Deviant women: citizenship, political participation, and incarceration of the secular left in post-revolutionary Iran (1979-1990)

Biography: Rosa Rahimi recently completed her MPhil in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oxford, where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar. Before Oxford, she earned a BA in Politics and International Relations from Trinity College, Cambridge.

Abstract: When the newly-consolidating Islamic Republic of Iran made the decision to execute masses of political prisoners in the spring of 1988, one group of prisoners were spared execution: secular women. Instead, using the systematic implementation of violent and coercive tactics, the state sought to force their conversion to Islam. This historical episode provides the entry point into a broader inquiry about the significance of these women as a category of citizen in the early days of the post-revolutionary Islamic Republic. This project considers the experiences of these women through the theoretical framework of a feminist approach to citizenship theory and draws from seventeen field interviews with women who were active and later incarcerated in the 1980s. By using an intersectional approach which introduces the categories of gender, religion, and political affiliation, I examine how these interlocking categories of woman, secular, and leftist contributed to the distinctiveness of their political experience and determined their status as citizens in relation to the state. In the context of the ongoing woman-led uprising in Iran, I argue that the centrality of women’s political participation in this current movement should not be seen as unprecedented and tied to a discrete incident. Our understanding of contemporary Iranian politics, gender politics, and citizenship would do well to situate these developments within an existing and rich history of post-revolutionary resistance exercised by those whose identities and political claims have challenged that which is permitted by the state.