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Stones Aimed at Us: An Overview of the Discourse and Strategies of the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign
This resource provides an overview of the discourses around stoning in Iran, and the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign. Section I is copied below. Download the full PDF below.
Women’s Bodies as a Symbol of Post-Revolutionary Iran’s Identity
There has never been a clear and uncontroversial definition of religious fundamentalism and there is no consensus as to whether religious fundamentalism is a phenomenon, a movement, or a process. Nevertheless, having been exposed to religious fundamentalism in its fullest meaning after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian women and an analysis of their experience might offer a proper definition.
The secularist women who, in the lead up to the Revolution had demonstrated in the streets and shouted for “Independence, freedom, Islamic Republic!” had never imagined what their status would turn out to be in an “Islamic Republic.” Less than one month after the victory of the Revolution, the office of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Leader of the Revolution, announced that the Family Code stood repealed because its provisions were contradictory to Islamic regulations. The most important consequence of this order was that for women divorce was now only possible through a difficult and lengthy process. A couple of days later, Ayatollah Khomeini personally announced that women were not allowed to enter government offices without Islamic hejab, interpreted as covering the whole body except the face, the hands up to the wrist and the legs down to the ankle. In response, women active in political parties, unions and some minor independent women’s groups organized the largest demonstrations by women in the history of Iran, lasting for a couple of days. Exposed to such massive action, the government withdrew from its stance on hejab, but the Revolutionary Court nevertheless began sentencing prostitutes to death and men and women to lashing and even death for sexual relationships out of wedlock.
The movement against the Shah of Iran was a diverse coalition only unified by opposition to the Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979). Although it had included different women’s groups, religious as well as secular, the lack of gender sensitivity amongst secular political parties who were part of this opposition—including the Communist Tudeh Party and other Marxists like the Iranian Mujahideen that were actively allied with Khomeini—meant the Islamists were able to repress women’s numerous objections to Islamization. Thus, once again, women lost almost everything they had, just like a previous generation. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women had been active in political movements such as the Tobacco Protest and the Constitutional Revolution but had ultimately been denied the right to vote in the new Constitution.
All these measures were happening even before any referendum had been held to officially establish an Islamic Republic and formalize the government (eventually held in April 1979) and while the newly established government did not yet have a Constitution (adopted later in October 1979). Consequently, even before the legitimization of the Islamic Republic, Islamization dominated women’s lives. The main difference between “practicing Islam” and “Islamization” is the factor of domination. Islamization, according to the preamble of the 1979 Constitution, is building all “cultural, social, political and economic institutions of the Iranian society based on the Islamic legislation.” But this definition is incomplete because it ignores the fact that in the practice of the Islamic Republic, Islamization is imposed. Islamization arose in the bipolar Cold War context, where the political leadership sought to identify as “neither eastern nor western” and to confront the two dominating powers of the time as well as the Pahlavi dynasty. Rapid Islamization was the main strategy of the new government, used to gain legitimacy and define its identity. Like all fundamentalists, the new government based its identity on building boundaries between the “self” and “others,” especially recognizing that women and issues affecting women were the best tool for defining these boundaries. “If controlling the enemy within, the intimate other, is basic to the building of borders that is at the heart of fundamentalism, equally basic is the creation of the worthy enemy against whom borders are drawn and barriers built.”
Only two months after the victory of the Revolution and in response to the massive demonstrations of March 8th against forced hejab, the dominant Islamic Republic Party announced the birthday of Fatemeh, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, as the official women’s day in the Islamic Republic, replacing March 8th. The official posters published for this day feature a woman completely covered in a black veil except for her face and hands, with a baby in one hand and a gun in the other. Government literature followed the same image. An “ideal woman” was a “Muslim revolutionary woman” who is completely covered in hejab and who “observes chastity” (avoiding any unnecessary contact with men who are strangers), while undertaking both her duties as a mother and her social responsibilities.
This imposed “ideal woman” was the new regime’s replacement for the traditional woman who observed hejab and chastity, was a perfect mother and wife but who would never participate in the social arena, as well as a substitute for the “western” woman who never observed hejab and chastity and was not a perfect mother and wife but who was involved in social activities. This new ideal, which questioned the pattern of modern women that had emerged during the Pahlavi dynasty, found its way into society due to the anti-Shah sentiments that prevailed during this period.
There were other factors that strengthened the focus on women’s bodies. The eight-year Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) created new links between the symbolic use of women’s bodies and nationalism. While men fought to preserve the country’s territory, women “fought a war” to preserve their bodies. Official slogans placed the value of women’s hejab and chastity even higher than the blood of the war’s martyrs; guarding women’s bodies and sexual behaviour became the symbol of guarding the identity of the Islamic regime. Disobedience towards this ideal was accompanied by severe penalties.
There are four ways the theocratic government has used control of sexuality to define the boundaries between self and other (meaning the existing political opposition as well as preceding regimes). These are: in the public arena, first, all women, even non-Muslims, were forced to observe strict rules concerning hejab and second, gender segregation was applied as far as possible in public spheres; in the private arena, third, all the rights granted through the previous Family Code were removed, and fourth, all sexual relationships out of wedlock were considered a crime. Women’s lives were a crucial part of this control.