Review: Iranian Women and Gender In the Iran- Iraq War by Mateo Md Farzaneh

War, big or small, transforms society into something unrecognizable. American sociologist Charles Tilly argued that the war could help the state become permanent by adding new layers of state-ness. Beyond this, war can sometimes help advance the cause of feminism. The twentieth century world wars created the conditions for the waves of feminism in the European heartland. We now hear stories of the bravery, resilience and sacrifice of Ukrainian women in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. And yet, there is little scientific research on the role and role of women in wartime. It is widely recognized that they bear the worst burden of war atrocities, which can vary from rape to other forms of violence. This book is the first major academic study of the role and contribution of women to the Iran-Iraq war over eight years. Its author, now serving as an academic, combat volunteer working with Northeastern Illinois University, USA. Several anecdotal accounts of his experience as a war volunteer are part of the main narrative.

457 pages;  Syracuse University Press
457 pages; Syracuse University Press

The objectives of this volume are twofold: first, to examine the role of women in the Iran-Iraq war and, secondly, to see how gender roles in post-war Iran were affected by women’s participation in the war. Scholarship in modern Iran, especially after the revolution in 1979, highlighted the increasing suppression of women’s rights, which enjoyed considerable state support in pre-revolutionary rule. According to the authors, because of the war, the Islamic Republic provided opportunities for women by default. The war created conditions of helplessness, which forced Iran’s conservative Islamic regime to reluctantly withdraw its patriarchal tentacles and allow women to evolve their own paths of liberation.

These changes are usually fragmentary and some may find them insignificant. But he instigated processes of self-liberation for Iranian women. Benefits now include the right of women to participate in soccer matches at Tehran’s largest stadium, the existence of a full-fledged cockpit crew that flew more than 160 passengers from Tehran to Mashhad, and full Iranian citizenship. Children’s rights from mixed marriages between Iranian women and non-Iranian men. According to the authors, these examples of changes do not occur at other times.

Basiji (armed volunteers) carrying G-3 automatic assault rifles at a Tehran rally on 12 February 1987, ending the eight-year long Iran-Iraq war.  (Kaweh Kazemi / Getty Images)
Basiji (armed volunteers) carrying G-3 automatic assault rifles at a Tehran rally on 12 February 1987, ending the eight-year long Iran-Iraq war. (Kaweh Kazemi / Getty Images)

The most valuable part of this monograph is the section that the authors call the “Captive Quartet,” a group of four women. These four women were kept in captivity in various places for almost 40 months with full knowledge of the Saddam regime. Fatima Nahidi was the oldest of a group that included Shamsi Behrami, Masoume Adab and Halimeh Ajmoudeh. Masouma Abad wrote the most detailed account in her autobiography, Man Zendenham (2015-2016) This translates “I’m alive”. For her, it was a difficult choice for her to bear in mind the burden of the story or to cope with these painful memories. Now a medical doctor, she has two adult children. She carries the pain of war wounds as a medal of honor. Such memoirs pose some challenge as a historical source, according to the author, which I argue is a valid methodological question. This is because one is unsure of the accuracy of her memory of the names of places and persons, among other things. Another of the quartet, Fatima Nahidi, has also published an account of her experiences.

Women rendered various services in the war. Iranian women carried firearms, gathered intelligence, served airmen, buried the dead, and guarded ammunition depots. They organized kitchens, cooked food, reported the news, drove trucks, washed, cleaned, ironed, and sewed uniforms. But their participation came at a price. She was raped, moved, lost a loved one and miscarried. He frequently lost limbs, was exposed to chemical warfare agents, and went missing. In its version of war history, through publications and television programs Nimeh-ye-penhan-e mah (Hidden Half of the Moon), The Iranian state presented its own narrative of women’s contribution. But state representation is limited and never complete, which is evident from the fact that the Iranian print media uses some variation of the word. I do (Women) Only 93 times (0.004%) have been printed in more than 20,187 articles about the eight-year Iran-Iraq War. Alternatively, various Persian-language websites discuss it superficially and are available for those interested in learning more about the war. One example of this is The Paiyga-a-Ettelat Resani-a Houje (Seminary Information Campaign Center) has devoted a few pages to information on women in war.

Author Mateo Mohammed Farzaneh (Courtesy
Author Mateo Mohammed Farzaneh (Courtesy

According to female combat volunteers, they participated in defending their nation, their religion or both. One motivating factor is the Shiite doctrine, which has a strong element of sacrifice. Their participation occurred within the framework of the military and its associated organizations, the militia groups born after the 1979 revolution – or self-forming female groups. Many women lived in the provinces of Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Elam and Khuzestan, which are highly active war zones. He has contributed to various responsibilities organized under the auspices of the new paramilitary groups Sepah-e Pasdaran-e-Enkelab-e Eslami(Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, or Cepa) and Basij – e-Mostazafine (Mobilizing power of the oppressed, or bossy). Other post-revolutionary groups include Jahad – e Sazandegi (Jahid Construction Corporation or Zahad), or The Jamiat-e-Helal-and Ahmar-and Iran (Red Crescent Fellowship of Iran, hereafter Helal-e Ahmer)

Some chapters, especially the title of women prisoners of war and women without men, are so bright. The chapter entitled Iranian Women, 1925-1980, presents a historical perspective of the status of women in the pre-revolutionary period in Iran. For many of the participants, the battle was not bitter, but a marvelous moment for the martyrs to be rewarded after God gave them life. This rationale is associated with the core values ​​of Shiite ideology. All in all, this rare book fills a big void in scholarship to do with war and gender. Hopefully, this will encourage further work in the form of various types of wars that are happening now or in the past.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman teaches at Jamia Millia Central University, New Delhi. He is the author of the forthcoming book Shikwa-e-Hind: The Political Future of Indian Muslims.

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