Iran and the wider Middle East are often blamed for harbouring patriarchal labour markets that inhibit women from exiting the household and taking up independent employment opportunities. This paper tells an alternative narrative in which I foreground the ways in which women have actively demanded the right to work, with or without male support. I focus on the teachers’ movement to argue that women increasingly constitute the core of unionised labour bargaining in Iran. The teachers’ movement in Iran has a long history of schooling both state and society. Yet, increasing feminisation of employment, new technologies, and expanding repertoires of protest have significantly increased female activism and visibility in the movement, not just among the rank-and-file but also in the leadership. The paper posits that this change is seen as much for unionised teachers as for more precarious teaching jobs, rebuffing the view that female mobilisation in the Middle East is impossible without state protection.