"Looking Back to Move Forward: Iranian Women's Mobilization and the Question of Feminism"
Norma Moruzzi, Associate Professor, Political Science and Gender & Women's Studies, Director of the International Studies Program, University of Illinois at Chicago
Post-revolutionary Iranian women are active in the public sphere, and have become a major force in contesting and negotiating the nature of politics and social relations. But in Iran, as in many parts of the world, “feminism” is a troubled category, associated with a narrow Western model of liberal reform (individual rights), top-down state policy (legal reforms), and hostility to local religious lifestyles (universalist claims to identity). The split between secularly identified women activists (feminists mobilizing around issues of “gender equality) and religiously identified women activists (Islamists mobilizing around issues of “gender justice”) has made effective political collaboration difficult. As the two camps make tentative efforts to work together, the need for crafting a shared local model of women’s agency becomes more urgent. This paper argues that one possibility involves a rereading of Ali Shariati’s well-known Essay “Fatemeh is Fatemeh,” along with a re-examination of the activist role of his women students. These individuals, part of a legacy of progressive Islamist activism that was integral to the Iranian Revolution but has been suppressed by the post-Revolutionary Iranian state, offer a model of engaged social identity and political agency that can bridge this divide in contemporary struggles for women’s full political citizenship and social inclusion.