ABSTRACT

Since its development in the 1990s the contemporary Iranian women’s movement has become one of the most important movements for change in Islamic societies and one of the large-scale and popular women’s movements in the world. Iranian women have fought for legislative, political and democratic reforms in their country and have been successful in achieving important reforms, particularly in the area of family law. They have also played a crucial role in fostering a vibrant civil society where women lead and work in NGOs, groups and associations in different fields and have contributed to the struggle for the expansion of democracy in Iran. The active and visible participation of women in contemporary politics in Iran has had an impact on perceptions of that country and on debates around Islam, gender and democracy at both a regional and an international level. In the West, the existence of this movement presents a challenge to dominant views of Iran as a conservative, religious society. It also defies the idea that the Western world has a monopoly on concepts such as women’s rights and democracy, which in the post-11 September 2001 era have been utilised in order to justify Western military interventions, invasions and occupations of countries in the region. The Iranian women’s movement has also had an impact on the struggles for democracy and reform that continue to take place in other Muslim-majority countries. Dynamic interpretations of the role of women in Islamic history and the active participation of women in Islamic societies today can be seen as part of a shared legacy of religious reformism and political activism which forms a vital part of contemporary religious and political discourses in Muslim-majority countries in the region and among Muslim minorities in the West.