A Century of Iranian Women's Battle for Singing in Public: the 1979 Islamic Revolution

by Hedie Mirimoghadam

Poster designed by Azarmidokht Elahi

After the Islamic revolution in 1979, women lost many rights in different aspects of life. As mentioned in the previous article, in the 1960s and 70s, significant progressive reforms were made under family protection laws. However, these laws were repealed in the 1980s and replaced with similar rules which were in place during the 1930s and 1940s. Reducing the legal age for marriage from 18 to 13 in 2013 has been one of the most significant changes after the Revolution.

Amongst many restrictions imposed on Iranian women's rights, we focus on the right to sing in public as a female vocalist. Iranian women are only allowed to sing in front of a female-only audience or as the back voice of male singers such as in duet or group performances when there are also men among the audience. The reason behind such a restriction is that Conservative clerics believe women's voices are sensuously stimulating for men and can lead to depravity.

These restrictions hindered progress started by pioneers such as Qamar Al Molouk Vaziri and followed by other female vocalists during the Pahlavi era. As a result, many Iranian female vocalists chose to migrate to other countries shortly after the revolution or several years later. However, there are exceptions such as Fateme Vaezi, better known as Parisa, who stayed in Iran and devoted her life to teaching and mentoring domestic talents.

Parisa currently lives in Iran, and as a result is prohibited from having public concerts inside the country; however, she has been able to perform in international arenas in recent years.

The new generation of female vocalists in Iran faces similar social and cultural challenges that the previous generation has experienced. Tiam is an example of a new female vocalist who has endured significant challenges to establish herself as a professional vocalist in today's Iran.

In my interview with Tiam, she explained her journey to this date:

"My parents believed women should not sing. So hidden from them, I started taking private lessons. I practiced in my bedroom, which was facing a playground where my dad and his friends played volleyball from time to time. On one of those days which I was practicing passionately, my dad overheard my voice during his game. He rushed back home, shouting in anger that I brought shame to the family."

She continues, "Most of the studios do not accept women singers as they are concerned about legal consequences. Some charge women more while they do not provide equal quality of service to women compared to men. Even if I successfully record the song, I am not allowed to publish it on any national platform."

Many talented Iranian female vocalists go through similar difficulties to pursue their dream, knowing that they do not have an equal right to men even if they overcome these challenges.

Even though Iranian female vocalists have been deprived of the progress they deserved, those who have been active in other types of musical arts have successfully advanced in their careers and performed in professional musical bands either as players or conductors. Among them are Negar Kharkan and Nazanin Aghakhani. The rise of social media also provided female musicians and vocalists with the opportunity to showcase their talent and be seen and heard by larger audiences.

Going through a tumultuous trajectory, the women's movement in Iran is gradually growing into a seasoned and inspiring model for those aspiring for equal rights and gender justice. Iranian women's experiences, resilience, and courage, and their creative and flexible strategies have significant practical and theoretical implications for local and global activists. I hope that advancements and liberties in the Iranian social and cultural constructs could accelerate the recognition of the right of female vocalists to sing in public in the near future.