The development of population policy in the Islamic Republic of Iran provides fertile ground for reexamining the widely held assumption that Islamist ideology is the antithesis of modernity and surely incompatible with any form of feminism. Recent strategies that the Islamic Republic has adopted to build a public consensus on the necessity of birth control and family planning indicate the flexibility and adaptability of that ideology in response to political and economic realities.

Family planning decision-making is closely associated with women’s socioeconomic status in society, and their autonomy and security within conjugal bonds. Women’s adoption of smaller families is crucial to the success of Iran’s population program because the Iranian government, like governments elsewhere, has shifted responsibility for birth control from men to women. Improving women’s economic and public involvement, as well as their position within the marriage institution, is crucial to this process, but at the same time fundamentally challenges the gender roles, and especially the idea of female domesticity advocated by the regime as a cornerstone of its envisaged Muslim society. How has Iran’s government reconciled these two different sets of priorities?

For their part, Iranian women have individually and collectively questioned the prescribed male interpretation of the proper “Islamic” role for women. Women Islamist activists have used the ambivalent and contradictory ideological positions of the government to launch their women-centered interpretation of appropriate gender roles. Adopting new and creative interpretations, they have encouraged the government to introduce reforms in the areas of marriage, divorce and education, and are agitating for more improvement in women’s legal and social position.

Population Policy Before and After

In 1967, Iran launched its first official population policy, and in 1970 announced the ambitious goal of reducing the population growth rate to 1 percent within 20 years. In 1973, the Pahlavi regime legalized abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy, with permission of the husband. Through a network of family planning clinics, the Ministry of Public Health made contraceptives available. The national women’s organization, along with other associations, promoted and distributed contraceptives. Devices and techniques such as the IUD, tubal ligation and vasectomy were introduced but, given the overall lack of resources, the pill became by default the contraceptive of choice.

There was already considerable demand, particularly among urban middle income groups dissatisfied with traditional methods. Though there was little effort to extend family planning to the rural population, nationally an estimated 11 percent of women of child-bearing age used some form of contraceptive. [1]

Despite considerable improvement in the gross domestic product and per capita income, infant mortality remained very high due to the inequitable distribution of public services. But several changes were introduced to improve women’s status both within the family and in the public arena, including efforts to include women in the labor market. The legal age of marriage for women was increased to 18, and in 1975 marriage and divorce law was reformed to limit men’s arbitrary right to divorce and to enter into polygamous marriages. [2] Although implementation was problematic, the symbolic value of these moves was considerable, and conveyed to women and to the general public that women’s rights were officially recognized.

With the establishment of the Islamic regime, the family planning program fell into disarray. The new regime did not formulate an explicit population policy. Many conservative leaders continued to insist that contraceptive devices had been developed by Western powers in order to subjugate oppressed nations and to limit the number of Muslims. The government officially encouraged early and universal marriage, and further lowered the minimum marriage age. Contraceptives became difficult to obtain, as the stock of modern devices, primarily imported, was soon depleted. The side effects of contraceptive pills and IUDs on women’s health became a popular subject of discussion, particularly in women’s religious gatherings (sofreh) where issues of marriage and family are traditionally discussed. [3] Iran’s fertility level, not surprisingly, increased immediately after the revolution.

A 1986 national survey estimated Iran’s population at over 50 million, and had a sobering impact on the more astute members of the government. The high birthrate and increase in population, together with the depressed economy and massive migration from the war zones to Tehran and other major cities, placed considerable demands on the government. The government of the oppressed, as it portrayed itself, had committed itself ideologically and constitutionally to the provision of basic amenities and equal opportunity in order to move toward a just Islamic society. The leadership was also conscious that Iranian politics is made in the major cities, where shortages and failure to meet basic needs could have severe consequences.

Pressure from more enlightened segments of the religious and political leadership resulted in an explicit pronouncement that the use of pills and other contraceptives which would temporarily stop the creation of a fetus was not haram (prohibited). The announcement, justified in theological terms, paved the way for the reformulation of population policies over the next few years. By 1988, the question of overpopulation and its danger, on the national and international scale, had found its way into the political speeches of various leaders. After Ayatollah Ali Khamenei discussed the necessity of introducing family planning in a Friday sermon, the government issued a national birth control policy, which Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ratified shortly before his death in 1989. A Board of Family Planning, directly under the control of the minister of health, started its activities at once.

The population policy of the Islamic Republic differs from the pre-revolution program in many important ways. The Islamic Republic has achieved considerable success in convincing the population to accept and practice family planning through a powerful consensus building campaign and by establishing an effective network to provide affordable and reliable contraceptive means.

Building National Consensus

The most outstanding innovation in the Islamic Republic’s family planning policy has been the way in which the government has tried to raise general knowledge and understanding of population questions rather than limit its focus to promoting contraceptives. Political and religious leaders frequently address the importance of family planning in nationally televised speeches, and particularly in Friday sermons which publicly define the government’s political and ideological lines. [4] The government has also supported research and publication on the question of population and Islamic family planning, including a compilation of medieval writings which demonstrate that family planning has been a concern of Islamic societies long before it was a Western interest.

A number of broad and overlapping themes have emerged. [5] First, the talks raise the question of whether the world can continue to support an ever increasing population, using concrete examples drawn from China, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other developing nations. Another technique examines, in simple and accessible language, the consequences of increased population for domestic food production and dependency, and education and health care costs. By contrast, Western countries, with their low rates of growth and much more balanced population pyramids, can provide education and health care to their peoples and in this manner continue to reinforce their power over the rest of the world. Public discourse phrases it thus: Muslim nations are forced to beg food from North Americans; for reasons such as this the Prophet and other ulama (religious scholars) allowed Muslims to practice contraception in times of economic hardship. On several occasions our informants argued that family planning is among the most legitimate (halal) things a Muslim can do. The claim that Islam is one of the few world religions which has permitted contraception while sanctioning sexual pleasure is sometimes used to show that it is a superior and timeless faith. [6]

Another frequent theme is whether family planning (referred to in Persian as tanzim-e khanevadeh, or family organization) is a public issue or a strictly individual family concern. Official speeches stress that in Muslim societies individual decisions have always been taken with much concern for the public interest, while communities have respected individual rights. If Iranians want to build an able, intelligent, educated Muslim nation, official speeches argue, they must find a balance between their individual desires as parents and what society can afford. These arguments are presented with specific comparisons to advanced nations, particularly Japan, which has come to represent a technological ideal to Iranians.

The official discourse asserts that all temporary means of contraception accord with Islamic practice, and backs this opinion with references to various Shi‘i and Sunni texts and fatwas (official religious opinions). Tubal ligation and vasectomy are controversial, as they make an individual aghim (unable to bear children). A number of ulama, however, argue that if reversal of the operation is possible, then there is no Islamic barrier. Others claim that a person who already has children cannot be considered aghim, but those who do not should not choose these methods. Despite some popular resistance, government-run hospitals perform such operations free of charge. The major complaint is that there are not sufficient specialists, particularly women, to meet the demand, and consequently there is a long waiting list for the procedures.

Abortion, the most controversial and problematic issue, officially remains illegal unless the pregnancy is judged detrimental to the psychological and physical wellbeing of the mother. Ironically, Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, an important conservative leader of the revolution, outlined a theological approach which was instrumental in liberalizing the abortion law in 1973. Today, if an illegal abortion takes place during the first 120 days, before the “ensoulment” of the fetus, the person who performed the abortion has to pay a dieh (blood money) to the fetus’s lawful heirs, usually the parents. After the time of “ensoulment,” abortion is equivalent to murder and punishable by a higher blood price. In practice, medical attestations concerning the woman’s health are regularly signed. All our informants, including doctors and nurses, told us that abortion was frequent, and no one had heard of a single case of a doctor being reprimanded.

A further feature of the government’s approach emphasizes the effects of numerous pregnancies on the health of mothers and children. Closely spaced births mean that older children do not get the attention they deserve. Moreover, what does motherhood mean if a mother cannot enjoy her children’s smiles and watch them blossom? [7] By introducing medical “facts,” religious leaders argue that women should only bear children between the ages of 20 and 35.

The government has worked relentlessly to create a broad consensus on family planning at the national level, hosting several widely publicized national and international conferences on population in Tehran. Additionally, there are plans to include population and the history of Islamic family planning in the national curriculum at all levels, and to include information on family planning in adult literacy classes, many of which are held in the local mosques. Although not all these goals have been realized, their existence indicates a comprehensive and sophisticated approach. There are family planning sessions for girls in the last years of high school. There are also segregated sessions for male and female workers in larger industrial establishments. Following Chinese and Indonesian models, many large workplaces include health clinics which provide contraceptives. In rural areas and smaller communities, information and discussion sessions on population and birth control methods are held in “health houses” (local clinics) or in local mosques (usually because there is no clinic or its space is limited).

The government’s family planning program demonstrates an understanding of the complex web of variables which influence fertility levels. In an attempt to prevent the kind of criticism directed at the pre-revolution family planning program, the Islamic Republic has paid the utmost attention to defining family planning as the prevention of unwanted pregnancies in order to improve families’ and society’s physical and social health. Several Ministry of Health documents underline the improvement of women’s position within family and society as the cornerstone of successful family planning. In the largest health survey in the central province (Tehran), 96.7 percent of women said they agreed with family planning. [8]

The Family Planning Network

Since 1989, when the first population policy of the Islamic Republic was formulated, the Family Planning Board has regenerated itself well beyond its pre-revolution capacity in terms of research and public services. Apart from major urban hospitals and clinics, there are “health houses” in rural areas where resident nurses provide family planning services and information along with other services, although the number of centers still falls short of the regime’s goals. The 16,654 existing health centers provide for only 63 percent of estimated need, and about 21 percent of rural centers are not yet served. [9]

In major cities, a lively private sector complements the government’s efforts, which are directed primarily at low-income citizens. Quantities of contraceptive pills, IUDs, condoms and several injection contraceptives have been imported and are distributed either free of charge or at heavily subsidized prices. Vasectomy and tubal ligation are legal and available at major hospitals. Due to a lack of trained personnel, the adoption of the IUD in small communities is more problematic. Much research is directed at identifying varieties of contraceptives with the fewest side effects.

Family planning clients receive routine checkups and advice on contraceptive methods. The majority choose the pill and are provided with a monthly supply of pills or condoms. They are expected to return every month for a checkup and to renew their supply. Ostensibly this procedure is to monitor women’s health, but as their supply budget is limited, officials use this strategy to ensure that only those who are committed receive supplies. Transportation and communication problems, however, mean that women cannot always return to the clinic at the appropriate time. Since irregular use decreases reliability, it may be more effective to shift to a two-month supply-and-return approach.

Despite much effort in disseminating information, reliable and efficient use of contraceptives (particularly the pill) has not yet reached its optimum level. One 1991 study covering 1,000 urban and 1,000 rural households in Tehran province, where the public is assumed to have easier access to information, indicated that over 25 percent of participants, including rural and urban and a considerable number of literate women, took the pill either every other night or only before intercourse. Beyond a lack of information, reasons for such behavior varied from hoping to reduce possible side affects to trying to stretch their supply of pills.

Every major study indicates that azl (coitus interruptus) is the most common method of contraception, although there is no effort at all by the government to promote this method. Both the technical literature and government statistics indicate that men continue to play a prominent role in preventing pregnancies. But today women are the primary target of “family organization” campaigns. The common message is that while family planning should be a joint decision made by a woman and her husband, it is she who should implement the appropriate measures. Information sessions are held for men, but only the female forms of contraceptives are discussed. This suggests that the government holds women, not men, primarily responsible for implementing birth control. The Islamic Republic, despite its own rich Islamic family planning tradition, has chosen to adopt “Western” strategies and goals, with their gender biases.

Iran’s family planning campaign demonstrates other contradictions that will affect its success. Despite a concerted attack on individualism in government-produced school manuals, films, soap operas and radio programs, and the explicit goal of perpetuating a culture of interdependence between family and kin and neighbors and community population programs are directed particularly at young women. Women’s decisions, though, are highly influenced by their network — especially mothers and mothers-in-law. Fear of community disapproval, particularly in small communities, is an important deterrent against contraceptive use. The effectiveness of the family planning program would be enhanced by addressing older women and securing their support. It is ironic that a government which has made the preservation of traditional Iranian Muslim culture and its communal values a paramount goal has overlooked the importance of women’s kin relationships and the central role that older women play in the lives of younger women.

Women’s Status

The Islamic Republic’s population policy has been successful thus far in trying to reverse the extremely high rate of population growth. Infant mortality and life expectancy, despite the Iran-Iraq war and general state of the economy, have improved considerably. In 1991, the government stated its 20 year goals as: reducing the total fertility rate to 3.5 children per woman; reducing births to 28 per thousand; reducing the rate of population growth to 2.2 percent; and increasing the proportion of married women using contraceptives to 44 percent. [10] The success of these policies in the first five years has led some officials to anticipate achieving these goals, particularly a total fertility rate of 3.5, by the year 2001.

The regime is aware that this depends not only on careful planning and implementation but also on the coordination of legal and social change more broadly. To this end, it has emphasized more education for women particularly, improved health, and enhanced social and economic security of all citizens. It has placed great importance on the social and economic integration of women and on the improvement of women’s general status both in society and in the family. But the gender roles and female domesticity advocated by the government as the cornerstone of its envisaged Muslim society do not reconcile easily with the improvement of women’s position and socioeconomic integration.

In the first phase of revolution, women’s status appeared to deteriorate due to the reversal of earlier reforms. Pressure from Islamist women activists and the demands of development have encouraged the government to revise some of its views and adopt a more compromising attitude on gender issues. Both the Islamic Republic and women Islamists have demonstrated considerable creativity in their attempts to modernize their Islamic doctrine. The regime’s pragmatic approach, particularly since 1989, has repeatedly linked women’s education with the creation of an Islamic society in which discrimination against women should not exist. Ayatollah Khomeini’s daughter, who was known to have a very close relationship with her father, has a doctoral degree and is cited as living proof that the supreme leader of the revolution was a strong advocate of female education.

The Islamic Republic has placed great emphasis on reforming the educational system to reflect its ideology, and education has been allocated a generous portion of government expenditures — 21.9 percent of the 1989 budget. Although the gap between male and female illiteracy remains considerable, women’s literacy has improved at a much faster rate than during the pre-revolutionary era. In 1988, 74 percent of literacy students who had completed their programs were women, a reversal of pre-revolution trends. [11]

Many universities have reversed early barriers they had placed on women’s participation in some disciplines, particularly law and engineering. Although these improvements have sometimes been framed within the Islamic vision of society, officials also indicate a high demand for women health workers and other professionals to respond to the needs of the female population. Medicine, the most prestigious faculty in Iranian universities, has become more open to women, and their admission in different medical fields is now on par with males.

While literacy and schooling rates are improving, the values that the regime propagates through school texts limit the image of women to the domestic arena, with little encouragement for women to look beyond domestic life for fulfillment. [12] While encouraging women to participate in the revolution and support the regime, Iranian religious leaders see domesticity as women’s paramount role. This contradictory approach to the public role of women is indicated in various legal documents, including the constitution of the Islamic Republic. [13]

The government has adopted several strategies to reduce women’s employment, including the introduction of compulsory hejab (veiling), and packages which enabled women to retire after only 15 years of work, or transfer their full salaries to their husband and resign or only work part-time. [14] Such programs were ostensibly offered to ease women’s lives and allow them to attend to domestic responsibilities. Consequently, women’s public-sector employment has been decreasing by two percent each year. The government’s systematic plan to minimize women’s employment and reduce their visibility in the bureaucracy has been a major theme of criticism by women Islamists both within and outside the government. Women hold only 3 percent of senior government posts, even though women employed in the public sector are relatively better educated than their male colleagues. [15] Women have not accepted this situation passively and are challenging the government on many fronts.

Contradictory Signals

Immediately after coming to power, Khomeini and other religious leaders asserted their success over the Pahlavi modernist ideology by annulling the family code which had restricted men’s right to polygamous marriages and had given women the right to file for divorce in some circumstances. Temporary marriage, which had been outlawed (although it continued to be practiced among more traditional social groups), was legally sanctioned again. The most dramatic change was the lowering of the legal age of maturity for girls, and therefore of marriage, to 9, and to enshrine this in the constitution.

The pro-natalist ideology of the regime viewed marriage as the most important means of eradicating social ills. Not only did marriage and its advantages for society become a frequent subject of official speeches, but the government established the Marriage Foundation to help men and women find spouses within a strict Islamic code, and to provide some financial assistance in setting up new households. [16]

Within several years of the revolution, however, newspapers, magazines and sometimes even official radio began to carry reports of men who abused their power to divorce at will and to throw their wives into the street, after years of marriage, without providing any support beyond the minimum three months’ maintenance. Stories also circulated about child marriages and the health risks for the young brides. Senior women activists and women members of Parliament raised questions about the meaning of Islamic justice for women. They demanded laws that would obstruct men who were bad Muslims, or whose understanding of Islam was questionable, from causing injustice and misery in the name of Islam.

The result was Khomeini’s introduction of a new family law. Although it did not go as far as many Muslim women activists had hoped, it represented one of the most advanced marriage laws in the Middle East (after Tunisia and Turkey) without deviating from any of the major conventional assumptions of Islamic law. Most Muslim schools of law, and certainly Shi‘i law, permit women to stipulate conditions in their marriage contract, although in practice it is difficult to discuss these matters at the time of betrothal when everyone proclaims confidence that the couple will live happily together. Under the new law, the standard marriage contract includes 11 clauses. The two most important are that the first wife has the right of divorce should the husband take a second wife without her consent, and that wealth accumulated during the marriage is divided equally between the couple in the event of divorce. The burden of negotiation is now upon the groom and his family, should they wish to remove some of the clauses, making it easier for the bride’s family to introduce their own conditions, including her right to continue her education or work outside the home.

This partial victory of Muslim activist women has encouraged a new line of public debate and negotiation. Activists have produced women-centered interpretations of Muslim laws, challenging conventional and conservative male-centered interpretations. [17] A recent case in point is the success in winning wages for housework. This legislation protects women who married before the reintroduction of the marriage law, which is not retroactive. Housework wages must now be paid upon divorce, or upon the woman’s demand. Women activists argued that Islam does not require women to work in their husband’s home, even to the extent that the husband is under obligation to pay his wife for breastfeeding her own child. The controversial law was passed in December 1992, and despite enforcement difficulties, it sends the message that the regime is responsive to women’s voices.

These legal gains are not easily put into practice. Men still find “Islamic” excuses to divorce their wives unjustly. Knowing that women have little recourse, men venture into subsequent marriages, rendering their wives economically and psychologically insecure. Islamist women are campaigning to improve laws respecting polygyny, custody of children and nushuz (the right of a husband to divorce his wife without recompense should she leave home against his wishes). Major newspapers and women’s magazines debate these issues in an Islamic context, and some religious leaders have been receptive. Observant Muslim women activists have managed to win many concessions from the government, including the establishment of a Council of Women’s Affairs which reports directly to the president, a women’s legal advisory office in the parliament, and the appointment of women advisers to aid judges in divorce and custody suits (though women cannot be judges themselves). Despite these gains, women still have a long way to go before they have undone the harm caused by centuries of misinterpretation of Islam. [18]

Women’s Options

It is within this socioeconomic and legal context that women decide the size of their family. Both marriage and financial insecurity are among the most important factors influencing women as they assess their alternatives. Since women are frequently many years younger than their husbands, most expect to be widows in the second half of their lives; 84 percent of all widowed spouses are women. Women’s opportunities for jobs, already typically lower-paying than men’s, have decreased since the revolution. Therefore, women hope to have sons who would provide for them. In the process, women will generally have several daughters as well, and thus a larger family than either they want or the government advocates.

Many women point out the contradiction between the government’s demand that women have small families and the way women are treated legally and socially. They openly blame legal changes and the government’s attitude and ideology toward polygamous and temporary marriages. It is not clear what percentage of men actually have polygamous marriages, as many of these are not registered; all of our informants, both male and female, felt that polygamous marriages have increased sharply. Such perception strongly influences women’s childbearing strategies and encourages them to choose larger families in order to consolidate their marriage ties. To bring together women’s choice of family size with that envisaged by the government, the regime needs to remove its contradictory and ambivalent policies. Reforms that give women the right to divorce if the husband marries a second wife, though ideologically important, are of little practical significance when woman’s opportunities in the second-marriage market are slim.

Fear of losing one’s children, especially when all the ideological slogans and cultural values tell women that their role as mother is the most important element of their life, is a constant threat. In 65 percent of all divorces that our interviewees knew of and where children were involved, fathers had been granted custody. Unmarried divorced fathers often gave the children to their mothers or other female relatives to help care for them. Mothers are commonly denied visiting rights. The remedy to this threat, according to many female informants, was to have many children and make it difficult for mothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, co-wives or stepmothers to take over their role. Similarly, many women put up with unhappy and sometimes violent marriages just to be with their children. Clearly women are planning their families and using contraceptives, but their assessment of realistic family size does not always correspond to that of the government.

The development of population policy in Iran indicates that, contrary to its image in the West, the Islamic Republic has demonstrated much resilience and adaptability in the face of a rather harsh socioeconomic reality. It has shown a keen awareness that creating an informed public and building a broad consensus is one of the most important elements of success of any development plan, particularly as it touches upon the most intimate and day-to-day aspects of people’s lives. Unlike the monarchy, the Islamic regime has popularized the fundamental relevance of the population question to human society.

The most controversial piece of Iran’s population policy is the close association between women’s socioeconomic position and fertility behavior. While the government has readily promoted women’s education, other requirements, such as labor market participation, contradict the state’s vision of women’s role. This vision and its corresponding legal changes contradict the promise of a just Islamic society for all. The government envisages gender roles that do not correspond with those of Islamist women activists. In their view, much of what is presented is nothing but patriarchy in “Islamic” costume.

The last decade of Iranian debate and discussion on the highly politicized question of women has been characterized by a sharp contrast between this patriarchy and a women-centered interpretation of women’s rights in Islam. The image of a pragmatic feminism in Muslim costume can perhaps best capture the gist of much of these debates. The advantage of the new Islamist feminists over more secularized “Western” activists is that they challenge and reform the Islamic doctrine from within rather than advocating a Western model of gender relations. They have already managed to change women’s consciousness to distinguish between patriarchal tradition and Islam. Ironically, the “traditionalization” of the marriage institution and the role of women has turned women strongly against tradition. [19] These arguments have made it clear that issues dealing with women’s rights and responsibilities affect women’s family planning goals.

The eagerness to succeed in population policy, and an awareness of the importance of improving women’s socioeconomic status in this regard, has introduced a conciliatory and accommodating attitude toward some of the Islamist women’s demands. Many conservative religious leaders have adopted some of the women’s interpretations. However, given the economic and unemployment pressures, there is little sign that the government will promote women’s labor market participation. It also remains to be seen whether the government will legally and socially redefine marriage to make it a more secure social institution for women, and thus encourage a lower fertility rate. In the end, the lively debates in Iran around the dynamics of the population program and women’s rights and responsibilities are further evidence that reproductive choices and strategies, whether the government’s or women’s, are not decided by Islam but are the product of the political and economic realities of a given society.

Author’s Note: I thank Carla Makhlouf Obermeyer, Carolyn Makinson and Patricia Kelly for their insightful comments during the development of this article. My special thanks to Azita Roshan who helped collect material and carry out field research. I am also grateful to Joe Stork for his work in collapsing this article to its present length. The data presented here are based on an ongoing comprehensive research project on women and law in Iran carried out under the auspices of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, an international network of women from Muslim communities, established to promote debate and research for social change in the Muslim world. Fieldwork on reproductive rights and family planning commenced in February 1993, with participant observation and informal interviews in four major public hospitals of Tehran and smaller health centers on the outskirts of Tehran. A core sample of 120 women have been informally interviewed, and 25 nurses, doctors and hospital managers consulted. Data collected by the research center of the Family Planning Board on the provinces of Tehran and Markazi, and several other works on family planning published in Iran, provide a larger context. Other sources include radio and television programs, major public speeches of political and religious leaders, women’s magazines and national newspapers.

Endnotes

[1] Akbar Aghajanian,“Population Change in Iran, 1966-86: A Stalled Demographic Transition?” Population and Development Review 17 (1991), p. 708.
[2] The minimum age law was repealed in 1978 under pressure from the religious right and the marriage age for girls reverted to 15, though the minimum age was not enforced. See Eliz Sansarian, The Women’s Rights Movement in Iran: Mutiny, Appeasement and Repression from 1900 to Khomeini (New York: Praeger, 1982), p. 96.
[3] I attended two of these gatherings in 1981. Women were warned not to use the pill because it might render them infertile forever; if, because of their infertility, their husbands divorced them, God would not listen to their complaints. For a discussion of the sofreh, see Anne Betteridge, “The Controversial Vows of Urban Muslim Women in Iran,” in N. A. Falk and R. M. Gross, eds., Unspoken Worlds: Women’s Religious Lives in Non-Western Cultures (New York: Harper and Row, 1980).
[4] These Friday talks and many other official talks and interviews are also printed in major national print media, including women’s magazines.
[5] These are usually delivered in the form of questions and answers, the traditional way in which the ulama deliver their sermons.
[6] See, for example, Ayatollah Sane’i in Zan-e Ruz 1329 (1991), pp. 8-12.
[7] This theme is frequently discussed by religious leaders and on radio and television programs.
[8] The emphasis placed on curing infertility has had a definite impact on the credibility of the program.
[9] Hossein Malek Afzali, Vaziet-e salamat-e madaran va kudakan dar jumhuriyyeh islamiyyeh Iran (The Health Status of Mothers and Children in the Islamic Republic of Iran) (Tehran: Ministry of Public Health, 1992), pp. 19-20.
[10] Afzali, p. 62.
[11] Golnar Mehran, “The Creation of the New Muslim Woman: Female Education in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Convergence 23 (1991), p. 47.
[12] At a recent government reception, Mrs. Shoja‘i, adviser on women’s affairs to the home minister, observed that references to men in school tests are 267 times more frequent than references to women. Payam-e Zan 2/4 (1993), pp. 16-17.
[13] Article 28 of the constitution states, “Every person has the right to pursue the occupation of his or her choice in so far as this is not contradictory to Islam and the public interest or the right of others.” This has been interpreted in the courts and by the public to mean that a husband has the right to stop his wife from being employed outside the home.
[14] See Valentine Moghadam, Modernizing Women: Gender and Social Change in the Middle East (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1993).
[15] Sharify notes that 18 percent of women in public-sector employment have higher education, compared to only 6 percent of men. “Mughayat-e zan dar nizam-e idari-ye Iran” (The Position of Women in Iran’s Public Sector), Zanan 2 (1992), pp. 4-9.
[16] The Marriage Foundation existed on a small scale before the revolution, as facilitating marriages was deemed to be savab (a good deed). After the revolution it became a social pillar of the Islamic regime, particularly after the war, as it undertook the task of remarrying thousands of young war widows.
[17] All six major women’s magazines are full of these accounts; national newspapers, radio and television cover these interpretations which are sometimes picked up by government officials and even religious leaders.
[18] Azam Talaghani, personal communication, January 1993.
[19] Carla Makhlouf Obermeyer, personal communication, February 1994.

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Homa Hoodfar "Devices and Desires," Middle East Report 190 ( ).
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