposition from clerics and many religious people (Pahlavi 1969: 264; Kar 1994: 16), the ceremony on January 17 was canceled in the 1940s to the mid-1950s, but it was reinstated in 1955 (Dolatshahi 2002). During the Pahlavi era, Iranian women got many opportunities to work in new professions such as nursing, teaching and factory work (Avari 2008: 37–38).

Freedom of Speech and Thought

Iran's constitutional revolution had an effect on the growth of the women's awakening movement and their tendency towards freedom and equality (Khodadad 2008: 23). In the beginning, intellectual and literate Iranian women wrote articles in foreign newspapers such as ‘Akhtar’, ‘Qanoon’, ‘Habl al-Matin’,2 ‘Soraya’ and ‘Parvaresh’ (refer to: Qanoon, No. 15; Soraya, No. 27; Nada-e Watan, No. 12). Later, women started to publish their own magazines. The first women's magazine was published in 1910/1289 and was called ‘Danesh’ (Rabino 1993: 141). ‘Shokofeh’ (1913/1292), ‘Zaban-e Zanân’ (1918/ 1297), ‘Alam-e Nesvân’ (1920/1299) and ‘Jam'iyat-e Nesvân-e Vatan-khâ’ (1923/1302) were among the women's publications in the last years of the Qajar period (Nahid 1981: 119–120; Sheikh al-Islami 1972: 80–170).

In the first Pahlavi era, we can refer to ‘Name Nesvân-e Sharq’ (1926/1305), ‘Râhnamây-e Zanân’ (1926/1305), ‘Noorafshân’ (1930/1309 to 1937/1316), ‘Dokhtarân-e Iran’ (1931/1310), ‘Bano’ (1945/1324) and ‘hoqoq-e Zanân’ (1953/1332) (Keihani 1992: 75; Nowruz Moradi 2002: 10; Nouzad 2000: 152). The existence of these publications shows the existence of women's freedom of expression in the post-constitutional era of Iran and the Pahlavi era. These publications highlighted a wide range of issues affecting women and their authors wanted a change in the social status of women (Sanasarian 2004: 54).

Right of Ownership

Polak, Nāṣer al-Dīn Shāh's physician, claimed: ‘There are no notary offices in Iran, and property is not registered anywhere, and only a cleric confirms it in a book called Qabale’ (Polak 1368: 226). An examination of legal documents reveals numerous claims and property rights of women in the Qajar period. For example, we can mention the ownership claim of Zubeyd-e Khanoom, the daughter of Khanlar Khân-e Afshâr, on the property of Musâ Abâd village, the ownership certificate of Fatemeh Sultân Khânum on the property of Amuk village, and dozens of other cases that can be found in the digital archive of ‘The World of Women in the Qajar Era’ at Harvard University (www.qajarwomen.org). Some local sources on the history of Tehran mention the famous Baji saffron bazaar, which belonged to the concubines and poets of Nāṣer al-Dīn Shāh's (Najmi 1985: 128). According to the statistical report of dār al-khilāfah and documents of the social history of Tehran during the Qajar era, corresponding to the years 1269 and 1286, women of the urban class owned property (Etehadieh 1994: 30). Werner's research shows that many small endowments with benevolent purposes were registered in the names of women by the people of Tehran (Werner 1999: 115).

In the Pahlavi era, with the drafting of the civil Code in 1928/ 1307, the possibility for women to own property became universal. Article 1118 of the Civil Code stipulated: ‘A woman can independently take possession of whatever she wants in her property’ (Mansour 2005: 190). Article 14 of the Marriage Law approved in August 1931/1310 also stated: ‘A woman can do whatever she wants with her property without her husband's permission’ (Ibid.: 486). Despite all this, the civil Code stipulated the children's share of the inheritance from parents: ‘...a son inherits twice as much as a daughter’ (Article 907). This half share for women was also compiled in other articles of the civil Code (911, 913, 915, 946, 947, and 948) (Mansour 2005: 57–148). In general, there was a legal right for women to own property in the Qajar era, and its implementation occurred mostly in the urban and upper classes of the society. This becomes common in the Pahlavi era.

Enjoying Justice and Legal Equality

The Ministry of Justice existed in Iran since 1834/1213 (Abrahamian 2004: 34). Lady Sheil writes: ‘In Iran, apparently, there is a set of laws, but often none of them are implemented. Various expedients are considered instead of the articles of the law’ (1983: 116). In the field of family, a woman could request a divorce under certain conditions, but the bitter fate of the woman after the divorce, discouraged her from divorce (Drouville 1985: 126). Regarding a concubine, whenever the man wanted, he could divorce her before the expiration of the legal term (Serna 1983: 182). In the economic field, women's income was always lower than men's. For example, the income of women working in the textile industry in Iran in the nineteenth century was one third of the income of men in the same profession (Foran 2012: 203). In the villages, the profit from the carpets was often given to the employer (Delrish 1996: 48). The situation of workers in factories and workshops was no better (Habl al-Matin, 1907/1286, p. 103: 1 and 2).

During the Pahlavi era, between the years 1921/1300 and 1953/1332, there are about 317 women's judicial cases in the stagnant archive of the Tehran Judiciary Document Center. In the years 1921–1926, there are no cases, and the highest number of cases in 1944 was 43 (Abbasi and Mousavi 2014: 66). Also, Article 1111 of the Civil Code states: ‘A wife may appeal to the court about her husband's objection to the payment of alimony’. This issue was also stipulated in Article 10 of the Marriage Law approved in 1931/1310 (Mansour 2005: 486). The guarantee of judicial and civil enforcement of in case of non-payment of alimony is stated in Article 8 of the Family Protection Law approved in 1974/1353. The guarantee of criminal enforcement was also established in Article 22 of the same law (Qanvati 2000: 57). In the 1974 amendment to the Family Protection Law, other articles were adopted to protect women's rights. Article 16 says: ‘A man cannot choose a second wife by having one wife, except in cases of the consent of the first wife and seven other clauses’ (Mehrpour 2000: 5–104). Therefore, since the Constitutional Revolution onwards, women's access to the courts was legally provided, and since the Pahlavi period onwards, civil laws were formulated in support of women's rights.

Right to Employment

Historical accounts of Iran's economy show that Iranian women in the position of ‘semi-working class’ or ‘labour reserve force’ benefited their families, capitalists, and the state (Moghadam 2007). In non-pro-ductive employment, poor women sought to support their family's living expenses by providing work (Wills 1984: 125). This included singing and dancing (Oben 1983: 249), serving in the houses of the rich under the titles of ‘Dede, Gis-sefid and Dayeh’ (Mostofi 1998: 231), traditional medicine (Najafi Qochani 1983: 3), ophthalmology under the title of ‘Kahal’ (Polak 1368: 398–397), surgery (Bishoub 1996: 169), itinerant cloth sellers (Hedayat 1982: 110) or street vendor (Vaqaye'–e Etefaqiye 1983: 613). In the area of productive employment, it is possible to employ rural women full-time in agriculture (Dieulafoy 1953: 73; Flandin 1953: 174; Drouville 1985: 130), handicrafts such as velvet weaving (Oben 1983: 278), rope weaving and braiding (Zahira al-Doleh 1972: 209), silk weaving (Hayden 2002: 105), Tabriz carpet weaving (Issawi 1990: 469; Dalmani 1956: 125, 137) and tailoring (Wills 1984: 229; Rice 1987: 160). In addition, women were sometimes employed in the administrative field. During the reign of Nāṣer al-Dīn Shāh, the viceroy Kamran Mirza had formed a secret police in which prostitutes were active members (Kermani 1983: 432). These women were even used to weaken the constitution in public opinion (Dolatabadi 1957: 160; Bahrami 1984: 420).

With the coming of Reza Shah and his measures to build factories, railways, etc., the number of workers increased and the labor movement gained strength. In 1949/1328, the first labor law was drafted, the fourth chapter of which, from articles 16 to 20, was devoted to the working conditions for women and children (Artidar 2007: 253). Between the years 1956/1335 and 1976/1355, the real rate of female employment took on an upward trend and increased from 9.2 to 12.9 per cent (Shadi Talab 2001: 35–6). Between 1966 and 1976, the share of working women in the occupational group ‘public sector wage earners’ increased from 6 to 20.3 per cent (Census Publications of the years 1345–55). The above statistics show an increase in women's participation in the labour force. The important point was women's acceptance of the increase in education level and access to new professional and technical jobs. 65 per cent of women working in industry, 24 per cent of women working in services and 11 per cent of women working in agriculture are employed. One in ten doctors is a woman, one in 1,200 engineers is a woman, only 316 out of every 1,900 lawyers are women. In the administrative sector, out of a total of 4,422 top jobs, only 288 positions, or less than 5 per cent, are held by women. In the primary education department, 53 per cent of teachers are women, and 1,172 of the 6,626 university faculty members are women (Kar 1994: 102). These statistics show both the rapid increase in the level of literacy and women's strong acceptance of the increase in the level of education, and the existence of a significant difference between the women's and men's level of literacy and expertise (Ibid.: 131–2).

Freedom of Assembly and Formation of Association

Morgan Shuster provides the first detailed account of Iranian women's semi-serial associations during the Constitutional Revolution (Shuster 1955: 239–238). ‘Anjoman-e āzādī-e zanān’ in 1906/1285 (Afary 1998: 22), ‘Anjoman-e Nesvān-e Erān’ in the first constitution (Ibid.: 243), ‘Anjoman-e Hemmat-e Khavānin’ in the period of Ahmad Shah (Shokoofeh Newspaper, 1956: 2),3 ‘Jamiat-e Nesvān-e Vatankhāh’ in 1922 (Nahid 1981: 115), and ‘Peik-e Saādat-e Nesvān’ in 1920 (Afary 1998: 223–236) were among the women's associations that existed since World War I (Sanasarian 2004: 67–66) and began to operate in the public arena.

The formation of women's associations continued during the first Pahlavi era. ‘Anjoman-e Zanān-e Zartoshti’ (1925/1304), ‘Anjoman-e Zanān-e Armani-e Doostdār-e Kelisā’ (1929/1308), ‘Anjoman-e Bāno-vān-e Armani-e’ (1928/1317), ‘Anjoman-e Eslami-e Bānovān’ (1941/ 1320), ‘Anjoman-e Bānovān-e Hassās’ (1943/1322), ‘Anjoman-e Kheyriy-e Bānovān-e Esfehān’ (1948/1327), and ‘Anjoman-e Kheyriy-e Taāvon-e Etefāq’ (1949/1328) (Women's Participation Center, 2003: 159–146) are examples of these associations.

However, the women's rights movement in the first Pahlavi era was a minority movement and most of its pioneers came from the affluent sections of the society, which gradually ceased to move due to the participation and supervision of the government over their activities (Kasrā, 2008: 116–117). Among them, Reza Shāh ordered the establishment of a Kānoon-e Zanān headed by the Queen Mother after his visit to Turkey in 1935/1314 (Ibid.: 114). Similrly, the establishment of the Shorāi-e Aliy-e Jamiat-e Zanān-e Erān in 1958/1337 under the chairmanship of Ashraf Pahlavi, and the Comision-e Fahangi-e Shorāi-e Aliy-e Jamiat-e Zanān in 1963/1342 (Mustafavi Rejali 1970: 20). Later, the Sāzemān-e Zanān-e Erān was established under the leadership of Ashraf Pahlavi. The election law was amended and Iranian women participated in party organizations and parliament on a wider level (Ibid.: 172–173). In 1355, out of a total of five million and one hundred thousand members of the Rastākhiz party, one million and 450 thousand were women, and 2,885 women announced their candidacy for the democratic councils (Paydar 1995: 95; Afkhami 1997: 331).

Political Rights

The Right to Vote and the Right to be Elected

Despite the significant presence of women in the political protests of the Qajar era, such as the Bread Movement (Etemād-al-Saltana 1984: 1027), Tobācco Privilege (Fourier 1989: 222), Constitutional Movement (Kasravi 1974: 99; Habl al-Matin 1907/1325, No. 18), the establishment of the National Bank (Rabi-ul-Awl 1907: 4), the embargo on foreign goods (Edālat,1 1906, No. 25), and fighting with minor tyranny (Habl al-Mattin, 1909, No. 23 and 33), women's rights were neglected in the hasty drafting of the 51-article constitution (Sanasarian 2004: 30). In the first paragraphs of the third and fifth articles of the first law on the National Assembly elections, known as the Trade Union Election Regulations, passed in 1906/1285, women were deprived of their political and social right to participate in elections and to have a representative in the National Assembly respectively (Sāeli Kurde 1999: 138; Rahbari 2009: 258). This incident also occurred in the second (1909/1288) and third (1911/1290) election laws (Rahbari 2009: 188; Sāeli Kurde 1999: 188).

The demand for the right to vote for women was raised again after Shahrivar 1941/1320. In 1942/1321, the ‘Hezb-e Zanān-e Erān’ was founded and began extensive activities in the field of women's suffrage. With the approval of the Law of State and Provincial Associations in 1962/1341, women had the right to vote and be elected (Saqafi 2005: 54–5). Finally, during the ‘White Revolution’ referendum in 1964/1343, the 21st Parliament passed the law on women's participation in elections (Sāeli Kurde 1999: 65). The promotion of six women (out of 190 deputies) in the 21st parliament to twenty women (out of 248 representatives) in the 24th parliament (Azghandi 2003: 228) shows the gradual increase in the number of women representatives in the legislative assemblies (Babaei Rad and Hatampour 2010: 51). In 1968/1347, Farrokhro Parsa was elected as the Minister of Education, becoming the first female minister in the history of modern Iran (Golpaigani 2006: 572). After Farrokhro Parsa, the only other woman who managed to hold a ministerial position in the Pahlavi state is Mahnaz Afkhami, who was elected in 1976/1355 as the advisory minister on women's affairs (1997: 572).

Party Freedom

Apart from the secret and semi-secret women's associations in the post-constitutional era and the Kanoon-e Zanān-e Reza Shāh era, which were ordered from above, by creating a relatively open space in the years after Reza Shāh, in 1942/1321, the ‘Hezb-e Zanān-e Ērān’ was founded (Paydar 1995: 103). Another example was the Tudeh party, which started among women in 1943/1322 with the formation of the ‘Sāzemān-e Zanān’ and the ‘Anjoman-e Zanān’ (Jalali and Bani-Najarian 2012: 125). Although most of the main figures of these organizations were relatives of the party's leading members (Yari 2011: 166), the Tudeh party established the women's democratic organization in 1949/1328 AH (Paydar 1995: 12–124). Among the names of the founding board of ‘Hezb-e Ērān-e Novin’, which was established in 1963/1342 and has been the largest and most enduring state party for more than a decade, seven women's names are empty of any real party activities (Safavi 2008: 156). At the first meeting of the party's central council, two of the 20 members of the executive board were women. At the second congress of the Party, which was attended by 3,600 people, Hajar Tarbiat was the senior chairman of the meeting (Safavi 2008: 159). In June 1966/1345, the Central Council of Women in the New Iran Party began its work (Safavi 2008: 166–7). Thus, in the years after 1961/1320, women who had been deprived of the right to participate in political parties during constitutionalism and the first Pahlavi period were able to enter the field of party activity.

Social Rights


Taj ul-Sulṭān, the daughter of Nāṣir al-Dīn Shāh, in describing the situation of Iranian women in the Qajar period, writes: ‘The door of knowledge is closed to women in every way, and they have never seen a guide or teacher available to them’ (Taj ul-Sulṭān 1983: 22–21). In this situation, the girls of the common community were able to learn to read and write through the library, mainly through the Qur'an, the rules of Shari'a and Persian literature (Hedayat 1982: 65; Azam-Qudsi 1963: 562; Polak 1368: 141; Serna 1983: 275).

The first new girls' school called ‘Doshizgān’ was opened by Bibikhānum in 1907/1286 with 20 students (Rushdieh 1983: 148). With the end of Saqir's tyranny, the process of establishing public schools intensified (Ganjineh Asnad 1991: 84; Nahid 1981: 24, 108 and 112; Bāmmad 1969: 40). Shokoofeh published a list of 63 girls' schools in Tehran with about 2,500 students in 1913/1292. However, until 1918/1297, girls' schools were exclusively national schools (Ganjineh Asnad 1991: 85).

During the reign of Reza Shāh, significant facilities were created to improve the condition of women and increase the number of primary schools for girls. In 1926/1305, the number of such schools increased to 203. The total number of girls' schools increased from 645 in 1931/1310 to 2,000 in 1941/1320 (Asgari 2009: 485). The number of three female graduates in 1912/1291 reached 151 in 1921/1300 and 1,730 in 1933/1312 (Ibid.: 586).

In the two decades 1340 and 1350, the number of female students in primary and secondary schools and in higher education increased. In 1954/1333, women made up only 26 per cent of the total number of primary school enrollees, rising to 37 per cent in 1974/1353. Girls in secondary education were only about 24 per cent of the total enrollment in 1333, rising to 35 per cent in 1353. In 1971/1350, more than 25 per cent of the students were girls, which reached 38 per cent in 1978/1357, and almost half of the 50,000 foreign students were also women (Sanasarian 2004: 161). In the same year, more women than men took the entrance examination for medical school (Afkhami 1997: 406–7). The literacy rate of women in the whole country was 37 per cent in 1977/1356 (Central Bank Balance Sheet of 1977/1356: 66–70, 219). The establishment of a girls' high school and seminary in Qom, the use of male teachers and the simultaneous presence of male and female students in boarding schools, the sending of female teachers to boys' primary schools, the mixed presence of boys and girls in the examination halls (Golpayegani 2006: 278, 479, 527, 684) remo-ved many restrictions on women's education.

Social Insurance and Services

The insurance law was approved in 1937/1316 and before that there was no codified law to protect the insured person. The situation of women's social services in Qajar era was unfortunate. Dalmani gives a pathetic description of the carpet-weaving workshops of Kerman women (1956: 125). Despite these hardships, women's wages were ‘extremely low’ (Brogesh 1988: 290, Dalmani 1956: 124).

In Iran, social insurance was provided for the first time when the Budget Law of 1932/1311 was amended to compensate workers. The Workers' Social Insurance Law was approved in 1952/1331 and the Employee Protection Law was approved in 1970. Finally, the Social Security Law was approved in 1975/1354, covering accident, sickness, pregnancy, disability, retirement, death, marriage and family insurance (Artidar 2007: 254–5). With regard to women, Article 17 of the Labor Law referred to the prohibition of ‘night work (between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.)’ and Article 20 referred ‘to hard and harmful work’ for women. Articles 18 and 19 refer to maternity leave and breastfeeding period for nursing mothers (Hojjati Ashrafi 2004: 8–7). Article 23 emphasized ‘equal wages for male and female workers for equal work’ (Ibid.: 9). As can be seen, the mentioned articles rejected any gender discrimination in terms of salary. For example, in Articles 57, 58, 71, 81, and 82 of the Social Insurance Law approved in 1339, women's working conditions are considered. (Artidar 2007: 259–60).

Health Services

Forbethleith's report shows that ‘people are completely ignorant about the principles of hygiene and almost all of them spend their whole lives surrounded by indescribable filth’ (Floor 2007: 73; see also: Drouville 1985: 305–91; Polak 1368: 215). The state of women's health was worse than that of the society as a whole. Dieulafoy's visit to the village of Khorramdarra Soltānieh was associated with the prevalence of tuberculosis, diphtheria, and sore eyes and the disgusting ‘filth of women and children’ (Dieulafoy 1953: 397). Floor estimates the infant mortality rate at over 50 per cent (Floor 2007: 6). Due to early marriages, most women became grandmothers at the age of 30 (Sheil 1983: 48). Floor says that until 1880 there were only two hospitals in Iran in Tehran and Mashhad (Floor 2007: 253). It was until 1918 that a small women's hospital with 20 beds was established (Shokoofeh, No. 12: 199).

Thus, at the beginning of Reza Shāh's reign, a part of the state's modernization program was devoted to health reforms. These an increase in the health budget from 0.5 per cent in 1925/1304 to 4 per cent in 1947/1326 (Moscob 2017: 71), the reconstruction of the country's health administrative structure (Nafisi 1965: 118), an increase in the number of doctors from 12 to 496, nurses from 11 to 102, hospitals and maternity homes from 9 to 100, and clinics from 41 to 681 between 1920/1299 and 1941/1320 are among them (Statistics Center of Iran 1976: 57). The state paid the most attention to women's health issues, emphasizing the structure of the midwifery department in the past periods. The midwifery school was established and the first group of female graduates numbered 18 people in 1932/1311. They entered the field of health and welfare services for women in the capital (Malekzadeh 2012: 63). While the public women's hospital in Tehran, which was established after the constitution, had problems for several years, its number of beds increased to 40 in the era of Reza Shāh (Etehadieh and Malekzadeh 2008: 5–6).

In the third and fourth development plans, $1.9 billion was allocated to the human resources sector, and as a result, the number of hospital beds increased from 24,126 to 48,000; the number of health clinics from 700 to 2,800; the number of nurses increased from 1,965 to 4,105 and the number of doctors increased from 4,500 to 12,750 (Abrahamian 2012: 52). According to the publication No. 309 of the Iranian Statistics Center, published in 1972/1351, the life expectancy at birth in 1966/1345 was estimated at 47.11 years for men and 47.5 years for women. In 1972/1351, it was estimated at 50.69 years for men and 51.25 years for women (Report of the Board of Health and Medical Affairs, 1974: 63–62).

The Post-Revolution Era

The main point in examining the development of women's citizenship rights in contemporary Iran is its connection with the Islamic Revolution of 1357/1979. The focus of the Pahlavi governments on women's citizenship rights was mainly on social rights. The policy of the one-party government of Mohammad Reza Shah in 1354/1976 (Foran 2011: 267) practically meant a small obstruction of the regime's democratic procedures. On the other hand, the beginning of the economic recession in 1976, after a period of economic growth and stability in 1965–75, caused inflation of 35 per cent in 1975, which caused an economic crisis along with a reduction in the government's oil revenues (Bashiriyeh 2000: 49–41). The result is the famous J-curve of revolutionary theorists, in which the increase in expectations combined with the decrease in opportunities causes dissatisfaction and crisis (Cohen 2022: 202).

Another issue was Ayatollah Khomeini's invitation to women to participate in politics and fight the Pahlavi regime alongside men, which led women to not see their gender as an obstacle on the way to political activities against the regime (Masoudnia 2015: 585). The widespread presence of women in the 1979 revolution was due to several reasons: economic deprivation, political repression, identification with the trend of Islamism and the desire for a socialist future (Moghadam 2007: 153). In large-scale street demonstrations, there were many women wearing veils as a symbol of opposition to the bourgeoisie or the westernized Pahlavi regime. Ayatollah Khomeini did not even consider the consent of his father or wife necessary to be on the stage and believed that ‘women have the right to interfere in politics ... women should be side by side with men in social and political activities’ (Khomeini 1996: 67–76). After the victory of the 1957 revolution, he said in his speech on March 13, 1979, ‘In the Islamic Republic, just as men have the right to vote, women have the right to vote… Women are involved in all matters... God has created them free... Man and woman must build this ruin together’ (Khomeini 1996, vol. 6; 302).

Thus, women's rights were not an issue in the process of building the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and the revolutionary leaders did not introduce the politics of the revolution in conflict with women's rights. The increase in women's rights in the two Pahlavi states was mainly focused on social rights, and the one-party policy of the second Pahlavi state since 1976 prevented the regime from becoming more democratic, while the slogans of the revolutionary leaders were for the widest possible political participation of women. From this point of view, the economic crisis and the formation of the J-curve were more effective than the issue of citizenship rights in the birth of the revolution.

However, the revolutionary government made this pervasive idea that women had lost their dignity under the Pahlavi governments the basis of the Islamic state's gender policy, demanding a change in gender relations that differed from Western gender norms. Ayatollah Khomeini believed, ‘The service of a mother to society is higher than the service of a teacher, and it is higher than the service of anyone’ (Khomeini 1996, vol. 14: 198). Therefore, the Islamic Republic emphasized the distinction between the roles of men and women, the priority of privatizing women's roles (although not banning women's public activities), and the need for women to cover themselves with modesty (Moghadam 2007: 154). However, the comparison of women's citizenship rights on the eve of the revolution and in the post-revolutionary era will help to understand the historical evolution of women's rights and their connection with the social developments of Iranian society.

In terms of civil rights, we can mention that the average age of marriage for women rose from 19.8 years in 1365/1987 to 23 years in 1380/2002, and the divorce rate increased from over 35,000 cases in 1987 to 67,000 cases in 2003 (Moghadam 2007: 78). This index shows the determining position of women in the family in the 2000s. In the index of scientific participation, the research on the archive of 18 research publications from 33 to 92 shows that the overall rate of an increasing trend of women's participation compared to the pre-revolu-tionary period (Razaghi et al. 2015). Similarly, differences between women's and men's leisure time are diminishing. The presence of women in the field of book publishing is greater than before, but it is still less than that of men. The same is true of press, the production of works of art and civil organizations.

The level of women's activity, which had declined in the 1345–65 period, increased in the 1365–80 period, which is a sign of the change in the position of women due to the increase in the level of education (Mahmoudian 2006: 213). The index of women's economic activities in Iran (year 2004) was 139, which indicted an increase of 39 per cent since 1990 (Adler, Doru, and Ursuleanu 2004). However, in 2014, the rate of women's economic participation was around 13 per cent, which is a sign of an imbalance in the distribution of women's employment in different sectors. However, in the population of professionals, the ratio of active female population with higher education to the total female active population is 48.2 per cent. Therefore, with the increase in the level of education, the possibility of economic activity has been provided for this group of women.

In the index of freedom of assembly and association, there were only 20 women's organizations in the pre-revolutionary period, which has reached 2,700 organizations in 2018. In Isfahan province alone, there are 200 women's cooperative companies. This is despite the fact that during the period of Reza Shah, organizations affiliated to the state or political parties were formed (Sanasarian 2004: 90–118). The years 1320 to 1331 were the years of a limited and controlled revival of the women's movement, when more independent but scattered organizations were formed (Sanasarian 2004: 115). This limited revival was lost during the years of Mohammad Reza Shah's rule, and all women's legal activities were under the control of the state.

Women's political rights in post-revolutionary Iran continued and expanded in terms of the right to vote and party freedom. Regarding women's presence in managerial positions of the country, there is no obvious difference between the pre- and post-revolutionary periods. Before the revolution, there were 6, 17 and 20 women in the parliaments; after the revolution, there were 8, 9 and 17 women in the parliaments. Until the 1390s, only 2.5 per cent of parliament representatives, 3 per cent of high and middle managers, 1.5 per cent of city and village council members, and 12 per cent of city council members were women (Razavi Al-Hashem 2009). In the last 40 years, only one woman (Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi) has been a minister in the country, although they have held the post of vice president in the seventh, eighth and eleventh governments. Despite all this, women face fewer problems in registering, nominating and serving on city and village councils. In 2019, more than 6,400 women were members of city and village councils, or are mayors and villagers. The aforementioned statistics show that although the percentage of women managers in the total number of managers increased from 9.1 to 17.4 per cent in the period after the revolution, the presence of women in the field of management was mainly at the basic and middle levels of management (Amini 2017: 139).

In the field of social rights, the index of women's education after the decline at the beginning of the revolution and the reduction of women's share in the student population from 32 per cent in 1979 to 28.6 per cent in 1990, we see a change in the situation in the following years and even the superiority of girls in the 1990s and 2000s (Farasatkhah 2009: 639). The number of male and female students has doubled in different governments after the revolution (Taj Mezinani and Ebrahimi 1983: 47). The percentage of female university students increased from 28 per cent in 1370 to 53 per cent in 1383 (Founder of Higher Education Research and Planning, 2005). In addition, the illiteracy rate of women decreased by 56 per cent from 80 per cent in 1345 to 24 per cent in 1380 (Iranian Statistical Center 2003: 536).

In terms of the health index, the life expectancy for women increased from 48 years in 1345 to 73 years in 1384, compared with 70 years for men. The under-five mortality rate for girls (35 per thousand) is lower than that for boys (36 per thousand). The percentage of births in health centers increased from 79 per cent in 1376 to 88 per cent in 1379 (UNFPA 2006).

In the index of provision and social services, we can see that in the post-revolutionary period, various protective laws for women were enacted. These included the law on the care of orphaned women and children, approved in 1362/1984; the Law on the Employment of Women, approved in 1371/1983; the Law on the Study of the Problems of Working Women, approved in 1370/1982; the Law on Family Planning, approved in 1372/1984; the Law on the Rights and Duties of Women, approved in 1385/2007; the Law on Part-time services for women, approved in 1364/1986; Telecommuting scheme for working women, approved in 1389/2011; the job facilitation bill for female heads of households 1391/2011 is one of the protective laws for women's rights in the post-revolutionary period (Momeini Rad and Behboodhi 2018).


An examination of the stages of development of women's citizenship rights in Iran between the two constitutional revolutions and the Islamic Revolution shows that the relative individual freedoms of the Qajar period were extended to the public domain with the legal protections of the Pahlavi states. Women's freedom of speech began with the publication of various publications during the constitutional period and continued in the Pahlavi states, which of course was mainly accompanied by control from above. In the Pahlavi era, the right to property took on a universal aspect in the urban and upper class of the Qajar society. The upper class Qajar women's access to legal assemblies was formalized by civil laws in the first Pahlavi era and accelerated in the second Pahlavi state. Regarding the employment, Qajar women were cheap labor and informal workers in the society. In the first Pahlavi state, women's conditional employment was formalized, and in the second Pahlavi, we see women's right to official employment. Since the time of the constitution, women's associations were formed and involved in public activities. This process continued in the Pahlavi states, but it always remained a minority and state-oriented movement.

The constitutional revolution, despite its belief in women, did not bring good news for them. Women's right to vote was not recognized in the Constitution and Constitutional Electoral Law. The first Pahlavi state did not pay attention to it until the referendum of the White Revolution in 1962/1341, when women became eligible to vote and be elected. After that, the presence of women in legislative, executive and party positions remained minimal.

The right of women to education was not recognized in the Qajar state. The constitutional revolution brought the first legal rights for women's education, and state girls' schools were established despite the opposition from the clergy. This process was supported by the Pahlavi states with greater acceleration, diversity and expansion. Insu-rance premiums and social welfare were absent in the Qajar period, and the first insurance laws were enacted in the first Pahlavi state. The whole of the second Pahlavi period is a period of establishing various protective laws for women and workers. The index of women's health in the Qajar period was disastrous and the constitutional revolution did not bring any particular changes. The modernization programs of the first Pahlavi state brought about changes in the health status of the entire society, including women, and with its continuation and acceleration in the second Pahlavi state, we can see the life expectancy of women and men approaching in the 1970/1350s.

Despite the extensive participation of women in the revolutionary process, in the post-revolutionary period, we witness an initial decline in the social presence of women, which gradually, especially in the post-war period, turns into a return of the growing trend of women's citizenship rights. Political rights are kept to a minimum, civil rights are relatively established and social rights are accelerated.

In sum, the historical evolution of women's citizenship rights in Iran between the two revolutions shows that civil rights were established in their initial form at the end of the Qajar period, with legal provisions provided in the first Pahlavi state and partially established in the second Pahlavi period. In the next stage, social rights rather than political rights were put on the agenda of the Pahlavi states, and then political rights were considered since the 1960s/1340. Therefore, the historical development of women's citizenship rights has been in the form of civil rights, social rights and political rights, which is different from the historical experience of citizenship rights in Europe. In the post-revolutionary period, the emphasis is mainly on women's social rights, and women's political rights are put at the last level of rights. In this respect, despite the difference in the type of political system before and after the revolution, the process is similar to the pre-revolutionary period. This can lead us to the conclusion that the evolution of women's rights in contemporary Iran is in line with the larger social evolution, which is the emergence of states that seek to control liberal civil and political rights and freedoms, and emphasize social freedoms above all else.


1 Edālat newspaper, Editor-in-chief – Seyyed Hossein Adalat, published from 1920 to 1929.

2 Habl al-Matin, 1897–1930, weekly newspaper, published in Kolkata.

Shokoofeh newspaper, 1913–1929, the second magazine for Iranian women.


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