Women, Work and Political Islam

This paper, based on the author's fieldwork in Iran, as well as textual and statistical studies, analyzes both change and continuity in the family institution in post-revolutionary Iran. Furthermore, it elaborates on the strategy of Iranian women activists for challenging institutional gender segregation and patriarchal order, i.e., to implement change within the private sphere through increased participation in the public arena.

The Islamic state's contradictory policies which glorify women as mothers and wives, on the one hand, and encourage women to actively participate in social, economic and political realms, on the other, perpetuates the increasing conflict between tradition and modernity which has become major characteristic of the post-revolutionary Iranian society. Socially active women who, despite immense legal difficulties and political obstacles, have opted to challenge institutionalized gender segregation by imposing themselves in the public arena have gradually begun to contribute to perceptible improvements in the status of women. Particularly, by seeking and gaining employment, women have succeeded in acquiring a new status both within the family structure and the society at large. They have come to believe that through active participation in the public domain they can adopt goal-specific strategies, pursue their unique individual interests and develop power partnerships with other members of the family. Thus, by investing in the public sphere, they have sought a new identity and status which is determined more by their status in the public arena than their standing within the family institution.

Azadeh Kian-Thiebaut
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