Zanan Magazine

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An independent Iranian women's magazine.

The first issue of the monthly magazine Zanan (Women) appeared in February 1992 under the editorship and management of Shahla Sherkat. Fired after ten years of working in the editorial board of Zan-i Ruz (Today's woman) because of her "growing modernist, Western, and feminist tendencies" (Sherkat, 2003, p.4), Sherkat launched Zanan as an independent feminist journal. Although initially produced in a small room borrowed from the office of Kian, a reform-oriented journal, and with limited resources and the cooperation of only a couple of journalists, Zanan has grown into a professionally produced magazine with about thirty staff members and several freelance contributors; it has its office in an independent office building. Zanan 's survival (104 issues published as of December 2003) against financial odds and political pressures is a remarkable record of success in the history of Iran's usually short-lived independent publications in general and of its women's publications in particular.

Zanan represents a gradual shift among numerous Muslim women activists from radical Islamism or conservative patriarchal traditionalism to a liberal spiritualism and modernist egalitarian reformism that is described by some as Islamic feminism. This evolution, occurring within the context of widespread ideological disillusionment with militant and totalitarian Islamism, represents the gender dimension of a growing reform movement toward democracy, pluralism, secularism, and civil rights in Iranian society at large.

Zanan has played a pioneering role in Islamic women's rethinking of gender and reconstruction of womanhood. With significant contributions by Muslim feminist theologians such as Seyyed Mohsen Saʿidzadeh and secular lawyers such as Mehrangiz Kar, Zanan began challenging the patriarchal presuppositions that have shaped the dominant interpretations of Islam and the construction of shari ʿa law and policy concerning women's rights, male-female relationships, sexual mores, and gender roles under the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Believing that ijtihad (reasoning from faith) is an obligation of every responsible adult, Zanan has expanded the domain of modern Islamic interpretation. It has embarked on a thorough and radical project aimed at "decentering the clergy and placing woman as interpreter and her needs as ground for interpretation" (Najmabadi, 1998, p. 71).

Zanan 's agenda has not been limited to the reinterpretation of the Islamic canon. Each issue includes sections addressing social problems and contentious issues; theoretical debates, interviews, and cultural studies; critique of law and legal advice; feminist critique of literature and films; health issues, sports, and leisure; and new books and news. It also carries advertisements, which are not always free of stereotypical marketing techniques geared toward modern homemakers. Some Zanan 's writers, especially the younger ones such as Parastu Dokoohaki, Shadi Sadr, and Roya Karimi-Majd, have produced courageous and provocative reports highlighting not only oppressive and sexist traditions but also modern social ills affecting girls and the younger generation of women, including poverty, prostitution, drug abuse, addiction, and violence. Although it is circulated in different parts of Iran and in some diaspora circles, Zanan 's readers are primarily in the modern middle class and for the most part are middle-aged urban women.

In the 1997 presidential elections and the subsequent parliamentary elections, Zanan played a considerable role in mobilizing women's votes for Mohammad Khatami and moderate candidates for the Iranian parliament, the majlis. Yet through its critical monthly reports on the works of the majlis deputies and the policies of Khatami's government, and especially through challenging interviews and panel discussions, Zanan also took the reformers to task by highlighting their shortcomings and failures to safeguard women's rights and achieve progress on gender issues.

Adopting a nonviolent, spiritual, Sufi-like language in its editorials, Zanan has emphasized "autonomy and choice as the first pillar of freedom" (Sherkat, 1992, pp. 23). By inviting contributions from Iranian secular and Islamic feminists, living inside as well as outside the country, Zanan has provided a nonsectarian and inclusive forum for dialogue between secular and faith-based feminists. Its openness, however, is constrained by censorship as well as by the ideological and political constraints imposed by the regime. By introducing feminist theories, reports on women's status and movements in other parts of the world, and translations of Western feminist literature, Zanan has avoided a reactive gender conservatism and a phobia about Western ideas, weaving textual, artistic, and intellectual connections between Muslim women and Western feminism. Zanan has altered the terms of the debate and dialogue not only among Islamic women activists, but also between Islamic and secular feminists.

see also kar, mehrangiz; saʿidzadeh, seyyed mohsen; shariʿa.


Karimian, Ramim, and Bahrampour, Shaʾbanali. "Iranian Press Update." Middle East Report no. 212 (fall 1999). Available from <>.

Najmabadi, Afsaneh. "Feminism in an Islamic Republic: 'Years of Hardship, Years of Growth.'" In Islam, Gender, and Social Change, edited by Y. Y. Haddad and J. L. Esposito. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Tohidi, Nayereh. Globalization, Gender, and Religion: The Politics of Women's Rights in Catholic and Muslim Contexts, edited by Jane H. Bayes and Nayereh Tohidi. New York: Pal-grave, 2001.

nayereh tohidi

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