Away from Home: Iranian Women, Displacement, Cultural Resistance, and Change


Moghissi, Haideh. 1999. "Away from Home: Iranian Women, Displacement, Cultural Resistance, and Change." Journal of Comparative Family Studies 30 (2): 1-10.

Author: Haideh Moghissi


This article discusses the gender character of displacement. Using the example of the Iranian female diaspora, it argues that women's experience of displacement is relatively more positive than that of men, and women, generally, are more prepared and make more efforts to build a home away from home. However, the pressures for cultural resistance against the dominant culture and the institutional racism in the host country may counterbalance the impact of women's positive experiences. Under the banner of 'cultural resistance', patriarchal values and sexist norms are revitalized within the family as well as in the community, and the voices of dissent are muted and dismissed as outside influences.

Keywords: displacement, cultural resistance, diaspora, gender identity, migration


  • In her article, Moghissi argues that gender-based discrimination persisted within communities of displaced Iranian women despite the relatively progressive nature of their new environments. This persistence of conventional gender roles, she writes, stemmed from a desire to “maintain community dignity and cultural identity” (1) even if this compromised women’s rights. 
  • Many Iranians who have migrated to European countries feel the need to cling to elements of their culture that they feel define them, and the elements of their culture that they seek to uphold oftentimes involve gender roles. Although the majority of the Iranian diaspora community come from middle-class, secular, educated backgrounds, they still uphold Iranian traditions as a way to cope with their new environments. Moghissi’s research proves that women tend to deal with changes that moving entails better than their male counterparts; they are often able to find work in typically “male” spheres, whereas displaces Iranian men often leave the well-developed careers they had had in Iran for low-paying jobs elsewhere.
  • The racism that displaced Iranian women face in their new host societies also contributes to a desire to cling to old traditions. They crave a sense of belonging, so they often revert back to the patriarchal traditions that governed their past lives. Because the female Iranian daispora clings to these conventional gender norms, all “feminist” activity is categorized as outsider, Western influence. Despite this, Moghissi believes that through Iranian women’s involvement in the women’s movement abroad, they will “inevitably bring to their community more awareness about social problems in the host country and may inspire new commitments for it and force the community to get more involved in the struggle for social justice” (8).

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Ethnicity, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Households Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East Countries: Iran

Year: 1999

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