It is because of men’s lack of interest in promoting the enlightenment of women that today our
sisters have been deprived of all humanistic progress.
To disregard women and bar them from active participation in political, social, economic and
cultural life would in fact be tantamount to depriving the entire population of every society of half
its capability. The patriarchal culture and the discrimination against women, particularly in the
Islamic countries, cannot continue for ever.
—Shirin Ebadi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, 2003
Rawshanak Naw’dust and Shirin Ebadi inhabited different worlds. A journalist in interwar Persia, Naw’dust wrote about the hardships of peasant women toiling in the rice fields of Gilan. A lawyer in contemporary Iran, Ebadi built a career on defending disenfranchised women. Their opinions, spanning nearly a century, remind us that patriarchy in Iran remains entrenched. The power to engage, suppress, or recast Iranian women has often reflected on the political strength and viability of the Iranian state in the modern era. If the mandatory unveiling of women in 1936 embodied the secular nationalist objectives of the Reza Shah era (1926–41), the compulsory veiling of women after 1979 demonstrated the political will of the newly instated Islamic Republic.
It is perhaps ironic that within this patriarchal framework a discourse on maternalism should emerge giving women unexpected