02 September 2003

Book Review: Inside Iran: Womens' Lives, by Jane Howard, ***

TV crews and foreign correspondents come and go, but former BBC correspondent Jane Howard made her home in Iran for five years (1996-2000), raising her two young children there. Her experience took her beyond the headlines and horror stories and into the lives of everyday Iranian women. Her report takes readers from dinner in a presidential palace to tea in a nomad's tent.

From women working in rice paddies and tea plantations to highly educated women in Tehran who have been banned from working in their professions. The image of Iranian women is still one of anonymous ranks of revolutionary marchers, clad in black. But underneath their black chadors or drab raincoats, they not only wear jeans, T-shirts and Lycra leggings, but they also work outside the home, drive, play sports and even become politicians. While many women haven't regained the Western-style freedom they lost in the revolution of 1979, others have won rights they never had before. Practically every girl has access to primary education now, and even remote villages have clean drinking water, a paved road and a school. Yet Islamic law continues to impose many inequities and constraints. In cash terms, for example, a woman's life is worth half that of a man's, and in the courtroom, two women have to give evidence to equal one man's testimony. This is a fascinating story of struggle and change, vividly documenting what it means to be a woman in Iran.

This book is a diary of a British journalist who had the curiosity and connections to go deep into Iranian society and understand the condition of women. Issues such as pre-marital sex, divorce, family planning, education, sports, politics and many others are discussed here by a woman and with many women. She has done good research and brings up hard numbers to back her arguments. The main focus of the book is on the positive change brought about by the Khatami presidency.

The one drawback is perhaps a bit too much name dropping, a common problem in books written by journalists who meet famous people, but it's a venial sin, the book is well worth reading though it is becoming obsolete as the situation in Iran will change after the departure of president Khatami from power.

1 comment:

  1. Very Interesting, today I saw a documentary film about Women in Iran, I would like to go there...


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