The Circle – What can we say about state policies and gender relations ?

by Juliette Fournil on November 4, 2014 - 8:13am

''Gender relations, embodied in the sexual division of labor, compulsory heterosexuality, discourses and ideologies of citizenship, motherhood, masculinity and feminity, and the like, profoundly shape the character of welfare states. Likewise, the instituions of social provision – the set of social assistance and social insurance programs, universal citizenship entitlements, and public services to which we refer as '' the welfare state'' – affect gender relations in a variety of ways.'' (Orloff, Ann, 1996 : Gender In The Welfare State)


Indeed, one must acknowledge the indisputable mutual influence between gender relations and state policies. Even if Ann Orloff only tackles the issue of the welfare states – which is typically conceptualized as a state aiming at achieving greater equality, each state must protect freedom and rights for all male or female citizens. With law, steps, the state dictates what is allowed for someone or not. Since centuries, the problem remains the same: the question of women rights. Women are allowed to do less things than men, women have a reduced freedom : women are not considered as men's equals. Of course and fortunately, the situation has improved in all developed countries; the gender gap seems to be always smaller. Women can normally do what they want like men ; even though "no society treats its women as well as its men." That was the conclusion from the United Nations Development Programme, written in its 1997 Human Development Report.


But the aim of this article is not to index gender inequalities. Indeed, I want to pinpoint how government (with its policy) can influence gender relations as the state implements measures concerning the right of its citizens. The Circle, a movie directed by the Iranian Jafar Panahi, describes very well the living conditions of women in Iranian society. To be based upon this movie is very important because as Sabine Levet said, if we want to understand or to compare different situations, it is essential to understand the context and to look at the others from the ''outside'', otherwise we are running the risk of developing clichés.


So, returning to the initial matter, it could be important to specify that Iran applies Sharia Law. This first aspect can also explain how state influences the behaviour, the thinking of the citizens, especially concerning gender. Then, the movie highlights the prohibition against women which inevitably shapes gender relations! Indeed, lot of actions shows how the situation is horrible for women. Already at the beginning, when the greatmother learns that the child is not a boy, she is distraught: ''My poor daughter, she will be divorced''. Later, we see a woman trying to abandon her child for the third time. What kind of condition can bring a woman to take such a decision? We learn during the film that:

  • a woman can't travel without being accompanied,

  • a woman can't smoke in the street,

  • a woman can't be in a car with a man who is not her husband or someone of her family

  • a woman can't abort without her father and husband's consent

  • a woman can't go in a hostel without her husband


The list is still long. A sentence pronounced in the film recaps well the situation: ''Without a man, we can't go anyway''. All the rights of women are limited, regulated. The movie begins with a birth and finish in a jail. The circle is yet buckled. It seems to be women’s destiny in Iran.


In this way, the lack of policy in favour of women determines wholly the gender relations. And even if women try to become emancipated, nothing is finally challenged. The gender gap is always so big. The whole society ''accepts'', resigns itself this situation.


But one has to remain sanguine. The current context of revolutions, mutations in the Middle East could help to change the way of thinking in these societies. In this case, it could have an impact on the regime and the state policies...


Juliette Fournil

About the author

I'm Juliette. I come from France and I will study political science and economy for two semester in Potsdam. I'm very interested in international relations and gender studies, that's why I decided to follow this lecture. I'll probably be part of Amnesty International Potsdam.