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Houston Breakthrough, April 1979
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Houston Breakthrough, April 1979 - Page 12. April 1979. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. September 22, 2020. https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1324/show/1308.

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(April 1979). Houston Breakthrough, April 1979 - Page 12. Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1324/show/1308

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Houston Breakthrough, April 1979 - Page 12, April 1979, Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed September 22, 2020, https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1324/show/1308.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Houston Breakthrough, April 1979
Publisher Breakthrough Publishing Co.
Date April 1979
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women
  • Periodicals
  • Feminism--United States--Periodicals
  • Newsletters
Subject.Geographic (TGN)
  • Houston, Texas
Genre (AAT)
  • periodicals
Language English
Type (DCMI)
  • Text
  • Image
Original Item Location HQ1101 .B74
Original Item URL http://library.uh.edu/record=b2332724~S11
Digital Collection Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters
Digital Collection URL http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Repository URL http://info.lib.uh.edu/about/campus-libraries-collections/special-collections
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the UH Digital Library About page.
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Title Page 12
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Transcript Islam and Iranian women by Barbara Farrar Karkabi As the ship docked in Alexandria, Egypt, three women came down the gangplank, took off their veils and walked— barefaced—towards the waiting crowd. There was a moment of silence, then the crowd began to react. They seemed |about to turn on the three women when, one by one, all the women in the crowd tore off their veils in a dramatic sign of support. The year was 1923. The three had just returned from a conference in Rome on women's rights, which had inspired them to get rid of the veil back home. Within five years of their dockside demonstration, the use of the veil had largely disappeared in Egypt. Over the years, the veil slowly began to disappear in many other Middle Eastern countries - although its use has not yet been eradicated. But in countries like Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iran it has come to be thought of as a thing of the past. The veil goes by many names in the Middle East-it is the milayah in Egypt, the abbayah in Iraq, the chadoor lin Iran, the yashmak in Turkey, the burga pi Afghanistan and the djellabah and the haik in North Africa. But, whatever it is called, it comes down to the same thing— the total concealment of a woman under |a full-length cotton veil. In Islam, the Koranic verse that calls [for the barrier between men and women pays: "Prophet, enjoin your wives, your daughters and the wives of believers to draw their veils close round them. That ts more proper, so that they may be recognized and not molested. Allah is (forgiving and merciful." To American and western feminists, Ithe veil stirs up strong emotions. Elizabeth Fernea, an American writer who has Qived for many years in the Middle East, says in her article, "A Look Behind the JVeil," (Human Nature, January 79) "The (veil triggers western reaction simply (because it is the dramatic, visible sign of krexing questions, questions that are still peing debated, problems that have still pot been solved in the Middle East or [in Western societies." She also says that the veil has sexual jconnotations. It proclaims that women should cover up the evil, enticing parts of their bodies. Marge Randall, a PhD candidate in anthropology, disagrees. She feels the veil is a way of telling women they're not people. "It's just another way men have of controlling women," she says. Whatever the answer, the veil has been a hotly debated subject, and as French ethnologist Germaine Tillion says, "The feminine veil has become a symbol: that of the slavery of one portion of humanity." But have we, in fact, focused too much attention on the veil and ignored other equally important issues? Many Middle Eastern women seem to think so. And the question becomes especially valid in light of recent events in Iran. One month ago, Iranian women took to the streets of Tehran and demonstrated against certain edicts of the Ayatollah Khomeini's government. "In the dawn of freedom, there is no freedom," they chanted. Some of the edicts were, according to reports by western press, a return to "modest" dressing and even perhaps a return to the chadoor; a change of the family laws affecting divorce, and abolishment of coeducational schools. Newspaper reports focused on the re- introduction of the veil, or the chadoor, as the focal and most emotional of the issues. The press and especially the American media indicated that since the Shah was the son of the man who had officially abolished the chadoor in 1935, he was the savior of Iranian women. So much of the progress made by Iranian women under the Shah was going to be totally reversed by the Moslem regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini, the reports all said. But, in reality, how good was the Shah for Iranian women? Certainly his image falters somewhat in a quote taken from a December, 1973 interview with Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci. "I am the son of the man who removed women's veils. But I wouldn't be sincere if I asserted that I'd been influenced by a single one of them. Nobody can influence me . . . and a woman still less," the Shah said. Nancy Hormachea, a Houston lawyer who has defended hundreds of Iranian students over the past four years, says she does not understand the attitude of American feminists. "They think because women did not wear the veil under the Shah that they were liberated? How free could women be, when literally thousands of them were being arrested by SAVAK (the Shah's Secret Police) and tortured in the Shah's prisons?" Referring to Kate Millett's participation in the Iranian demonstrations, she asks, "Where were American feminists in those days of torture and repression? Where were they last September 8 when 400 women were killed in a demonstration in Tehran?" In a recent article inMajority Report Myrna Hill quotes a woman writer who traveled extensively in Iran before the revolution and who interviewed many women. "The writer said she could only assess the Shah's reforms on women's rights as a total sham ... A women's rights organization sponsored by the Shah's government consisted of upper-class women who took no political stand and merely provided some harmless services such as sewing lessons for the less fortunate women. "The basic ownership of a woman by her male relatives went unchallenged and most women did not have the cultural freedom to exercise their theoretical' right to vote." The reporter added that she was shadowed daily by SAVAK spies all through her trip—even in the supermarket. In an effort to find out what the future will be for Iranian women and what role-if any— American feminists can play in assisting them, Breakthrough spoke with several Iranian women in Houston. Feresh Sadeghr, dressed with her hair modestly covered by a scarf, is representative of the religious Moslem woman. She came to the U.S. in 1975, and got her PhD in educational administration from the University of Texas. Breakthrough spoke to her at the Islamic Center on Richmond Avenue, where religious Iranians gather every Thursday to worship. Sadeghr believes strongly in the new Islamic Republic of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Along with many of the Aya- tollah's followers, she points to the fact that a true Islamic Republic has never existed. "The Shah and others have practiced a distortion of Islam. What resulted was an Islam that was twisted by dictatorship and colonialism," she says. Women will have more freedom in the new regime than under the Shah, she says. They will be respected for the "intellect" and not for their "physical" appearance. "The days of designer dresses are finished for Iran," she says. Confusion arises, Sadeghr says, because women have not been told of their rights as they exist in the Koran— they only know them as they have been "falsely" interpreted through the years. "Although I don't accuse the media of lying," she says, "I do believe they focus on one issue and exclude others." Sadeghr insists that the Ayatollah did not call for a return to the chadoor, but only that women be dressed "modestly" and specifically those women who work in governmental offices. Sadeghr's interpretation of dressing modestly excludes mini-skirts, too much make-up, open-neck and sleeveless dresses. "But," she says, "women in the streets can dress as they like-as acceptable to public opinion. In the last 50 years, that standard hasn't changed. If a woman wore a bikini on the street during the Shah's rule, the people wouldn't have liked it either." As far as family law is concerned, Sadeghr maintains that women are entitled to the right of divorce, under the law of the Koran. She says they may include the right to divorce in the marital contract, which is signed between families before marriage. Even if it is not, a woman is allowed to go before a court of imams (or priests) and request a divorce, Sadeghr says. She adds that at least half the rural population doesn't know these things because they have been living in a non- Islamic country. "When you have corruption in a country, it sifts down to all levels," she says. "Islam believes in freedom for everyone." Sadeghr's views are strongly questioned by Fahimeh Ahia, a 26-year-old electronics student at Texas Southern University. Strongly political, Ahia was jailed in Houston in 1976, for taking part in an anti-Shah demonstration in front of the French Consulate. "I don't think there is any freedom for women in the Koran," she says. "Where are the examples of this freedom in Iran? Just try and go before a court of imams and get a divorce—impossible. And it was the same under the Shah, too." Ahia says that 80 percent of the people fought to remove the Shah because they were poor and hungry. They didn't fight for religion. She believes religion and government should be separated. As Nancy Hormachea says, "What is Islamic government? We don't know what it is. Certainly as it exists in Saudi Arabia, it is terrible. If the Islamic government continues for any length of time in Iran, I believe that women will be in for a hard time." Both Ahia and Hormachea resent American feminists picking up the chadoor and making it the most significant issue. "American feminists make too much of the veil. There are other more significant issues in Iran today," Hormachea says. She is not alone in her claim. Ferneal quotes an Iraqi feminist as saying, "Com-| pared to the real issues that are involved between men and women in the Middle East today, the veil is unimportant." Fernea also quotes a Moroccan linguist who says "My mother wears a djellabah and a veil. I have never worn them. But so what? I still cannot get divorced as easily as a man and I am still a member of| my family group and responsible to them for everything I do. What is the veil? A piece of cloth." Hormachea explains that before the revolution, the women's movement existed only in Iran's upper classes. But the massive move to oust the Shah united upper, middle and lower class women for the first time. "Some of the most revolutionary women I knew wore the chadoor and hid their machine guns and grenades under it. It became a symbol of the resistance against the Shah and an ethnic symbol as well. Also, many of these women, although they were participating in a revolution, were still semi-feudal in men tality." For these women, she says, the veil is a divisive issue—because upper-class women were able to travel and see another way of life. They had the luxury to choose not to wear the veil. Lower-class women never had the opportunity, she points out. "Lower-class women not only could not choose, they don't know how to read or even what the concept of freedom is. They have been exploited by the Shah, their husbands and the upper classes. Because they don't understand what it's like not to wear the veil and all it repre sents, they would resent any woman telling them not to wear it," says Hormachea. Ahia adds that while she would never want to be forced to wear the veil—she believes every woman should make her own personal choice. "My grandmother told me of the days when the Shah's father abolished the veil. He had police stationed at streetcorners ripping off veils—that is not freedom either," she says. If wearing the chadoor is the only way to raise women's consciousness and enlighten them to their rights—Ahia says that she would do it. She believes that once the women become aware of their rights, the chadoor will die a natural death. So, what are the significant issues to Hormachea and Ahia? Both of them stress the importance of women working outside the home. As Ahia says, "If you taKe away the chadoor and the women stay at home, what good is that?" Women should be encouraged to take jobs as teachers and nurses, jobs that involve them in running the country—although Hormachea adds, not necessarily in the provisional Khomeini government because, "it is not in the best interests of women." Women are still considered only half a person, Ahia says. To marry or divorce they need their family's permission. a| woman cannot leave the country without] her husband's permission. Women are excluded from many jobs, such as work in the oil fields. All this must be changed, she says. In the wake of the recent fighting, Hormachea says a group was formed called the "Zans-e-Mobarez," or the Continued on page 24 12 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH APRIL 1979