An Overview of the Role of Women in the Constitutional Revolution

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Homeira Ranjbar Omrani

Qajar Political sovereignty in the history of Iran was the beginning of a new era with its own characteristics distinct from other political periods.

Status of women in this period is defined with a look to the impacts of the society. In this socio political situation, the lives of women were largely restricted. However, some of them were involved in social activities, such as mass entertainment (in the women’s gatherings), charities, religious gatherings and events further to managing home duties and bringing up of children and in a few cases, they were active in economic fields including the management of agricultural lands of the production of handicrafts.

Therefore, they had the policy of secret presence. Thus, as mothers, sisters or wives of the king, they exercised influence over the royal power indirectly. Thus, in Iranian society the women had potential and hidden power. They tried to enjoy social and cultural skills in a limited level. But due to lack of proper social and political situation, they could not find their right in the society.

Relative expansion of primary education in the Qajar era and publishing of community newspapers increased social awareness more than before and people became acquainted with many political and cultural issues and showed much concern about various events. On the other hand, the public had a profound link with the clergy class, and clergy would solve many social problems. In their religious sermons, they would inform people of the political news, and would undertake to lead mass movements, and political protests of people. Due to their attending such meetings, women would also be affected by this communication.

The most prominent move was the tobacco movement against the grant of tobacco concession to an English subject at the time of Nasseraddin Shah. Following the opposition of the clergy and Mirza Hassan Shirazi’s fatwa banning tobacco smoking, protests became so widespread that women of the Shah’s household avoided smoking of tobacco. They also objected to the king and the tobacco deal, and broke all bubbles in the royal household.

Spread opposition led Nasseraddin Shah command Mirza Hassan Ashtiani to smoke bubble before the eyes of people or exit from Tehran. Thus, Mirza took the decision to leave Tehran. This brought a great wave of population into the streets, a large part of it included women.

The movement went so far so that it led to a conflict between people and royal forces and the order for Mirza Shirazi’s exile was canceled. Moreover, opposition spread to other Iranian cities and towns. The most outstanding of all was Zeinab Pasha uprising in Tabriz who led a group of women and ended in the closure of the market. Eventually, subsequent to the protests and conflicts, tobacco contract was canceled by the government of Iran, and for the first time, the opinion people won against the government. In addition to the said rebellion, in the bread shortage crisis in the Qajar era, the women joined the objections. Women's protests in Tabriz bread riot was indicative of their presence in different scenes.

During the reign of Mozaffaraddin Shah and the rise of voices against tyranny, the clergy staged a sit in at the Shah mosque to protest against the policies of the Shah and the court. Women supported the move extensively. The government resisted against their protest; so the participants moved to the holy shrine of Abdel-Aziz. Duty to protect the women undertook to guard the lives of those engaged in the sit in against government forces. Therein, some women were arrested and detained.

The movement and support of women continued in grand migration. During migration of the clerics to Qom, a woman in the crowd put his head scarf over wood, and cried out that since then the marriage of Muslim girls should be concluded by the Belgium monsieur Neuse. Subsequent to the issuance of Constitution by Mozzaffaraddin Shah, the first concern of the people and the revolutionaries was constitution.

In the thick of the movement, the women went to the House of Representatives and called for the completion of constitutional. MohammadAli Shah’s coming to the throne and his opposition to the constitutionalism, once again made the struggles much broader. During this campaign, Women even did not fear their lives. Some of them would wear men’s outfit and would participate in the conflicts and only when they were killed, their sex would be identified as a woman.

In the first term of National Council the representatives decided to borrow funds from foreign countries to resolve the financial crisis of the government Women did not remain indifferent to this issue, and with donation of their personal gold and jewels provided some capital to prevent foreign borrowings. Moreover, when in protest against the presence of Morgan Shuster as financial advisor in Iran, the Russian government gave 48-hour ultimatum to the Iranian government to fire Shuster from Iran, the women went to Parliament and tearing their veils, threatened that in case of surrender to Russia, they would kill their husbands, children and themselves. This was effective in Parliament and forced them to stand against Russia.

The joint entrance of women and men into political scene marked Iran’s Constitutional Revolution after so long years of tyranny and repression. Although women were not decision makers, they had a significant contribution to the main political decisions.

During the tyranny, although the whole society was under great oppression, the women lived in very limited sphere. But the constitutional movement did not raise the concepts of justice within the realm of a specific gender. Women were in the Revolutionary scene because of the tyrannical conditions in the whole community. In an announcement dated April 1909, addressed to MohammadAli Shah, the Iranian men and women were identified as a nation who sought constitutional government; however, despite all efforts and struggles of women, in the manual of the elections ratified in 1906, they were deprived of the right to participate in elections.

But undoubtedly, the very presence of women in the revolution led them to organize their first approaches to social activities. Though through meddling of various factors of political and social basis over time, these activities kept distance from their original thoughts, at the beginning of the continuation of the Constitutional Revolution they played an effective role.

Source: The Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies (IICHS)

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*Tobacco Sanctions:

طراحی و توسعه آگاه‌سیستم