Quite a while back, me and Niloufar from Under the Indigo Dome decided to start a collaboration covering our experience as women in Iran. It’s more like a girl’s chat over coffee except the distance separating us hasn’t given us the privilege so far.
We came up with some questions and gave our personal answers with the aim to fight misconceptions and give our readers a better perspective of the life an ordinary Iranian women. Now we obviously do not talk for all iranian women and have to no claim to do so. It’s possible that our answers are not the case for many Iranian women. We relate ourselves mostly to middle class women with higher education living in the city who are also struggling with the transition of their society from traditional to modern, yet are eager to find their way through it all.
We did this first section of this post quite a while back and had a long pause due to Niloufar’s wedding. But here we are with a few other questions and open to your questions and opinions.
Let’s get right into it, shall we?
Was there a time when you wished you weren’t a woman in Iran? When? Why?
Matin: Now if it’s not about curfew, the only time I don’t want to be a woman is when I’m harassed. Thankfully things have gotten a lot better over the years, but harassment of women still exists. There’s been times that I’ve been so furious and desperate that I just hated that my gender could objectify me so much.
Niloufar: That’s a tough one. I have no problem with being a woman, physically and psychologically but I feel my gender inside and outside of Iran has not been treated fairly in many aspects. I am not the bitter, man-hating feminist. I love men. I even married one! Haha. I would say no, there hasn’t been a time I wished I was a boy in Iran or I felt everything was alright for me as a woman outside of Iran. The issues I have are more or less valid everywhere in the world. But this is something I need to constantly remind myself; not all girls and women are from the same background. I can speak for myself and I can say I had it pretty easy. But I would prefer a world where women weren’t objectified as much and street and workplace harassment was non-existent. I have to squeeze in a quick note here though. When it comes to objectification of women, we as women are also to blame. Let’s be a little realistic and take some responsibility for how some stereotypes and “misconceptions” have come to be formed. That is a completely different topic and begs the dedication of several posts to itself.
How would you comment on how basic education (school) and higher education platforms encourage or discourage independence in young girls?
Matin: I’m sure one of the reasons the role of Iranian women has been changing so fast compared to the rest of the Middle East is the urge for higher education. Just spending a few years in an environment shared with male counterparts and meeting and learning from people with such different backgrounds is so rewarding and life changing. Whether the platform was promoting independence of women; I’m not so sure. But education itself and just existing in an environment where a lot of debate and exchange of information occurs, definitely encourages people to overthink and perhaps question conventions.
Niloufar: I am a strong believer of education and all that it stands for and all that it does for people, especially women in developing countries. It’s not necessarily what you learn in university, but the fact that you learn to learn. The more exposed you are to different perspectives and opportunities to challenge opposing opinions, the more open you become to realising your flaws, bettering yourself and making an effort in cohabiting with a multitude of standpoints. This only leads to tolerance and acknowledgement of diversity. The latter is something Iran carries, yet needs to work on the tolerating and acceptation part of it.
How do you see the role of families in succeeding in or failing at raising independent women?
Matin: This is a tricky one. There’s really a bit of both. But to be honest, I feel like the negative side still pretty much overshadows. In my opinion the biggest struggle Iranian girls face for their dependence is actually their families. Once you have your family backing you, things get a lot easier. Since many of us never leave the nest unless we get married or study in a different city or country, we still have to consider our families in many decisions we make. It’s very typically said that until you live under their roof, you’ll have to get along with their terms. But moving out is not that easy either. It’s still widely unaccepted and the economic situation and high prices don’t help either.
But like everything else, things are really changing. My own parents who once had mixed feelings about me working at 18 while I studied, are now constantly encouraging me to work and be a productive member of the society. It goes as far as them wanting me to start my own business.
Niloufar: One of the most important barriers to the independence of young women (and even young men) is the constant support of their families. While having your family to turn to at any given time is a blessing and a luxury, it can lead to dependence on not only your family but later a partner. This is more seen in girls than boys in my opinion. It’s easier for a girl to persuade herself that it’s alright to be financially dependent on a partner, because it’s “a man’s job to take care of her” and possibly because she’s not used to doing much to support herself. This dependence doesn’t end at a financial level. Many women find themselves in troubled marriages, knowing they need to get out but fearing the economical consequences that threaten them.
One of the reasons my parents have always been extremely strict on having a proper education was to secure job opportunities and allow myself a comfortable and steady salary. They believed that this not only gives the woman – confidence in her social and personal life, but also allows her to make decisions about her relationships without the fear of economic shortcomings.
Speaking of economics, how hard is it for an Iranian women to find a job in a leading role. Do men and women get equal wages?
Matin: As a matter of fact, a few days ago the manager of the company I work for resigned and consequently a lot of roles were changed and so many people got promotions. I was sitting in a meeting the other day and was exactly thinking of how most of the leading roles were given to guys, even roles that were primarily occupied by women. I know it’s still possible for women to find jobs in a leading role, but to be honest just like the rest of the world, men seem to be more promising options.
But what I’m loving lately is the number of women starting up their own businesses thanks to the power of social media. These women are also empowering other women and after a really long time, I’m witnessing how Iranian women are fearlessly making a business out of their abilities. Many of them are even working from home, but their creativity is outstanding and from what I’m seeing they seem to be doing pretty well.
Niloufar: That is a sensitive and tricky question. I would love to say it’s just as easy for women to find a job in a leading role as it is for men but I would be lying. Just as it is in most parts of the world. But one thing we need to point out first is that you don’t simply get offered a leading role. You have to work for it. Many well deserved title holders start from a rather humble beginning. I’m not talking about fetching coffee and picking up dry cleaning for their bosses necessarily (although there is nothing wrong with that), but more of a junior employee working their way up to higher positions. I have to talk about what I am familiar with. As I’ve mentioned many times in these posts, I can only talk about a certain layer of society that I come from. I am not speaking on behalf of all Iranian women. And in my experience if you have the right qualifications (university degree, work experience,…) you can start from an acceptable position and climb up. Of course there’s always the “it’s who you know” which can come in very handy, opening doors and exposing you to opportunities.
In general, as a developing country with a large young population, finding a decent occupation that allows for a comfortable life can be quite difficult. The job market is not the most inviting and competition is high. But you see more and more women in roles you’d never think were possible to be occupied by the female citizens of Iran; lorry drivers, bus drivers, taxi drivers… Thankfully we aren’t too surprised to see female members of parliament, university deans and surgeons. We have a long way to go and I personally cannot wait for the day to sit in an Iranian flight and hear a woman’s voice announcing “this is your pilot speaking”.
Ditching the impacts of society and men in women’s role in Iran, how do you think women themselves have been fighting for their rights? Is feminism still a new concept in Iran?
Matin: To be honest I actually don’t think Iranian women are really fighting for their rights as much as they should be. Many still seem to be happy with what they have, or simply refuse to get themselves in trouble. Some of the older generation are more traditional and detest the idea of feminism as a whole. We just don’t have the culture to take into the street whenever something is against our wishes, or perhaps whenever we did it got crazy and nothing good came out of it.
I don’t want to deny the work of many women fighting for their rights. I definitely think we have changed so many things with our actions and I surely believe Iranian women are the most assertive women in the Middle East. But when it comes to sensitive subjects such as marriage, divorce and heritage is when you truly realise how traditional the society still is. I feel like many young women are honestly looking into making a change but are not really supported by the older generation that raised them.
Niloufar. I wouldn’t say feminism is a new concept in Iran, though it is dealt with differently. One thing we should keep in mind is that Iran is still transferring itself from a traditional society to a modern one. Some traditional values such as modesty that are intertwined with religion are still very much present in the minds and life of young Iranian women. I’ve seen numerous women throwing sexist remarks because a certain person of the female gender refuses to dress in the way they do. I have had a friend accuse another friend of being a, excuse the word, “slut”, because of how she had managed her monogamous relationship with her boyfriend.
I definitely believe that people are aware of the concept and are trying to resolve the knots and break barriers. But the battle is long and hard, for they aren’t just fighting against sexist laws but also a sexist and patriarchal society.
So here you go people. I hope you’ve enjoyed our little chat and perhaps there were a few things that came to your surprise. We’d love to hear your thoughts and we’ll be continuing this collaboration of ours under the category of women with a bit more variety. Let us know if you’d like us to explain our stance on a certain subject. 😉
Make sure you check out Nilofar’s blog for more juicy post and stay tuned for upcoming collaborations.