Saturday, January 07, 2006

17 Of Dey

17 Of Dey: Day of Emancipation of Iranian Women
By the late Shahram Javidpour
(Unauthorized translation)

Three o’clock in the afternoon, on Wednesday 17th of Dey (January 8, 1936), during a special ceremony in Tehran’s teachers’ preparatory college, Reza Shah Pahlavi ordered the casting aside of the chador, and announced the emancipation of Iranian women and their entrance into Iranian society. Thus began a new chapter in the biography of the Iranian woman. In this gathering Reza Shah was accompanied by his wife and daughters who themselves, for the first time, were appearing in public without wearing their chadors.

Having met the girl scouts welcoming party, Reza Shah and his companions visited various parts of the college, and female students who had finished their studies in medicine and midwifery received their diplomas from the hands of the Iranian king himself. After Mrs. Hajer Tarbiat, a women’s representative, had finished her speech, Reza Shah addressed the company. It was addressed to the women of Iran:

“We should not forget that half of our country’s population was unaccounted for; that half of our country’s skilled forces were unemployed. Women did not figure in any statistics, as though they were creatures of a different kind and were not among the population of Iran…I am not given to pretense…and don’t wish to compare today with the days gone by, but ladies, you should consider this a great day and use the opportunities that you now have for the good of your country…You, my sisters and daughters, entering into society and having taken steps toward your own and your nation’s prosperity, know that it is your duty to work for the betterment of your country. The prosperity of the future is in your hands. You shall be the educators of the next generation and it is through you as good educators that good individuals shall generate.”

As it is indicated in Reza Shah’s speech, the main motive behind the removal of the Hijab and the conception of 17 of Dey was not to change the garment and appearance of women only, but that the ultimate goal of this historical step was the creation of an opening into social life and the removal of unyielding impediments, built of religious beliefs and interpretations, that blocked such passage.

The strategy to emancipate women, which began by the removal of the chador or the “Hijab”, had first been set in motion in Turkey and Afghanistan. It was successful in Turkey due to the violent and rigid measures taken by Ataturk, but in Afghanistan met with an uprising by Habibollah Sagha and was fully defeated with the fall of Afghanistan’s ruler Amanollah Khan. These attempts and the ensuing results in countries that were Iran’s neighbors did not escape the watchful eyes of the Iranian king, for he was not one to waste the experience thus afforded him in setting the plan in motion in his own country.

The value of Reza Shah’s contributions and sense of timing in bringing about the emancipation of Iranian women become all the more impressive when we learn, that at a time when Islam had far stronger a grip on Iranian society than either Turkey or Afghanistan, by preparing public opinion and rearing women’s inclination towards freedom for years, he brought the movement of the emancipation of women to a successful conclusion without extraordinary resistance, and laid the foundation for Iran’s most significant social transformation.

Historical documents show that along with the coup of 1921 and the transfer of power (from the Qajars) to Commander Reza Pahlavi, there came an outpouring of the demand for freedom from the women of Iran. They also show that the preliminary arrangements and the laying of the intellectual foundations in support of emancipation commenced with the beginning of the reign of Reza Shah, culminating in 17 of Dey finally, after more than ten years of continuous effort and struggle.

Association of Women’s Vigilance, Association of Women’s Progress, Association of Patriotic Women, Women’s Club…and also such newspapers as the Blossom in Tehran, Women’s Language in Esfehan, Welfare Courier in Rasht, Girls of Iran in Shiraz…that were managed and published by Iranian women, are but some efforts, years before the abolishment of the “Hijab”, to encourage open-mindedness (among women themselves, especially), understanding and acceptance of such change. The creation of coeducational elementary schools, the singing of national and patriotic songs during ceremonies, the rule directed at government officials and army personnel to be accompanied by their female partners in official parties and ceremonies, ratification of the Marriage Law and the creation of official marriage and divorce offices in the country, the establishment of Teachers’ colleges for girls, the creation of midwifery schools, the creation of women’s technical school, the dispatch of the first group of female students to Europe and many other acts of the kind, are among the productive efforts that were made during this ten-year period.

Such noticeable efforts, and the appearance of alterations in Iranian society, were not lost upon foreigners. This is illustrated by a report on the subject by the British charge d’affairs to his government. In the archives of the British Foreign Office there exists a letter, numbered 401, and dated September 7, 1928 (7 years before 17 of Dey), which this country’s charge d’affairs in Tehran had written to the British Foreign Secretary. He writes:

“Until recently in the streets of Tehran, women and men would walk on opposite sides of the street, but now women accompany men to the restaurants, they sit at the same table, they go to the movies together, and together ride in carriages and cars, of course with the chador, but they’re not as insistent in covering their faces as before.”

This document shows that at least seven years prior to 1936, great steps had already been taken and much effort had already been made in removing the centuries-long social barrier to allow the joint presence of women and men in social space.

Nor did such changes escape the machinations of other foreigners and their agents. In July 1935, a man called Bohloul (Mohammad-Taghi Neishaburi) went up to the pulpit of city of Mashhad’s Goharshad Mosque and, accompanied by thousands of villagers from around Mashhad, who had poured into the city armed with shovels, hatchets and sickles, started a riot under the pretext that the government had interfered in the affairs of the clergy.

Bohloul, who had come to Mashhad hours before the riots, wished to play, with foreign aid, the same role played by Habibollah Sagha in Afghanistan earlier. But his plan was destroyed by the government’s vigilance and decisiveness, which by crushing a riot that could have spread to other parts of the country, put an end to this sinister conspiracy in its inception.

Bohloul escaped to Afghanistan, living abroad for 43 years under British protection, only to return with the establishment of the Islamic Republic and the creation of a regime that 43 years earlier he himself wished to create, to welcome Ayatollah Khomeini.

Almost six months after the riots in Mashhad, Reza Shah the Great, with an intelligent sense of timing, and after at least ten years of effort and preparation, took the step to abolish the Hijab in Iran, launching Iran’s great social transformation and paving the way for the women of Iran to reach the high position they were able to attain during the reign of his son, Mohamad Reza Shah Pahlavi.


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