Reorienting Women’s Rights in Iran

Authors: A. Marie Ranjbar*, Ohio State University
Topics: Women, Middle East, Human Rights
Keywords: Iran, women's rights, human rights, decolonial theory, postcolonial theory, Orientalism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Washington 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper, I question what ‘we’ in the Global North recognize as women’s rights activism in Muslim-majority countries. I compare recent women’s rights protests that have garnered international attention, such as the 2018 silent hijab demonstrations, with relatively unknown protests organized by labor unions and environmental movements in Iran. I argue that the invisibility of the latter is inextricably linked to a politics of recognition that reinforces orientalist representations of women’s rights in Iran, emphasizing certain political rights while excluding pressing socio-economic concerns of many Iranian women. Drawing from feminist decolonial and postcolonial insights, I analyze the legibility and visibility of contemporary women’s rights activism in Iran. I begin by broadly examining how women’s rights were addressed in the Orumiyeh environmental movement (2009-2016) and nationwide teachers protests (2014-2016), finding that their engagements with gender were not obvious to audiences outside of Iran. Despite the absence of an explicit women’s rights framework, these protests addressed gender injustice through nuanced, intersectional approaches that account for the gendered impacts of environmental and economic insecurity. In contrast, the Million Women’s Signature campaign and 2018 hijab protests have received sustained international media coverage, despite criticisms within Iran that these protests reinforce dominant, yet simplified, discourses of the oppressed Iranian woman. I suggest that this strategic framing of women’s rights does more to attract international support than address intersectional oppressions of Iranian women, particularly for those living outside of Iran's capital, Tehran.

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