Under Zoroastrianism, the religion that prevailed in Persia until displaced by Islam in the 7th century, women were treated as equals. In battle, women fought alongside their men. These were the women that the ancient Greeks, appalled by this "upside down society" dubbed "the Amazons". Iranians, fiercely proud of this heritage, defended Zoroastrian holidays like National Picnic Day from periodic attempts at suppression by the Islamic authorities.
For all their repression and corruption, the Pahlavi kinds pursued a secular version of modernisation that included a liberal view f the role of women. Reza Shah, who became monarch in 1926, forbade women from wearing the hijab or chador in public. Under his rule a new civil code was approved giving women the right to ask for divorce under certain conditions and raising the marriage age for girls from 9 to 15. Girls were also to receive the same education as boys.
Under his successor, the last Shah of Iran, women were given the right to vote and stand for election. In 1968 a Family Protection Law, divorce hearings were transferred from religious to family courts, polygamy was limited, and the marriage age for girls was raised to 18. In 1975, women gained to right of guardianship over their children after the death of their husband (a right us western women take for granted).
But then came the Islamic Revolution of 1979. And everything changed. The Family Protection Law was annulled. Just like that. Overnight.
Women were forced out of jobs and barred from being judges. Legal age of marriage forr girls reduced back to 9. Segregation in education and the workplace was introduce. Women even have to sit at the back of public transport. Mothers' rights of custody in divorce were curtailed. Stoning to death for adultery became common.
With the institution of the mullahs, the plight of women has improved slightly. Paradoxically, Islamic strictures have undermined many of the values they were meant to uphold. Before the Islamic revolution, traditional Muslim families didn't let their daughter ago to work, school or university for fear they'd be corrupted. Once the compulsory hijab, segregation and other moral rules were instituted, the outside world seemed less threatening. girls poured out of their homes.
20 years ago the female literacy rate was 30%. today it is 87%. The law of unintended consequences also occurred when the mullahs, responding to Saddam Hussein's attack on Iran in 1980, banned contraception and told women to go forth and raise martyrs.
The consequence was a massive baby boom: two-thirds of Iran's 70 million people are now under 30. Far from a nation of martyrs, the mullahs created millions of angry young people who;'d rather check their email, listen to Western rock music and watch pirated DVDs than die for Islam.
Iranian girls are the world's blog queens, renowned for their spicy mix of politics, dirty jokes, acid comment and worries about their weight. Realising their mistake, the mullahs have executed a rapid U-turn.
Contraception is now freely available.