The U.S. foreign policy program favoring regime change in Iran mobilizes women's rights as a means to garner domestic sympathy for intervention. In doing so, pundits and politicians draw on epistemological assumptions that render Iranian women's lives in binary opposition to those of women in the United States and the West, often misconstruing the day-to-day realities of Iranian women's lives and discounting internal women's rights movements.
This essay considers how political characterizations of Iranian women and women in other Muslim-majority countries produce the conditions through which women's rights are understood and studied. In the highly politicized context of regime change, this essay asks: what are the effects of international pressure on local Iranian women and on their movements? Given the anti-imperialist tenor of the 1979 revolution and the centrality of women's rights therein, this essay further considers the effects of contemporary discourses of regime change that highlight women and argues that such discourses can actually hurt internal movements rather than help them.
Finally, this essay offers a different way to think about women's rights in these regions, one that involves a rethinking of the terms of the debate itself and moving beyond the binaries of East-West and premodern-modern. In the Iranian framework, we are seeing an instance of modern liberal values in a novel context—an Islamic republic. This essay calls for critical studies of women's rights and human rights that explore the international politicization of women's rights alongside new and complex state formations throughout the world.