Shahram Akbarzadeh, Rebecca Barlow & Sanaz Nasirpour
Shahram Akbarzadeh, Rebecca Barlow & Sanaz Nasirpour (2021): Registered NGOs and advocacy for women in Iran, Third World Quarterly, DOI: 10.1080/01436597.2021.1896964
Publication year: 2021

Registered women’s non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the Islamic Republic of Iran occupy a critical space in the socio-political landscape. They are neither government insiders nor anti-regime activists, instead advocating for incremental change within the constraints of the system. Drawing on interviews with NGO leaders, this article sheds light on the objectives and activities of five registered women’s organisations as they work in the so-called ‘moderate’ political climate of the Rouhani government. The findings show that although the NGOs provide education and training, essential services, and recreational activities for women, they steer clear of seeking fundamental changes to laws on women’s rights. This approach is predicated on security considerations. NGO activists are keenly cognisant of state sensitivities and the risk to their work, registration and liberty. The NGOs’ reluctance to seek fundamental changes to laws concerning women’s status reflects palpable anxiety amongst activists over the possibility of political backlash. Rouhani’s ‘moderate’ politics do not appear to have relaxed tensions between the government and civil society, which were at their peak under his predecessor. The focus of contemporary NGOs on achieving behavioural, attitudinal and procedural change is significant, and has the potential to make a real difference in women’s lives.