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A BRIEF HISTORY OF WOMEN'S MOVEMENTS IN IRAN
(1850 - 2000)
By Massoume Price
Any analysis of the women's movement in Iran is a very complicated task and requires time and space. This very brief article is meant to provide much needed basic information for the general public and to provide a coherent picture of what has been happening over the last two centuries. The second half of the nineteenth century is the beginning of fundamental structural and ideological transformations in Iran and the start of the women's movement that is still going on.

The first major figure, Fatima, the eldest daughter of a prominent religious leader was born in Ghazvin in 1814. Fatima and her sister Marzieh received religious training and became masters in Persian literature, Arabic and Islamic studies. At the age of 14, she married her cousin the son of Mulla Mohammed Taghi Borghani, one of the most famous Usuli religious leaders. Orthodox and dogmatic the Usulis dominated the theological schools and strongly opposed all other schools of thought including Ahkbari and the latter Sheykhi who demanded reforms and challenged the authority of Mujtahids. The two sisters influenced by a close relative took the side of the Sheykhi.

In 1828 the young couple moved to Iraq to further their religious studies at Najaf and Karbala, where many Sheykhi ulama resided in exile. The long stay in Iraq introduced Fatima to others including Seyyed Kazem Rashti and his Succesor Seyyed Mohammad Bab, whom she never met. She also became exposed to European politics and influence spreading in Middle East at the time. Fatima joined Rashti who gave her the title of Qurrat al-Ain and eventually ended in the top leadership of the later Babi movement. Her actions alienated her family; she left her husband started lecturing and openly supported the Babi movement. Amongst many changes demanded by the Babis, emancipation of women became an issue. Though her actions were predominantly religious her presence often without a veil in public debates created a stir even amongst the Babis and she often was forced to leave and move to another city. Her very strong presence in the movement initiated the formation of the first well-organized women's league in Iran.

The first meetings were held at the house of the widowed Mrs. Rashti and quickly spread throughout the country. Fatima, Marzieh, Khorshid Beygom Khanum, with the mother and sister of Mulla Hussein Boushroyeh, the mother of Hadi Nahri, Rustameh, the first militant female leader in the movement and Mrs. Rashti traveled all over, organized meetings, helped and rescued Babis. Many female members of the Royal court also supported Fatima who was known as Tahireh or pure by this time. In 1848, after the massive persecution of the Babis, the remaining leaders gathered at Behdasht. In the meeting Tahireh tears off her veil and demands emancipation of women. Her radical actions splits the leadership; Tahireh herself is arrested is send into exile. She escapes, a few days after a failed attack on Naser al-Din Shah's life; she is captured in Tehran and along with other Babi leaders was executed in 1852.

The Babi and their successor Bahai women's movements were genuine, dynamic, progressive and emancipated the female supporters of these faiths. However they remained sectarian and were secondary to the principal doctrines of the faith. Though this limited their appeal to the general public but the incidents were observed by all. The mass execution of Babi women and children shocked the nation particularly the upper class and more educated women, lessons were learned, moves copied and actions followed.

In the later half of the 19th century other prominent women emerged. Taj Saltaneh, Naser al-Din Shah's daughter in her famous memoirs criticized the stagnation of the political and social institutions in Iran without rejecting Monarchy. She mentions the pitiful state of women in Iran, criticizes the notion of veiling and how it has stopped women from advancing and joined secrete societies with other members of the royal court.  Bibi Khanoum Astarabadi in her pamphlet The Shortcomings of Men strongly criticized the derogatory popular book Educating Women and concluded that the writer's understanding of keeping women in their place implies the total subjugation of women.

Bibi and her mother belonged to the generations of women who served the Royal women. They thought literature; calligraphy, music, religion and many were talented poets with their own written works of which quite a few have survived. In the late 1900's women had a very strong presence in the constitutional struggle and the subsequent revolution. The Reuter concession of 1872 and the Tobacco protest brought masses of women into the streets. Kamran Mirza, the vice regent was attacked by hordes of women. Militant women lead by Zeynab Pasha alongside armed men attacked government warehouses in Tabriz. At the same time the wife of Haydar Khan Tabrizi and other women armed with sticks protected pro constitution speakers in Tabriz.

Kamran ki Baradari is a summer pavilion at Lahore, Pakistan. It was built by Kamran Mirza, a son of first Mughal emperor Babur and a brother of the second Mughal emperor Humayun.

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