The suffrage movement in Iran achieved its goal of formally enfranchising women in 1963, through a referendum in which women voted. This Essay explores the movement for Iranian women’s suffrage in three phases. First, it examines ’the mid-nineteenth-century pre-suffrage political climate that created the conditions for some to call for women’s enfranchisement and the founding of a women’s movement during a period of modernization in the mid-twentieth century alongside debates about Iranian women’s roles. Second, this Essay considers the success of the women’s suffrage movement as part of a broader package of reforms that transferred power from the aristocracy and clerical leaders to the monarchy, despite political resistance. Third, it explores the challenges to Iranian women’s rights after the 1979 revolution, which maintained women’s right to vote, but initially suspended other hard-fought rights in the domain of family law, as part of an effort by the new Islamic republic to redefine women’s roles as a technique of branding the new state.
The lessons from the Iranian women’s suffrage movement show that voting alone is not a cure for women’s equal enfranchisement in all sectors of society. Women’s entry into the political sphere, however, raises and maintains demands for women’s rights in society as a key legitimating factor for the state. The Iranian women’s movement was a multi-dimensional effort with different factions sometimes sparring over the goals of the mission. Debates about women’s rights in Iran and elsewhere reveal that women’s societal roles still serve as important cultural tropes whose meaning powerful actors fight to define and control.
Serena Mayeri (University of Pennsylvania) contributed a piece titled "After Suffrage: The Unfinished Business of Feminist Legal Advocacy":
This Essay considers post-suffrage women’s citizenship through the eyes of Pauli Murray, a key figure at the intersection of the twentieth-century movements for racial justice and feminism. Murray drew critical lessons from the woman suffrage movement and the Reconstruction-era disintegration of an abolitionist-feminist alliance to craft legal and constitutional strategies that continue to shape equality law and advocacy today. Murray placed African American women at the center of a vision of universal human rights that relied upon interracial and intergenerational alliances and anticipated what scholars later named intersectionality. As Murray foresaw, women of color formed a feminist vanguard in the second half of the twentieth century, pioneering social movements and legal claims that enjoyed significant success. But Murray’s hope that women’s solidarity could overcome ideological divides and the legacy of white supremacy went unfulfilled. As a result, the more expansive visions of racial, sexual, economic, and reproductive justice that intersectional advocacy produced remain the most pressing unfinished business of sex equality today, at the Nineteenth Amendment’s centennial.
The whole collection is available here.
-- Karen Tani