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Original Photo

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The Islamic Republic and the Question of Women Within two weeks of coming to power, Ayatollah Khomeini in an attempt to reassert the clergy’s success over the Pahlavi modernist ideology annulled the Family Protection Law. Temporary marriage, which had been outlawed although it continued to be practiced among more traditional social groups, was not only legally sanctioned but was openly encouraged. The most dramatic change, however, was lowering the legal age of maturity to 9 for girls and to 14 for boys, and enshrining this in the constitution. This was interpreted to mean that girls could be given in marriage at the age of nine, the legal age at which they are punishable as adults for any criminal offense (Kar and Hoodfar 1996). Within a month of his return to Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini announced that women were barred from becoming judges in accordance with Islamic tradition. Three days after this announcement, Khomeini declared that women should wear the hijab at their place of work. Shortly after, the beaches were segregated. This was followed by the segregation of all sports events. This unexpected turn of events resulted in spontaneous demonstrations which continued for several weeks. Moreover these developments brought into focus a small gathering organized for March 8, International Women’s Day, by a small group of women with leftist tendencies. This event, which normally would go unnoticed, grew into a protest rally, as thousands demonstrated against the undemocratic imposition of these codes. Women lawyers, backed by secular as well as some Islamist forces, organized several sit-ins in the ministry of justice (Tabari and Yeganeh 1982). Despite a boycott of protest rallies by the media, including the national radio and television, the demonstrations attracted public attention and support. They also attracted mobs of religious zealots and paramilitary forces, mostly men but also women, armed with knives, broken glass, bricks, and stones. The counter-protestors attacked and injured many women, while the Revolutionary Guard, then serving as the regime’s police force, watched passively.

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