“All of a sudden, in their minds, society had become Islamic, and therefore it was safe for their daughters to leave home and go away for college,” Professor Bajoghli said. Today, women make up more than half of university graduates.
Education opened new opportunities for women to enter public life. And that, in turn, led many to become dissatisfied with the limitations that they found there, such as rules that barred women from holding senior judgeships. “In the mid-1990s and 2000s, there’s a lot of folks from within the religious components of society beginning to say, ‘We need to rethink these laws because it’s beginning to impact our peers,’” Professor Bajoghli said.
At the same time, the country was going through important political changes. In the early days of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was very popular, and his hard-line faction easily found a wide base of support among the population, Dr. Bajoghli said. But his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who took office in 1989 and is Iran’s current supreme leader, was less popular and less respected as a cleric.
To shore up his power, Ayatollah Khamenei worked to build a base of support among the country’s ultrareligious conservatives. But over time, as Iran has become a younger and more urban country, that base has grown smaller and shattered into competing factions, Professor Bajoghli said.