Cultural Overview

Only a few decades ago, Iranians engaged primarily in agriculture, trade, herding, and crafts. Local and regional political groups organized around control over land, trade wealth and opportunities, and family and kinship connections. Such connections could be through patrilateral or matrilateral lines, created partnerships, and patron-client type relations for political protection and access to means of production. Middle- and upper-class extended families typically lived in large homes with rooms arranged around a central courtyard. Members of wealthier families might have homes located near each other, and peasant and lower-class urbanites might well live with the husband's family at least for a period after marriage. Generally, wives continue to maintain close ties with their natal families. Typically, females socialized with each other, while males went off to work in fields, trade and craft shops, and to herd animals. Outside the family, the genders segregated for weddings, mourning gatherings, outings, religious rituals, and political and economic interaction.

Intent on modernizing Iran, the two Pahlavi shahs attempted to demonstrate Iranian progress and modernity through deveiling women, educating them, and bringing them into the public work force. To centralize political power, the Pahlavis squelched other power centers, such as tribes, religious leaders and organizations, and regional leaders and large landlords. In the 1960s, and even more in the 1970s, the oil boom brought urbanization, industrialization, construction, education, health services, bureaucracy, and westernization. However, the Pahlavis did not institute political liberalization and democracy. Unhappy with the pervasive influence of Western culture and what they saw as modern vulgarity, religious figures with financial support from successful merchants and business people organized to try to regain some lost power. Students and professionals, empowered by education, joined middle- and lower-class people who were influenced by the clergy and unhappy with repression and increasing extremes in wealth to bring about the Iranian Revolution of 1978 and 1979. Under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini and then the Islamic Republic of Iran, formed in 1979, governmental and societal gender policies changed radically. Whereas the Pahlavis had attempted to educate women and bring them into the public work world, even making veiling illegal during one period, the Shi'a clerics attempted to reverse these developments. Relying on Shar'ia (Islamic law), the Hadith (traditions of the Prophet Mohammed, provided by his followers and passed on through chains of authority), and cultural traditions, Islamic Republic officials have declared women and men to be different by nature. Men are fit for the rough and tumble of politics and economics. Women, because of their more gentle, emotional, and nurturing characters, should devote themselves to household, husband and children. In return for obedience and service, women are entitled to financial support from men. Islamic Republic clerics reversed family laws beneficial to women and enforced gender segregation and female veiling. However, the war with Iraq (1980-88), gender-segregation policies, and women's political voice forced government officials to recognize the need for a female labor force. Since 1979, in the political competition among Islamists, secularists, and modernists, women and gender have been a focus of contention.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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