William Yong published a fascinating piece this week in The New York Times about the skyrocketing divorce rate in
I find the story compelling on a number of levels. First of all, it is of personal interest to me: My mother is Iranian and spent the first ten years of her life there. I grew up hearing about the oppression of Persian women, and how much worse the situation had grown since the regime took hold. I am encouraged to hear that, despite the fierce oppression, women there have made some gains.
The story also sheds light on the power of women’s movements—and the limited control of even the most oppressive government. In
While Iranian authorities show deep concern about the increase, they have so far been able to do little about it. While they discourage divorce, women are acting within the law, which makes outright intervention more difficult. Ultimately, this movement shows the limits of oppression—a concept rarely noted in Iranian politics. It also demonstrates the extent to which many Iranians disagree with the government, and in fact, may hold vastly different belief systems. While this is hardly new information, the West sometimes seems to overlook this fact, particularly in the media.
It is difficult to say where this trend will lead. Will increased concern over divorce lead to greater crackdowns or a tightening of laws? Or could this movement foreshadow some improvements for women there? Past signs, like the riots of 2009, have often given false hope in promising change. Nonetheless, when we think about our own women’s movement, we must acknowledge that it saw many highs and lows. The same might hold true in
This, however, should serve as an inspiration for our own projects. These women have wrested some freedoms from one of the most restrictive and undemocratic governments in the world. While in comparison, our issues might seem less significant, we should take them as what they are: important to us and our well-being. Similarly, we should apply the same commitment they show in fighting for our beliefs. When held to their standard, we have no excuses for surrendering our own causes, even in the face of frequent disappointment.
Note: Marjane Satrapi explores many of these themes in her marvelous graphic novel Persepolis, published in 2004 and 2005, which was also released as a film in 2007. If you haven’t read or seen it, I highly recommend it.