A radical cleric. An aging, former president of an Islamic Republic. The charismatic leader of a reborn social movement – all three have something in common. They are women.
The significance of this may not be lost on the United States and its allies – particularly Saudi Arabia – who are buying into the group of women who are driving in Tehran now that the fundamentalist clerical regime has bowed to public demands to reform its misogynistic practices.
Each has struggled against Iran for decades.
They are all part of the feminist moment now sweeping the Islamic world.
To just count the names of the prominent woman driving in Iran is no longer a child’s game. Women are driving freely in the southern part of the country, though the government’s Interior Ministry has closed more than 200 driving schools in the past year. Similar bans have been lifted in Iraq and Libya. In just the past few weeks, the Patriotic Women of Iran network opened its first headquarters in Saudi Arabia – from which thousands of Iranian women have fled during periods of political upheaval.
If there is something revolutionary about seeing a woman in a car, it is their determination to make the revolution real.
“We can do nothing to stop people going outside their home to change the world,” says Fatemeh Sherotabadi, a young woman who is part of the Patriotic Women of Iran network. “We are not going to stop them. There’s not even a smoke bomb. All we can do is try to do our part.”
That’s not all they can do, however.
Like the more celebrated drivers in Tehran, the Patriotic Women of Iran are not running for office in the upcoming parliamentary election on Oct. 2. Instead, as the religious-feminist network has multiplied and the social movement called for by the hashtag #HappyWomenGrowHappiness has grown, Sherotabadi’s group has enlisted itself into the fight against gender discrimination. The most common topic on the network’s Facebook page is the topic of lifting the Islamic dress code – an issue that would have seemed unthinkable to Iranian women only a few years ago.
The Patriotic Women of Iran – so called because they are dedicating themselves to the values of the revolution – have become the driving force behind what a group of women seen on the network’s web page call “a hidden revolution.”
As Sherotabadi explains: “It’s time for us to stop being passive. We have decided not to say nothing, not to remain silent. We don’t want to let some stupid people be in charge of Iran again.”
And so, Sherotabadi said, their network of women – many of whom are leaders of the Womens Revolutionary Protection Movement, which calls for ending the Islamic dress code and the seclusion imposed in public – is now also devoted to fighting inequality and sex discrimination. Their goal is to have more and more Iranian women go to school, create equal wages and elect women to more political offices. But they warn that their countrymen must not forget the force behind their revolution.
“We tried revolution and achieved it successfully,” Sherotabadi said. “We did not change the future. We did not change the old culture. We tried the revolution of the past but we were not changed. We have to change it in one way or another.”
To just count the names of the prominent woman driving in Iran is no longer a child’s game. Women are driving freely in the southern part of the country, though the government’s Interior Ministry has closed more than 200 driving schools in the past year.
“When women go out, they have no weapons and no men say: ‘They are fighters,'” Sherotabadi said. “But they definitely have become the warriors of their country.”