Having reversed its pronatalist policies in 1988, the Islamic Republic of Iran implemented one of the most successful family planning programs in the developing world. This achievement, particularly in urban centers, is largely attributable to a large women-led volunteer health worker program for low-income urban neighborhoods. Research in three cities demonstrates that this successful program has had a host of unintended consequences. In a context where citizen mobilization and activism are highly restricted, volunteers have seized this new state-sanctioned space and successfully negotiated many of the familial, cultural, and state restrictions on women. They have expanded their mandate from one focused on health activism into one of social, if not political, activism, highlighting the ways in which citizens blur the boundaries of state and civil society under restrictive political systems prevalent in many of the Middle Eastern societies.
Hoodfar, H. Health as venue of social and gender activism: population politics and volunteer health workers in Islamic Republic of Iran. Population and Development Review (2010) 36 (3) 487. [DOI: 10.1111/j.1728-4457.2010.00343.x]