Life for Women in Iran
Women in Iran have faced oppression and suppression for more than 40 years.
After the revolution of 1979, the Prosecutor General of the Islamic Revolution announced the execution of Mrs. Esfand Farrokhru Parsa, former Minister of Education, along with two other individuals, in a communiqué published on May 8, 1980. The official charges were trumped up around corruption – but the real accusation was that she had acted like a ‘prostitute’ for being in the presence of non-relative men without a hijab. This set the tone for what was to come.
The sad reality is that many educated women had welcomed Ayatollah Khomeyni in the 1979 revolution, mostly unaware of what they were bringing into power. As the regime changed, the freedoms they had enjoyed under the Shah were taken away; some instantly, some gradually.
The oppression of women in Iran begins at school with a uniform that requires girls to cover themselves in public. Hair, arms and legs are to be hidden. Girls cannot study with boys, they cannot walk the streets with boys, they cannot attend parties, ride a bicycle, run in the streets, swim with their fathers, or play in sports teams. Women cannot even go and watch the men play – not even for major tournaments of national excitement. They cannot dress how they want or socialize freely. They cannot be themselves.
A woman cannot walk the streets holding her fiancé’s hands – women have been executed for such violations. A woman has to prove that the man she is with is actually her husband to avoid consequences.
Women are constantly told explicitly and implicitly that their voice is worthless and they should not be seen. The mandatory hijab is strictly enforced with intimidating and often violent street patrols who drive around in vans and target women who are not following the strict dress code. Some are apprehended and taken to ‘correction centers’ where they take part in mandatory ‘classes’ reeducating them on how they should dress. Some horrific stories have surfaced over the years of what really happens in these centers.
Women do have the right to education, to work and even to vote. But in everything, the closest male relative (guardian) speaks for them and ‘covers’ them.
A man can divorce his wife for any reason and it is the father who gets custody of the children (with the exception of infants, where the mother can raise them until they are old enough to return to the father). A woman cannot travel abroad without permission from her male relative, and she certainly cannot take her children out of the country without permission from the father.
In order for unmarried girls under the age of 18 to leave the country, they need the notarized permission of their father and legal guardian, and without this permission, they do not even have the right to receive a passport, let alone be able to leave the country. Consent and accompaniment of the mother does not affect the departure of the under-18s from the country. Even though this formally does not apply to over-18s, guardians can still prevent unmarried girls over 18 from leaving country.
A woman who is separated from her husband and divorced is like an unmarried girl, so she needs her guardian’s permission to leave the country – even if she is 40 years old. In fact, travel restrictions on a divorced woman are like that of a minor. Married women need their husband’s permission to leave the country (though there are some very difficult-to-obtain exceptions).
Even for simple matters like renting an apartment or securing a job, a woman is at risk without a man ‘covering’ her. She would take a brother, father or husband to effectively show that ‘this woman is ours/mine’. This provides a measure of security for her. Otherwise, she is vulnerable to advances from potential employers or landlords who would want sexual favor in return for what she is seeking.
One recent example is a woman in our church whose husband was imprisoned. She was trying to navigate the court system to grant his bail. The case judge propositioned her, offering to free her husband only if she performed sexual favors for the judge himself. What’s most alarming is that if his actions were brought to public light, he would remain free of punishment. Instead, the coerced woman would be the individual in trouble for “prostituting herself out.”
The heartbreaking reality is that this has been completely normalized; it is but a small glimpse into the extensive abuse that has taken place.
With this backdrop, it is not surprising to see that Iran holds the world record on domestic violence against women (NCRI, Oct 2022). According to the Research Center on Women and Family in Tehran, 66% of Iranian women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Women in Iran have alarmingly high rates of addiction, overdose, depression, and suicide.
For so long, women in Iran have been told they amount to nothing more than worthless, disposable objects. Sadly, most of these women don’t know how very valuable they are to the Father; no one has ever told them. Jesus changed the narrative for women. Women living in the New Testament era also had no rights, no voice and no value in society – amounting to mere property. The value and voice Jesus gave the women in the New Testament was utterly profound. Not only did Jesus spend time listening to these women, serving them and loving them fully – he also chose to reveal himself to them first after his resurrection – an extremely thought-provoking fact, given the contextual nuance that a woman’s testimony was worthless in a court of law at that time in history.
In the same way, Jesus sees the women of Iran. He has known each and every one of them since before they were born. He loves them, cares for them, sees their worth and values them as individuals. We as the church in Iran are the vehicle through which Jesus wants to meet and transform these women. He wants to permeate their hearts and transform the Kingdom through their powerful testimonies.
Transform Iran is privileged to have countless women leading and serving in a wide range of roles as we work together to reach Iran for Christ. An important part of this is our work with Pearl of Persia. You can read more about that here.
Pray for the women of Iran. Pray that the message of the Father will be heard and received by them. Pray for transformed lives. Partner with us as we work to see the women of Iran restored to all that the Father intended them to be.