Discourse on gender-relevant law in Iran often focuses on the Islamic Republic's reinstatement of religious law to govern issues of marriage, divorce and family. It is less noticed that legislation continues to shape the law and its application. Several modifications to the law of marriage and divorce that have not only passed the Majlis but also been accepted by the Council of Guardians as compatible with religious law. These modifications are linked to enhanced political participation by women, and consequentially, a more flexible interpretation of religious law. The mobilization of women into political life evoked by the Revolution of 1979 has changed the space within which religio-legal interpretation takes place.
Although patriarchal values underlie much traditional jurisprudence and legal practice in respect to the place of women in family and in society, the political need to mobilize women in support of the Islamic Revolution and thereafter to maintain that support, prevailed. That mobilization has, in practice, given rise to a marriage and family code with modern characteristics, as well as a social space in which women are and continue to be active as participants in politics and the economy.
Louise Halper is a Professor of Law at Washington & Lee University and Director of the Frances Lewis Law Center there. She writes on law and gender in the Middle East, focusing on Iran and Turkey. She has traveled widely in the area, visiting at Koc University in Istanbul and the American University of Cairo, as well as passing a semester at Marmara University in Istanbul as a Fulbright Fellow. On sabbatical in 2002, she spent time in Iran. Her recent paper, Law and Women's Agency in Post-Revolutionary Iran, was published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender.