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Reviewed by:
  • The Politics of Women's Rights in Iran
  • Claudia Yaghoobi
The Politics of Women's Rights in Iran Arzoo Osanloo Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009 xix + 258 pp., $24.95 (paper)

Arzoo Osanloo's The Politics of Women's Rights in Iran is a historical, ethnographic, legal, and feminist source. While the book will be of significant interest to scholars of Iranian and Middle Eastern studies, it will also be of interest to specialists of law, anthropology, sociology, and feminist studies. At the outset, Osanloo poses the questions of whether women in the Islamic society of Iran understand their rights exclusively through the perspective of Islam decreed by state agents; whether they refer to a Western or to an international perception of rights; and how women understand their status and rights. Osanloo focuses on the debates during Mohammad Khatami's presidency (1997-2005) about the status of women, the role of Islamic values, and the polarization of authority in Middle Eastern countries. She explores how such debates contribute to the way women's rights are practiced by state agents, lawyers, and those who encounter the legal system. She examines the relationship between the postrevolutionary state form and its institutions and the ways that some women have made rights-based claims on the state. However, Osanloo's main concern is what conditions have allowed for discussions of rights to originate in a discourse that was unacceptable right after the revolution and what prospects this discourse offers. She considers how human rights and women's rights are mobilized dialogically with both global and local politics.

Osanloo argues that "women's rights talk . . . occurs as a dialogue among multiple voices, that is, it is dialogical" (20). The organization of the book—moving from individual women's perceptions to the broader community of courts and international spaces, and from well-developed sites to more loosely structured arenas, from women's Koranic reading groups to the Islamic Human Rights Commission—effectively allows readers to envisage the dialogic aspects of rights in Iran and understand how women's rights emerged as women's activities and locations changed during the past thirty years. Focusing on postrevolutionary Iran, Osanloo illustrates how a new source of subjectivity emerges in Iran with the fusion of Islamic government and a republican state form and allows for new formulations of individuated rights, the articulation of which was reproached by the leaders of the revolution. In chapter 2, Osanloo addresses "the limits of the Islamic republic as a model for rights formation, and the importance of popular participation for testing those limits" by referring to women's participation in civil and political spaces, such as elections, and their consciousness-raising during their mosque meetings (44). The Koranic meetings that Osanloo introduces in chapter 3 as a site through which nonprofessional women shape their rights dialogically through articulations of their own experiences are sites of social production. These meetings allow for new concepts and ideas to materialize where women create ideational sites of agency in other aspects of their lives. Osanloo makes an engaging move when she explores the legal sites and interestingly argues that the court is "a site of negotiation and resistance, as well as subversion of statist elaborations of gender roles" where personhood is engendered (110). She demonstrates how "law offices permit productive exchanges of ideas about rights and place new legal formulations that lawyers and activists have carved out of the Islamico-civil institutions into the public spaces" (14). She shows how some lawyers attempt to educate women about the importance of their rights and try to put the new corrective laws into operation. In the final chapter of the book, she moves on to various sites, such as nongovernmental organizations, the Islamic Human Rights Commission, and the Center for Women's Participation, where human rights discourse circulates. Through the creation of these organizations and Iran's uncertain participation in the transnational human rights framework, Osanloo explores how state agents maintain a local human rights discourse to claim modernity. She considers the ideological oppositions to the West by some Iranian government agencies as Iran working from within the international political economy.

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pp. 447-448
Launched on MUSE
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