A critical analysis of the role of law and feminist legal approaches in women’s life advancement : a case study of the one million signatures campaign


University of British Columbia

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Doctor of Philosophy - PhD




Iranian women carry the legacy of five generations of women’s activism over the last 150 years. Through a feminist legal lens, this dissertation surveys this rich history, especially the One Million Signatures Campaign (OMSC). The dissertation raises two major questions. (1) Whether there has been too much emphasis on law and legal reform as means to achieve gender justice in Iranian feminist movements at the expense of other approaches. (2) Whether using certain aspects of liberal and radical feminism as methodologies turned the OMSC into the reflecting surface of the western feminist centre, thus failing to contextualize their work within their sociopolitical and cultural region. This dissertation sheds light on the theoretical and methodological possibilities of drawing more on postmodernist and Third world feminist approaches. Through historical, textual and discourse analysis, this dissertation explores legal centralist liberal feminism and radical feminism as influential western tropes in contemporary Iranian feminism. Deconstructive postmodern and TW feminism, which tackle universalist and orientalist tendencies in feminist scholarship, are suggested as pertinent approaches for Iranian feminism. Honouring the legacy of and historicizing five generations of Iranian women’s activism, this dissertation complicates earlier categorizations by highlighting class, ideology and religion. OMSC is critically analysed, including its emergence and demise, its strategic legal demands suggesting a paradigm shift from traditional readings of Shari’a law to secular CEDAW norms, and its discursive engagement with western feminism. By referring to data on the status of Iranian women, this research shows that formal legal indicators fail to capture Iranian feminist praxis in the so-called ‘repressed post-revolutionary era’. It is argued that law cannot be portrayed as the sole factor responsible for stagnation or advancement in women’s lives, as it glosses over how women defy, negotiate, and even bypass discriminatory laws and ideologies. Moreover, it is crucial that future Iranian feminist activism shift its theoretical groundings from hegemonic western feminist legal theory to postmodern and TW feminism. The latter approaches not only de-center law wherever possible, but discursively engage with it. They also challenge totalizing feminist knowledge that homogenizes and universalizes feminist struggles under western feminist standards.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International




Law, Peter A. Allard School of