Friday, February 13, 2009

A better future for women in Iran?

Like all the countries of the Middle East and Central Asia Iran is a caldron of conflicting forces. These populations are young, almost half of them under the age of twenty. Among them there is a high and rising incidence of drug use and addiction. There are more evidences of despair and hopelessness in their fiction (someone recently returned tells me); more signs of repression against rights of conscience.
It's hard to characterize a country. That's why we watch technical and demographic trends: Modern means of communication and transport, natural resources being put to use, population trends -- these can be sources of change.
But we can never anticipate how things will change. Today's NYTimes article on women pressing for their rights in Iran (with a confusing photograph about women demonstrating against the Israeli attack on Gaza) belongs in the list of trends -- important as they may be -- that can be read in different ways. Whatever they are, the influence of modern education, television, telephones, etc. have a lot to do with making them happen.

The New York Times February 13, 2009

Starting at Home, Iran’s Women Fight for Rights

. . . Women’s rights advocates say Iranian women are displaying a growing determination to achieve equal status in this conservative Muslim theocracy, where male supremacy is still enscribed in the legal code. One in five marriages now end in divorce, according to government data, a fourfold increase in the past 15 years.

And it is not just women from the wealthy, Westernized elites. The family court building in Vanak Square here is filled with women, like Ms. Qassemi, who are not privileged. Women from lower classes and even the religious are among those marching up and down the stairs to fight for divorces and custody of their children.

Increasing educational levels and the information revolution have contributed to creating a generation of women determined to gain more control over their lives, rights advocates say.

Confronted with new cultural and legal restrictions after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, some young women turned to higher education as a way to get away from home, postpone marriage and earn social respect, advocates say. . . .

Today, more than 60 percent of university students are women, compared with just over 30 percent in 1982, . . .

Even for those women for whom college is not an option, the Internet and satellite television have opened windows into the lives of women in the West. “Satellite has shown an alternative way of being,” said Syma Sayah, a feminist involved in social work in Tehran. “Women see that it is possible to be treated equally with men.”

Another sign of changing attitudes is the increasing popularity of books, movies and documentaries that explore sex discrimination, rights advocates say.
[Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company]

Click on the title for the original article

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