Lipstick Revolution: Iranian Women Take to the Streets

The huge rallies this week in Iran, the largest seen since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, have included thousands of women, who have taken to the streets to oppose the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Some have dubbed itthe "lipstick revolution."

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A week after the contested election that declared incumbent President Ahmadinejad the winner, protests over alleged voting fraud still continue strong.

Women, old and young, are visible at every rally -- chanting, shouting, defiantly flashing V for Victory signs, carrying placards protesting the election results, defying the police and, in some cases, facing brutal retaliation.

Others say the presence of so many woman is only the tip of the iceberg. "This movement is not about wearing lipstick and throwing their veil off," Kelly Nikinejad, editor of Tehranbureau.com, told ABC News. "It's so much deeper than that."

Many Iranian women want what they have desired for so long -- equal rights. Women make up an important part of Iran's population. They constitute 65 percent of all university students, but only 12 percent of women are in the work force.

Additionally, under the current law, women do not have equal divorce, child custody or inheritance rights. Last year, Ahmadinejad's government tried to push a "family protection law" through parliament. The law would ease restrictions on polygamy and taxing mehriyeh, the traditional payment a husband gives a wife upon marriage, angering many.

In this election, women, who have been on the forefront of many a political movement in the country including the 1979 Revolution, threw their weight boldly behind Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist candidate who enjoys overwhelming support but according to election results, was defeated by a wide margin by Ahmadinejad, leading the opposition and their supporters to cry foul.

"They are very brave," Nikinejad said. "They go and they get beat up every day and they come back and they say I hurt, I hurt there, and then the next day they go back and they get pepper sprayed, beaten up, it's amazing."

The bold support for Mousavi does not mean that Ahmadinejad does not have a female base. In fact, many women showed up at his rallies as well and strongly believe that he would solve their problems -- from housing to health care.

But to many Iranian women frustrated about their lives, Mousavi's message of change and hope and equal rights struck a deep chord.

Iranian Women Demand Equal Rights

And they saw hope not only in Mousavi, but also in his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, a reflection of themselves. Rahnavard became the first Iranian women to openly campaign with her husband.

"She was the image of change in Iran," Nikinejad said. "She's a very educated woman. She has two Ph.D.s. She's authored 20 books."

Mousavi and his wife called for more economic and social rights for women.

"Changing this mentality and picture [of women] can be very helpful because if we step toward improving the situation of our women then we have progressed along the path of elimination of discrimination," Mousavi said at a rally last week.

"Women will be educated and trained so that they can be employed," he said at another event.

His wife has also spoken out openly against Ahmadinejad's government.

"Today, we feel that an atmosphere of freedom of speech, press and thought, which we are all interested in and have confidence in, is absent. We feel that we do not possess an independent and great economy because of the wrong policies and adventurous behavior at a national and international level, and because of unilateral decisions without consultation with experts," Rahnavard said at a political rally. "Now is the time we feel that we must be present on the scene."

Over the last few years, women once fearful in many of parts of the world are finding the courage to speak out.

In 2002, in Bangladesh thousands of women marched demanding equal rights, and earlier this year 300 Afghan women protested a Taliban law that allowed marital rape.

But the big question that remains to be answered is whether these courageous acts witnessed around the world will make a difference in Iran.

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