|Iran - Gender Roles|
Traditional Attitudes Toward Segregation of the Sexes
the notable exception of the Westernized and secularized upper and middle
classes, Iranian society before the Revolution practiced public
segregation of the sexes. Women generally practiced use of the chador (or
veil) when in public or when males not related to them were in the house.
In the traditional view, an ideal society was one in which women were
confined to the home, where they performed the various domestic tasks
associated with managing a household and rearing children. Men worked in
the public sphere, that is, in the fields, factories, bazaars, and
offices. Deviations from this ideal, especially in the case of women,
tended to reflect adversely upon the reputation of the family. The
strength of these traditional attitudes was reflected in the public
education system, which maintained separate schools for boys and girls
from the elementary through the secondary levels.
Impact of Western Ideas on the Role of Women
Among the ideas imported into Iran from the West was the notion that women should participate in the public sphere. The Pahlavi government encouraged women to get as much education as possible and to participate in the labor force at all levels. After 1936, when Reza Shah banned the chador, veiling came to be perceived among the minority of elite and secular middle-class women as a symbol of oppression. Before the Revolution, Iranian society was already polarized between the traditionally minded majority and a minority of involved women who were dedicated to improving the status of women. As early as 1932, Iranian women held a meeting of the Oriental Feminine Congress in Tehran at which they called for the right of women to vote, compulsory education for both boys and girls, equal salaries for men and women, and an end to polygyny. In 1963 women were given the right to vote and to hold public office.
Female Participation in the Work Force
Prior to the
Revolution, three patterns of work existed among women. Among the upper
classes, women either worked as professionals or undertook voluntary
projects of various kinds. Whereas secular middle- class women aspired to
emulate such women, traditional middle-class women worked outside the home
only from dire necessity. Lower class women frequently worked outside the
home, especially in major cities, because their incomes were needed to
support their households.
Data as of December 1987Source:
Entry from: "Iran: A Country Study" published by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. Picture courtesy Library of Congress.