On the evening of March 7th, 1979, Khomeini’s decree on the compulsory headscarf was announced. The following morning 5000 women gathered at the Tehran University to protest against the decree, climbing over the gates locked by the Islamists and marching through the city. For the first time the newly established order met resistance. The women of the French ‘Politics and Psychoanalysis’ group documented the protests with a 16-mm camera and conducted interviews with the demonstrators. The camera is in the midst of events and at times pans to the outside where passersby curiously watch the protesters. Old and young, secular and a very few religious women are among the protesters. The French voice-over starts by reading different slogans of the protesters, followed by a statement made by ‘Politics and Psychoanalysis’, in which they describe their task as distributing information about the protest of Iranian women internationally. The protest, they euphorically declared, is part of an international feminist movement.

Shortly after these protests, Khomeini made concessions and relativized his decree by calling it a “request”. Yet on March 12, 1979, 20,000 women again took to the streets. They did not trust these concessions and made political demands such as the right to work, equal pay for equal work and freedom of the press, assembly, and expression. The protests in front of the television station, in which ten to fifteen thousand women participated, were ignored by the public media. Numerous schoolgirls participated in the protests. One of them speaks out: “They should have said right from the beginning that men and women are not equal. We raise our voices for our rights, for the same rights as men. If we don’t rebel now, the constitution will be drawn up and we will be denied all our rights. We are not only protesting against the compulsory headscarf but for many more rights that are even more important”.

In the following months the subsidies for day nurseries were cut. Women who had previously worked in these nurseries lost their jobs. Looking after children was now a family matter and thus delegated to women. In the name of Islamic law, women were banned from presiding as judges. The protests of female judges and junior lawyers were were immediately supported by ad-hoc woman organizations and private individuals. Clerics such as Ayatollah Motahari legitimised the subordination of women by men given the “natural weakness of women“. On June 6th a decree announced that women must wear headscarves in all state institutions and schools. The Revolutionary Guard enforced the decree. Compulsory veiling was introduced shortly thereafter in all other public institutions and buildings. Women by then grew accustomed to veiling, and it was not a big step to having the law enforced on the streets. The establishment of the Islamic state led to a fundamental moral and cultural transformation of society. For women from traditional families, the complete transformation of Iran into an Islamic state initially meant more personal liberties, while the liberties of those women who had been active before and during the revolution were drastically reduced.

Activists of the group ‘Politics and Psychoanalysis’ travelled to Iran together with other members of the International Women Committee, from France, Egypt, Italy and Germany, under the supervision of Simon De Beauvoir. The most prominent feminist was Kate Millett from the U.S. who had been in close contact with activists from an Iranian student’s organization in the U.S. The film ‚The Liberation movement of Iranian women in the year zero’ was shortly after the event shown on French TV. It was also distributed by different Iranian women’s organizations.

 Text by Sandra Schäfer and Madeleine Bernstroff


For more background information see: Sandra Schäfer / Madeleine Bernstorff, The Ladies, in Kabul/Teheran Filmlandschaften, Städte unter Stress und Migration, metroZones6, b_books, Berlin, 2006.

The Liberation movement of Iranian women in the year zero, Groupe Politique et Psychoanalyse. IR/F 1979, 13’, OV with French Voice-over, English subtitles