irna protest women Contrary to the news media's coverage, the protests in Iran contesting the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn't end when Michael Jackson died -- though they are fading. One of the most intriguing facets of the protests is who's at the forefront: women.

In a country not well known for women's rights, this is quite remarkable. You might have heard about the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young Iranian woman shot in the streets of Tehran. Though it's worth noting that Neda's family said she wasn't political, she has become the female face of the protest.

Women have been vocally supporting the candidacy of Mir Hussein Mousavi, the chief opponent to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was declared the winner the morning after the June 12 election. While the Guardian Council -- which oversees elections -- did a partial recount after Mousavi filed an appeal, the original results were upheld. For the last four weeks, women have marched alongside other protesters through the streets of Iran, even as officials try to stop them, tear-gas them or beat them.

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neda iran protestContradiction in Status
Iran's women are highly educated. In fact, 60 percent of university students there are female. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the new government wanted to keep the sexes separated, so they built more schools and universities just for women.

Basic transportation was improved, giving more women access to educational and cultural opportunities in cities, according to Janet Afary, a professor of Middle East and women's studies, told The New York Times.

But despite their high levels of education, women's basic rights remain limited by outdated marriage, divorce, child custody and crime laws. The '79 revolution also ushered in a new set of conservative government restrictions.

Fighting the Power
Women are especially active in these protests because they're fighting against restrictions that limit where they can go, what they can do, how they can dress and even how they can do their nails.

The restrictions set in place in '79 were further tightened once Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005. He has backed legislation easing polygamy for men, establishing quotas for how many women could enter universities, taxing dowries, and targeting women on the streets for their dress.

Women played a key role in the lead-up to the Iranian election over the last year by leading the Change for Equality campaign, a grassroots movement to protest new legislation that restricts women's rights even further.

Under the current Ahmadinejad regime, females face these severe restrictions on their daily lives; but opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi (and his feminist wife Zahra Rahnavard) has spoken out in favor of women's rights and promised to review discriminatory laws.

Activist women are willing to risk everything to protest the results of this election; after all, if Ahmadinejad is reelected, they have everything to lose.