Global and Iranian history are both closely intertwined with the lives and destinies of prominent figures. Every one of them has laid a brick on history’s wall, sometimes paying the price with their lives, men and women alike. Women have been especially influential in the past 200 years, writing much of contemporary Iranian history.
In Iran, women have increased public awareness about gender discrimination, raised the profile of and improved women’s rights, fought for literacy among women, and promoted the social status of women by counteracting religious pressures, participating in scientific projects, being involved in politics, influencing music, cinema… And so the list goes on.
This series aims to celebrate these renowned and respected Iranian women. They are women who represent the millions of women that influence their families and societies on a daily basis. Not all of the people profiled in the series are endorsed by IranWire, but their influence and impact cannot be overlooked. The articles are biographical stories that consider the lives of influential women in Iran.
* * *
Farokhru Parsa was born in Qom in the winter of 1922. At the time of Farokhru’s birth, her mother, Fakhr Afaq Parsa, a women’s rights activist and the editor of Women’s World magazine, was living in exile, punished for writing an article that defended gender equality in education. The article incited protests from the clergy.
Farokhru Parsa's father, Farokhdin Parsa, worked at the Ministry of Commerce and was the editor of two magazines about industry and commerce.
Shortly after Farokhru’s birth, Farokh Afagh was released from exile through the help of Mirza Hassan Khan Mostofi, the prime minister at the time, and the family returned to Tehran.
Farokhru Parsa studied medicine, and while at university, she also had a keen interest in culture. Together with her colleagues, she founded the Women of Culture Society in 1954.
In 1960, when the National University of Iran, Shahid Beheshti, was founded, Farokhru Parsa was appointed as its secretary general. She was the first woman in the history of Iran to occupy such a high position in the field of education.
Parsa was also the first woman in Iran to be appointed Minister of Education under the then prime minister, Abbas Hoveyda. This made her the first female member of parliament.
“I want to put great responsibility on a mother’s shoulder,” Abbas Hoveyda told her. ”I want to put the task of educating the country’s children in a mother’s hand. I want our Minister of Education to consider other people’s children as her own.”
According to her friends and relatives, Farokhru Parsa’s only two concerns in life were her family and her struggle for gender equality.
Writing about schoolgirl uniforms, Parsa wrote: “They’re not allowed to wear anything except school uniforms, whether it be the chador or a miniskirt.” She said she wanted to separate “education and progress” from “outfits.” Hoveyda’s critics believe that she played a significant role in advancing education for girls in Iran.
Parsa also financially sponsored the Islamic Center in Hamburg. Its director was Seyed Mohammad Beheshti, the first chief justice of Iran’s Supreme Court following the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Beheshti was later assassinated on June 28, 1981.
Before the revolution, Beheshti and Mohammad Javad Bahonar, the second post-revolutionary president, advised Parsa on how to compile school textbooks. Under Parsa, Bahonar secured a permit to open several religious schools in Tehran.
Following the revolution, Parsa stayed in Iran, and lived in hiding for some time. According to Keyhan Newspaper, she was arrested on February 16, 1979 at her son’s house in Farmanieh district, together with her husband and lieutenant general, Ahmad Shirin Sokhan. At the time, she believed her innocence would be proven during what she was told would be a “fair” trial.
But upon entering the courtroom in a grey uniform and headscarf, those in the audience booed and cursed her. Her response was, “I believe in the justice of my country.”
Her trial lasted nine sessions. The judge overseeing her case, Sadeq Khalkhali, condemned her to death and confiscated her property. She was charged with “wasting and plundering public properties, propagating corruption and prostitution in the domain of culture, appointing pervert figures to important ministry positions, organizing mixed outdoor camps and for violating Islamic morality.”
Parsa rejected the charges of being a Baha’i, having an illegitimate relationship and some of the other charges, including “plundering public properties” and cooperating with the intelligence services (Savak). She also denied giving a speech in which she said: “Hejab should not prevent women from participating in social activities.”
At the end of her defense stateement, she said, “I now await the Imam’s forgiveness.”
On May 8, 1980, the prosecutor general of the Islamic Revolutionary Court announcement that Farokru Parsa, the Minister of Education under the Pahlavi regime, had been hanged.
In his book Mrs. Minister, Mansour Pirnia gives a detailed account of Parsa’s final minutes: “They put her in a sack, wrapped ropes around her and dragged her to the gallows. The ropes were torn. Once she regained consciousness, she was once again taken to the gallows, but this time they wrapped wires around her. Apparently, she hadn’t died the second time either. The three holes in one of the most influential Iranian women’s dead body is a testimony of her most painful death.”
Read the article in Persian
Also in the series:
To read more stories like this, sign up to our weekly email.