FrontPage Magazine: Under the new Islamist state, the Ayatollahs and ruling clerics utilized methods in order to control and exercise power over women to gradually take away their capacity to act in social affairs particularly by regulating their day to day activities, monitoring all their actions, as well as by having authority over their bodies.
By Majid Rafizadeh
Recently, Majlis (Iranian parliament), which is dominated by hardliners, has voted to ban vasectomies, permanent kinds of contraception, and impose restriction on women’s fertility. In addition, the bill bans advertisements aimed at promoting birth control. Any doctor, or woman, who violates the ban will be punished and prosecuted according to the new Islamist bill.
Since its establishment, the Islamic Republic has significantly exercised “biopower” (a term coined by the historian Michel Foucault) in order to control the population and particularly subjugate women to achieve the regime’s Islamist, religious, ideological, political, and economic objectives. According to Foucault, biopower is defined in The History of Sexuality as “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations.”
Under the new Islamist state, the Ayatollahs and ruling clerics utilized methods in order to control and exercise power over women to gradually take away their capacity to act in social affairs particularly by regulating their day to day activities, monitoring all their actions, as well as by having authority over their bodies.
For example, dress codes including (scarves, chador, etc) were imposed on women. Women could not wear what they desired out of the home. Women were encouraged to cover their bodies and dress more conservatively. And those who did not comply were laid off from work, fined, lashed, arrested, imprisoned, and attacked.
In addition, women’s bodies were predominantly defined by the Islamic Republic as a platform for satisfying their spouses. Women were banned from playing several sports. Instead, being a housewife and submissive was encouraged. The control of women’s bodies and their day-to-day activities were used as a formidable venue to subjugate, dehumanize, and sway women’s capacity in life.
On the other hand, what are the underlying reasons for the new restriction on women’s fertility under the Islamic law of Iran?
The fundamental reasons are political, ideological and religion-driven. The whole process of passing a bill to impose restriction on women’s fertility began by one man’s plan: Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Supreme Leader has the final say as well as the power to delineate general policies for the entire country after consultation with the Nation’s Exigency Council, according to article 110 of the Islamic Republic.
The Supreme Leader decided that he wanted the population of his country to increase from 75 million people to 150 million. Khamenei’s new doctrine was read out to the nationwide conference in the city of Qum, pointing out that “I believe that our country is not a country of 75 million people, our country [could be] a country of 150 million people… and even more… a young image is an essential and important issue for the country, and the countries which have faced aging population have overcome the issue in a difficult way. ”
The message added, “We always wonder how life is going to be if we have four or five children; we should also think that if we have four or five children and if they are able to find jobs they will contribute to the development of the country.” In addition, the Supreme Leader introduced a 14-point plan to increase the population.
The Iranian regime carried out the same policy in the 1980s, encouraging larger families and more children during the Iran-Iraq war. Iran’s population reached its peak during that time.
On the other hand, the new Islamist bill is aimed at pushing women in the Islamic Republic to be housewives and take traditional roles as mothers rather than participate in public political and social affairs. Currently, large numbers of Iranian women are highly educated and seeking more public functions in the society.
Across the country, billboards that promote less children have been replaced by mottos such as “A single blossom is not spring” and “More children, better lives.” The Supreme Leader states rhetorically that doubling the number of the population will “strengthen national identity” as well as counter “undesirable aspects of Western lifestyles.”
Nevertheless, politically speaking, the population of a country can be regarded as a defining character for the political strength of that government. The new bill will purportedly double the population of Shia Muslims, providing further manpower for the Islamic Republic and strengthening its political influence, national security. The Iranian regime will be able to have mandatory military service and hire a considerable amount of young people in its army and militia groups such as Basij by offering them incentives such as educational fellowships, loans, etc. From the Ayatollahs and ruling political figures in the Islamic Republic, this move will ensure their hold on power in the future.
However, many policies have unintended consequences as well. This restriction on women might have a backlash. It is questionable whether educated Iranian women will accept going back and being confined in homes as mothers and housewives. Secondly, the increase in population might lead to a larger discontent and disaffected population, which would pose greater risks in the future in case protests against the Iranian regime erupt, as they did in 2009. Controlling a larger dissatisfied population poses more challenges.
Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and serves on the board of the Harvard International Review at Harvard University.