Gry Winther’s documentary was shot in Iran during 2009, when the nation’s presidential election devolved into blatant displays of fraud and intimidation by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ruling regime. But the film’s focus is on the efforts of Iranian women behind the One Million Signature campaign to push for a liberalization of the misogynist sharia laws that were in place since the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah’s brutal reign.
Ironically, women had more freedom under the Shah – for example, Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s first Nobel Peace laureate, was a prominent judge during the imperial era but was demoted to court secretary once Islamic theocracy became Iranian law and women were barred from serving as judges.
The film chronicles the ongoing efforts by female lawyers, journalists, professors and activists to address gender inequality in Iran, and the bravery of the women featured here is certainly commendable. However, the film makes the mistake of comparing Iranian women’s rights with the socio-political systems in the Western nations. In many other Islamic nations, women actually have far less rights that Iranians – most egregiously, alleged U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.
The film also gives the impression (without overtly stating as much) that Iran’s women rights movement is strictly an urban, upper-middle-class endeavor – grassroots efforts from the working classes and the rural populations are absent from view. Furthermore, the film was shot a few years before the Arab Spring movement rocked the Islamic world – and the absence of genuine democratic reforms resulting from those protests might suggest that Iranian women have a long wait ahead of them.