International Women’s Day has been celebrated in different ways in Iran. Last year, it was reported that meetings were held in people’s houses, and that it was proposed as a day of ‘solidarity and self-criticism’. The year before, there were street demonstrations in Tehran – and masked, baton-waving women police. In 2010, the Iranian government marked the day by banning the country’s greatest living poet, Simin Behbahani, from travelling to France where she had been invited by the mayor of Paris to celebrate International Women’s Day.
Prominent Iranian feminist Mansoureh Shojaee has written a history of International Women’s Day in Iran, noting that there were public celebrations in 1922 and 1928, but that the first actual demonstrations on IWD came in 1979, just after the revolution was won.
On 26 February 1979, ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran, annulled the Family Protection Law, which removed women’s right to divorce and to custody, reversed the ban on polygamy, and lowered the age of marriage for women from 18 to nine. On 2 March, women were banned from becoming judges. On 6 March, Khomeini’s office announced a compulsory dress code for women, including wearing the headscarf or hijab. Shojaee writes: ‘As a result of the declaration of these orders, the celebration of this International Women’s Day [in 1979] turned into widespread demonstrations in Tehran and a few other cities. This protest was met with violent reprisal from the supporters of compulsory Islamic hijab.’
It was not until 2000 that the Iranian women’s movement was strong enough to mount a public celebration of 8 March, attracting 1,000 people to an event in Tehran. By 2002, the Women’s Cultural Centre was able to hold the first IWD event in an open public space – Laleh Park in Tehran. It was after an 8 March 2007 protest by women in front of parliament (where a lot of participants were violently arrested) that IWD went back to private homes (used as public spaces).
Last year, to mark IWD, 200 Iranian women’s groups issued a joint statement (with videos) which said: ‘War does not happen in the course of a day…. The possibility of war too changes the lives of women… War for us, means destructive violence committed against women and children. It means more severe crackdowns. It signifies the silencing of our demands and civil protest… Still our bodies are covered in the dust of the eight-year war with Iraq, and our country is once again faced with the threat of war. We do not want to become the silent victims of this monster. On March 8, 2012 while being denied the opportunity to celebrate the day or express our demands in the streets, we have taken this opportunity to say that we are opposed to war….’