1 Introduction

One of the most important questions in development discussions is about the individual’s position in the development process. Today, development is the human effort to change the environment for their needs in various economic, social, cultural, and political aspects; but what is being discussed here is socio-political development. One of the main ways to achieve this development is the participation of women at the macro-levels of society. This depends on the establishment of fair social relations. In fact, participation is the product of the structures and functions of social relations, the distribution of facilities and resources, the division of labor and responsibilities in society. It is also important that the status of women is not static, and in addition, the status of women should always be changed according to changing temporal and spatial conditions. With the spread of globalization and the subsequent rapid movement of people in different societies toward democracy, political movements were formed by women to participate in politics and the decision-making process in different countries. Although women’s presence in politics is expanding as a general phenomenon in human societies, its quality and quantity are different in different societies. Women play a minor role in politics in most parts of the world, but some governments use specific criteria to improve the political situation of women (Pishgahi fard & Zohdi, 2010). Various mechanisms have been devised to increase the number of women in office. For example, a specific number of candidates for office must be women.

Socio-political participation of women in developing countries such as Iran, especially their effective and organized participation in sustainable development, has a special place. According to official statistics, more than half of Iran’s population of 80 million are women. Women’s participation in society is valuable because it provides the basis for sustainable development (Scaff, 1975). Therefore, one of the important development goals is denying class, ethnicity, gender, and human inequalities to achieve development. Today, eliminating inequalities between men and women and recognizing women’s status in the development process has become a key issue among countries. Despite having various family roles, marriage, child-rearing, and housekeeping, women need to be active and effective in society. In this way, they can play an important role in society’s political, social, economic, and cultural development. According to statics, even though Iranian women in terms of literacy and education have been able to reach the global indicators of human development, due to various structural and cultural barriers, they have not yet been able to achieve a good situation in the political and social arenas. So, they are absent in many important and influential areas of society, and their place in the political and managerial decision-making arena is limited to low-impact areas.

2 The Situation of Women in the World and Iran

In recent years, Iranian women have improved their abilities by increasing literacy and awareness and expanding higher education, often on the margins of social and political relations, and their role in the economic field has not been very significant. Forty years after the revolution, the number of women seats in Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly has risen to 3%. In contrast, according to the United Nations, women make up about 30.4% of the seats in the United States, 27.7% in OECD countries, 23.6% in sub-Saharan Africa, 19.5% in Asian countries, 17.8% in Arab countries, and 17.9% in Pacific countries. The presence of women in the national parliaments of these countries has increased by a total of 11.3% since 1995. A look at the situation of countries separately also shows that in a significant part of the world, at least 30% of parliamentary seats belong to women MPs. According to the United Nations, there are currently 29 women in heads of state or autonomous regions worldwide as heads of state and 13 women as presidents. Worldwide, 18.3% of cabinet members are women, holding positions ranging from the Department of Defense, the Interior, and the Department of Justice to the Environment, Energy, Family, and Education. UN data also show that there was a direct relationship between women’s participation in local councils and the well-being of local people at the local level. In India, for example, the number of water supply and drinking water development projects in areas led by local councils with women is 62% higher than in district councils run by men. Also, in Norway, there has been a direct link between the number of women on city councils and increased support for and care for children (Jamshidi, 2006).

Now, forty years after the Iranian revolution, the goals of this revolution regarding the status of women have not been achieved. In Iran, the ideological justification of gender inequality and the dominance of patriarchal culture have overshadowed all areas. The exaggeration in the natural roles of women has increasingly removed women from the field of politics and society, and they are absent in influential areas such as judgment, jurisprudence, the leadership of the three forces, the Guardian Council, the Expediency Council, and the Assembly of Leadership Experts. Currently, only about 4% of MPs, 3% of managers, 1% of members of urban and rural councils, and 12% of members of metropolitan councils are elected from among women. The situation in the cabinets is much worse. In other words, after the revolution, the presence of women in the cabinet was limited to one or two deputy ministers, and the presence of women in political and diplomatic missions was less. Although the level of women’s participation, in general, has increased, despite this change, there are still major weaknesses in this area. There is also a low presence of women in other positions, including the presidency of universities and scientific centers (even though more than 60% of university admissions are women, the presence of women working in senior management compared to the total number of women working in the public sector is only 9%) (Hossein Zadeh, 2007). This research has been done through qualitative and secondary analysis. The data have been collected and analyzed by statistical sources available in the Ministry of Interior, Statistics Center of Iran, Islamic Consultative Assembly, Islamic Council of the city, and other related texts.

3 The Status of Iranian Women before Islamic Revolution of Iran

The history of women’s social and political participation in Iran dates back to the early twentieth century, especially the constitutional movement. Prior to the constitutional movement, the patriarchal culture of traditional Iranian society did not allow women to engage in political activity, but eventually, as a result of relations with Europe in the late nineteenth century, the field of women’s political activity and participation expanded (Shahsavan, 2001, p. 158). With the formation of the constitutional movement, Iranian women moved like men, so the real awaking of Iranian women began from this date. The participation of women in the whole process of the constitutional movement, from the beginning of its preparations until its victory, opened a completely new chapter in the history of socio-political activities of Iranian women (Hafeziyan, 2006, p. 56). Although before the constitutional movement, events such as famine or dissatisfaction occurred, which resulted in demonstrations by women. What was new at that time seemed to be the presence of women in the political arena. In the late Qajar era, several protest movements were taken by Iranian women; one of them formed in the shrine Abdul Azim and asked for the formation of house justice for the first time (Mossafa, 1996, p. 108).

Women actively participated in the Constitutional Revolution, and later, in particular, after 1906, they were able to form their organizations and act independently. However, they were parts of a major overall movement in the country. The women’s national movement was a petition that cooperated with the general movement and aimed at Iran’s independence and the implementation of the constitution (Bashiriyeh, 1991, p. 289). The constitutional revolution created an opportunity for women to experience political participation; one of the interesting issues in the constitutional revolution was established and expended by women’s secret associations. In the early stages of the Constitutional Revolution, active women were often influenced by religious leaders—“bread rebellion” was an example.

A large number of women, through clergy support, felt freed to participate in a demonstration or national slogans and, through secret associations and organizations, conducted activities against foreign powers and in support of the Constitutional Revolution (Sanasarian, 1982, p. 39). Women considered constitutional achievements very valuable, so some wore men’s clothing in the war. They fought and killed. During the Constitutional Revolution, associations’ organizations such as the Patriotic Women’s Association and the Women’s Prosperity Association were established to address the issues and problems of women and their lost political and social rights. Women’s activity during this period was in areas that men allowed, such as creating associations, publishing newspapers and magazines, and establishing schools. Despite the numerous women’s activities during this period, the constitutional amendment did not only have the right to vote for women but also sought to remove them from the field of activity. With the onset of the Mosaddegh government, which governs the constitutional law, women were mainly in political partnership as members of the national or left parties (Keddie, 2006, p. 405).

After the fall of Mosaddegh’s government, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi attempted to establish women’s organizations with governmental support. Not allowing the establishment of independent political parties was a way to prevent the activities of opposition groups. The period between the coup d'etat of 1953 and the Islamic Revolution was new in changing the social structure of Iran. Some fundamental reforms were made in the 1940s under the name of the White Revolution, one of the principles of which was the reform of the election law, according to which women were formally given the right to vote. In 1963, the twenty-first term of the National Assembly was held, and women entered the National Assembly for the first time in the history of Iran. During this period, six Iranian women entered the parliament. In the 23rd term of the National Assembly, 17 women were elected as members of the Assembly, and in the 24th term of the parliament, 20 women were present in the parliament (Masoudnia et al., 2013, p. 583).

In general, wider changes in the participation of women began during the Pahlavi period. However, the record of women in the legislatures of the Pahlavi government shows that women representatives in the parliament had a more symbolic and formal presence and were not the source of independent activity in the society of that period. The fall-off of Mosaddegh’s government was the end of the work of independent women’s organizations. Accordingly, the women’s association was established in 1959, and its branches were expanded by government support in the country. Independent women’s groups that had previously been formed also joined the organization, but since it was a governmental association, it could not penetrate the masses and become a tribune for all women (Kaveh Tavakoli, 2014, p. 116).

4 The Status of Women in Iran’s Development plans after Islamic Revolution of Iran

The economic, social, and cultural development plans of the country determine the basic lines and general directions of the goals and policies of each sector and the executive affairs proceed in the same direction, and finally, the development plans influence the thoughts and ideas of policy makers. A development plan depends as much on the quality of human resources as it does on material resources. In fact, the Iranian society needs to adopt an approach in which the continuous process of human resource development is considered. Currently, one of the major weaknesses in formulating development strategies in Iran is the lack of attention to the role and potential capabilities of women in the economic, social, and cultural development of society. Therefore, the position of women in development plans must be determined first of all, because women are the subject and goal of any kind of development. For this reason, it is necessary to develop strategies and programs, as well as projects for the full integration and participation of women at all levels of planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.

Development in the macro-sense means improving all areas of life. These areas can be broadly divided into four categories: economic, social, cultural, and political which reflect the ideological perspective of those who lead development programs. Whenever the development process is integrated and coordinated, we will see all-round growth and development for people, both men and women, but the evidence shows that women have been neglected in development programs in various ways, and as a result of these programs. One of the most important pillars that can examine the position of women in development is the planning systems and macro-perspectives of planners and policymakers.

In the first post-revolutionary development (1989–1992), the law called for women’s participation in social, cultural, educational, and economic affairs while preserving family and transcendent values. But in practice, family planning policy and population growth control were considered as the main issues. Activities such as educating women, promoting their health, and reducing maternal and child mortality were also considered (Program and budget organization, 1994, p. 15).

In the second development plan (1995–1999), in comparison with the first plan, materials such as the following material were allocated to women, which were: special attention was paid to the allocation of facilities for women and the filling of women’s leisure time, as well as to the greater participation of women in social, cultural, educational and economic affairs while preserving the dignity of the family. The important point during this program was the opening of the Office of Women’s Affairs of the Presidential Institution and the Women’s Commission of the Ministry of Interior, which was a very important and fundamental step in the formation and implementation of development programs in the field of women; it also led to the establishment of governmental and non-governmental departments and institutions in the field of women (Program and budget organization, 1996, p. 18).

The third development plan (2000–2004) was based on greater participation of women in social, economic, and cultural arenas, so the attention to the situation of women in the third development plan was clearer than the previous two plans (Zafaranchi, 2006, p. 102). In this program, policymakers addressed all the goals and special programs for women in the form of Article 158 under the title of Presidential Women’s Participation Duties (Office of Women Affairs of the Presidential Institution) and goals such as organizing study projects on women’s issues and needs. These goals were to increase and promote women’s opportunities through the High Employment Council, women’s educational needs, women’s legal and spatial issues and problems, the formation and development of women’s NGOs, and assigning more roles to them and training capable managers (Program and budget organization, 2000, p. 19). In fact, the third development plan was the beginning of the government’s serious attention to women’s issues in the country. The relative success of women in the Third Development Plan led to an increase in the number of women in the Fourth Development Plan.

The Fourth Development Plan (2005–2009) was compiled simultaneously with the 20-year economic, social, and cultural vision document of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In this program, the main emphasis was on equal educational opportunities, increasing the level of efficiency and improving women’s job skills, supporting women heads of households, strengthening the foundation of the family, and increasing the pensions of women heads of households. Empowerment of women in creating social interactions was done with the aim of developing opportunities and expanding their participation in the country. This program also supported the establishment and expansion of non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, and women’s organizations (Program and budget organization, 2006, p. 21). In fact, the general policies of the Fourth Development Plan were based on gender justice and the architecture of the knowledge-based society, based on human rights and the principles of civil society on the one hand and scientific and economic principles on the other, and to this end, a comprehensive document on the development of women’s participation was presented (including fourteen program titles in the executive action section).

In the Fifth Development Plan (2011–2015), many sections related to women were developed with an emphasis on strengthening the family again. The goals of the Fifth Plan for women are clearly stated in Article 230 of the Plan: strengthening the institution of the family and the position of women in all fields by formulating and approving the “Comprehensive Plan for the Development of Women and Family Affairs”. Among the axes of strengthening the foundation of the family were: reviewing laws and regulations, prevention of social harms, development and organization of economic and livelihood affairs, organization of home-based jobs for women, leisure, spreading the culture of chastity and hijab, promotion health, developing the capabilities of non-governmental organizations, enhancing the capabilities of women managers and elites, developing international interactions, deepening religious beliefs, and reforming the organizational administrative structure of women and the family (Program and budget organization, 2010, p. 23).

A look at six development programs in Iran shows that women either did not participate in these programs or were given a small share, which for some reason was not realized. In fact, in formulating development programs, in addition to ignoring the balance in policy-making, women’s capabilities have also been neglected. In the first and second development plans, the contribution of women was mainly considered in the form of family and issues such as family planning policies and birth control. In the second development plan, women’s participation in sports and social, cultural, and economic affairs was considered, and in the third development plan, some attention was paid to promoting the appropriate role of women. In this program, while emphasizing job opportunities, facilitation in legal and judicial affairs, women’s participation in cultural and social affairs was also considered. The fourth program was slightly different from previous programs and in addition to what was highlighted in previous programs, the issue of gender was addressed for first time in development programs and special privileges were granted to women. Strengthening the role of women in society, providing opportunities and developing women’s participation in society, and planning became policy goals, and the government was required to prioritize these issues in policies. In general, from the content of development programs, it can be inferred that women, along with other social groups, have been mentioned as the target community in planning, but in practice, their participation has been small and forgotten. This has prevented women from achieving the desired position in society, despite their great potential.

5 Women's Social Rights in Iran

Over the past decades, the Iranian women’s community has undergone changes. With the rise of awareness and the development of higher education, they have improved their abilities and women can no longer be kept on the socio-political margins, because they want better conditions. Now, the main question that arises here is what has been the situation of women’s social rights during the last forty years? The scope of women’s social rights is very wide, the most extensive form of which can be seen in the Charter of Rights and Responsibilities in the Islamic Republic of Iran, approved by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution in 2004, which covers a wide range of issues including health, cultural rights, economic law, political rights, and women’s judicial rights. Since it is not possible to examine all these cases in the present article, the examples of social rights of citizens that are specifically mentioned in Article 26 of the Chapter of the Islamic Penal Code are examined, and examples of these social rights are:

  • The right to run in the presidential and Assembly elections of leadership experts, membership in the Guardian Council and the Expediency Council, membership in the Cabinet, and holding the position of Vice President.

  • Holding positions in the Judiciary, the Supreme Court, the Court of Administrative Justice, and the Attorney General.

  • The right to be elected or a member of associations, councils, parties, and associations by law or by popular vote.

  • The right to be a member of juries and trustees and dispute resolution councils and the right to work as a lawyer.

  • The right to be elected as an arbitrator or expert in official authorities, as a guardian, trustee, trustee, supervisor, or trustee of public endowments.

  • The right to employment and work in all government agencies, institutions under the leadership, municipalities, and institutions in charge of public services.

  • The right to work as a managing director or editor of mass media and the right to establish, manage, or be a member of the board of directors of public, cooperative, and private companies (Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution, 2004.(

These rights are defined for all citizens of Iran, and women, as half of the country’s population of 80 million, also have the right to profit them. But to what extent have women had these rights in the last forty years? In the following, the status of Iranian women will be examined.

6 The Participation in the Presidential and Assembly of Experts Elections

Since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, seven presidential elections have been held, and although women were allowed to register in this election, no woman’s candidacy has been approved by the Guardian Council and has not had the opportunity to compete with other candidates. The same is true about the Assembly of Experts. The number of members of this parliament is 88, who are elected by direct popular vote every eight years and so far, six rounds of elections have been held to elect the members of this parliament which the last election of which dates back to 2019. However, despite the registration of women in this election, none of them were allowed to cross the barrier to determine the authority of the Guardian Council while there is no jurisprudential and religious prohibition for women to participate in the Assembly of Experts. Among the women who volunteer for this election, the names of many female professors of jurisprudence and law can also be seen. According to many scholars, many women who are currently working in seminaries can become members of this assembly, but in practice this is not possible for women (Koulaei, 2019).

7 The Presence of Women in the Guardian Council and the Expediency Council

According to the Iranian constitution, six jurists of the Guardian Council are elected by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic and six jurists are elected by the head of the Judiciary after being introduced to the Islamic Consultative Assembly and finally obtaining the approval of the Assembly. Seven terms of the Guardian Council have been formed since 1980, and in each term, 12 jurists have been active for six years, but so far, no woman has been named among the members of this council. Furthermore, no women have been elected among the 44 permanent members of the Expediency Council, whose members are elected every five years by the decree of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

8 The Presence of Women in the Cabinet

The presence of women in the government cabinet has always been one of the election promises of the presidential candidates in Iran, but no president has succeeded in fulfilled this promise. Also, since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, women have never had the opportunity to hold positions in the judiciary, the Attorney General, the President of the Supreme Court, and the President of the court of Administrative Justice (Koulaei, 2019).

9 Women’s Membership in City and Village Councils

The presence of women in the city’s Islamic Councils is the only area that women have been able to reach at macro-level representation (Jamshidi, 2006).

Despite strong opposition to electing women in key positions and management, women face fewer difficulties registering on city and village councils. According to the head of the country’s Organization of Municipalities and Rural Affairs, there are currently more than 6,400 women on the city and village Islamic councils. Most of them are mayors and rural councilors. Even in the last city and village council elections, all registered candidates in one of Sistan and Baluchistan province villages were women. Therefore, it seems that the prominent presence of women in post-revolutionary Iran is in the middle levels of management. The same situation prevails in the field of education and employment. In the field of education, the percentage of men and women at the undergraduate level is equal. However, the number of women in the master’s degree is more than men, and suddenly, the presence of women in the doctoral program decreases significantly. Women are at the forefront of education, health, arts, humanities, and even the basic sciences, but few women are in IT, engineering, and manufacturing (Ebtekar, 2018). In the field of employment in 2015, the economic participation rate of men in the country was about 63%, and women were about 13%. In other words, 62% of the population aged ten and over were economically inactive, most of whom were women. According to the statistics, about 87% of the country’s female population is economically inactive (Negin, 2019). There is currently an imbalance in the distribution of women’s employment in different sectors. The highest employment density is in the service sector, and there is a gap of about 26% between women’s employment in the service sector and industry. Women in all major occupations have a much lower proportion than men, so the unemployment rate for women has always been twice that of men in recent years (Koulaei, 2019).

10 The Presence of Women in the Islamic Consultative Assembly

In the ten rounds of the Islamic Consultative Assembly elections, women held 95 seats. In the last round of elections, with extensive efforts and even the formation of a campaign aimed at “changing the masculine face of the Assembly,” they were able to win only 17 seats in the Assembly. In fact, despite the great efforts of women, there has been no change in the status of women’s participation. In contrast, the number of educated Iranian women has increased significantly in recent years. A look at the statistical table of Iranian women elected as members of parliament shows the unfavorable situation of women’s participation in macro-level decision-making (Table 10.1).

Table 10.1 Number of Iranian women in parliament

11 Barriers to Women’s Participation in Iran

In recent years, most Iranian women have shown a greater desire to participate in large-scale decision-making processes such as the legislative and policy-making processes. They have expressed this interest by announcing their candidacy in the Islamic Consultative Assembly and town and village councils. Although this trend has been increasing over the years, there is still a long way to go between what is and should be. In general, Iranian society is not in a favorable position in terms of women’s participation in decision-making areas, and women’s access to large areas of decision-making, which includes the following is limited: percentage of women’s presence in diplomatic cabinets and missions,

  • Percentage of parliamentary seats held by women,

  • Percentage of female managers among the country’s managers,

  • Percentage of employed women among employees across the country,

  • Percentage of women’s share of real income.

Examination of the above percentages in the findings section showed that the level of participation of Iranian women in high levels of decision-making is low, which indicates the many obstacles that women face. Some of these obstacles go back to the laws and parts that need to be amended, although the Iranian constitution explicitly emphasizes the need for women to participate alongside men. The main obstacle to women’s participation is the prevalence of patriarchal culture and the behavior of Iranian government officials, who refuse to elect women in managerial positions. Participation is the foundation of democracy and requires adequate access to resources for all members of society. However, Iranian women are deprived of equal rights to participate in various political, social, and cultural spheres. One thing that is always mentioned about not making women responsible is their inexperience and skills, but this is often because women have not had the opportunity to play different roles, especially at senior levels. As long as the authorities ignore this important principle, women are not allowed to gain experience and skills. They will lag behind men, resulting in the country losing half of its human capital. However, looking at the developments of recent decades, we find that barriers to women’s participation are more a matter of personal taste than legal, so what needs to be reformed more than anything else is changing in some misconceptions, especially a change in a patriarchal culture. In general, barriers to women’s socio-political participation can be categorized as follows:

  • The humiliation of women’s personalities has caused them to become insecure about their abilities and suffer irreparable mental and physical blows.

  • Gender inequality is based on prejudiced beliefs against women in education, health, credit, employment, social, and civil rights, as well as the institutionalization of discrimination against women.

  • Sometimes women’s social participation is equated with the issue of women’s employment. In this regard, it should be acknowledged that although women work as employees in governmental and non-governmental organizations, they are not given a position in group work and senior management positions.

  • Women need to learn ways to deal with stereotypes that have hindered their growth. The patriarchal attitude has historical roots, an attitude that considers women as delicate, emotionally irrational, aimless, cowardly, and incapable of making a decision. These stereotypes prevent women from holding and succeeding in managerial levels.

12 Conclusion

Today, the participation of Iranian women in macro-level decision-making is unfavorable because women are not in a good situation in scales such as the number of parliamentary seats held by women and the number of women managers. They are in a very vulnerable situation in terms of access to power. The low presence of women in the decision-making sphere of the legislature is around 6.5% and has only two percent of the seats in the management of government agencies (out of a total of 17,563 managerial positions) which indicates low presence of women in Iran. The number of male managers in Iran is 35 times that of female managers (Davani, 2005, p. 55). There are many obstacles in this, including beliefs and prejudices against women in managerial positions. Women are considered who do not have the necessary conditions for effective management and are traditionally expected to take care of the family.

The success of organizations depends on the optimal use of existing specialties, whether these specialties are in the hands of men or women, so the obstacles to the women’s progress must be removed. Globalization, human rights discourse, and women’s rights discourse have led to the growth of women’s organizations at the national and international levels. Increasing women’s participation at the macro- and managerial levels is one of the demands of women, especially Iranian women (Shiani, 2003). In Iran, these issues have occupied the minds of many thinkers, writers, experts, youth and women. In some of the works that have been written about the problems of the Islamic world, Islam has been analyzed as a deterrent to the goals of women’s development and participation, and the absence of women in the public arena has been attributed to religious precepts. However, the successful experience of countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia suggests that the causes and factors of the low presence of women in some Islamic countries should be sought in these countries’ general level of development and the type of policies.

Today, women’s participation of power and development is not an option but a necessity. Studies in Iran show that patriarchal culture, negative attitudes, and prejudices prevent women from going beyond a certain level in the organizational hierarchy (Shiani, 2005). The main obstacle facing women seeking managerial positions is the cultural constraints imposed by society, the family, and women themselves. Half of the population comprises women, and society will not achieve comprehensive and sustainable development if planners and policymakers fail to determine the special place of women in strategy development. One of the Millennium Development Goals, which was signed by the heads of states in 2000 and approved by the Iranian government in 2005, was gender equality and women’s empowerment. These goals, which were mentioned as the third goal of Millennium Development Goals, were supposed to be achieved by 2015 but were not achieved. According to this document, gender equality and women’s empowerment were the keys to achieving change in this area. In line with the goals and strategies designed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, it was decided that up to 30% of the seats in the National Assembly would be reserved for women by 2015. However, Iranian women faced many obstacles to achieving this goal. Civil law and family law in Iran were written seventy years ago, while today’s Iranian society has changed a lot, and many of these changes are not reflected in the text of the law. Therefore, compliance with these laws with the realities of society is necessary.