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.
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Born Fatemeh Sharifi in 1949 in the southwestern province of Lorestan, Fatemeh Karroubi married Mehdi Karroubi when she was only 14. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Mehdi Karroubi, a Shia cleric, became speaker of the Iranian parliament and was a reformist candidate in the disputed 2009 presidential election.
After her marriage, Fatemah Sharifi voluntarily changed her family name to that of her husband — something that is not customary in Iranian society.
Before the revolution, she and her husband engaged in political activities against the Shah’s regime, which led to Mehdi Karroubi’s arrest in the 1970s. Years later, following the 2009 election and Mehdi Karroubi being placed under house arrest, she wrote to Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani, pointing out that the couple faced more harassment in 2009 than it had from Savak, the Shah’s secret police.
During the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, Fatemeh Karroubi helped provide medical services and build clinics and hospitals as part of her work for the state-run Martyr Foundation, which was founded to help veterans and the families of those killed during the war. For 16 years, Fatemeh Karroubi was the foundation’s vice president for medical affairs.
She is the only woman to have received praise from Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, who thanked her for her services.
Throughout her time at the foundation, she remained active in politics. She is the Secretary-General of the Islamic Association of Women and a member of the National Trust Party, which was chaired by her husband. From 1996 to 2000, she was a parliamentary representative and served as the deputy labor minister for cultural affairs under reformist President Mohammad Khatami.
Over the past decades, Fatemeh Karroubi has been persistently critical of discrimination against women in employment. She wrote many articles about this discrimination in the weekly publication Iran-Dokht (Daughter of Iran), published by her husband, in which she tried to raise the level of consciousness among women about their rights. The weekly started in 2006 but was shut down after the 2009 election, when security forces raided its offices on December 28, 2009. The Press Supervisory Board revoked the weekly’s license because it “did not act according to the constitution.”
In the run up to the 2009 election, Fatemeh Karroubi headed up her husband’s campaign headquarters in Tehran. She declared that Mehdi Karroubi was the best candidate to support women’s rights in the Islamic Republic. She also spoke out against the Guardian Council decision to ban women from becoming president.
After the 2009 election result was announced and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, Fatemah Karroubi acted as Mehdi Karroubi’s representative to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, writing letters of protest against the election result.
In February 2011, following demonstrations by supporters of the reformist Green Movement, Mehdi Karroubi, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the other reformist candidate in the 2009 election, and their wives were placed under house arrest.
“Starting at midnight, February 15, for five days, about 40 to 50 plainclothes officers, under the protection of intelligence operatives, would come to our door and shout insults and damage the property,” Fatemah Karroubi said in an email interview in February 2015. “At the time, the intelligence operatives did not let anyone, including the children, grandchildren and even Karroubi's elder sister stop by for more than a few minutes. At the same time, intelligence operatives would allow the thugs do whatever they wanted. One of the worst nights was in the early hours of February 21, 2011, when the thugs threw in a percussion grenade. That evening, the operatives attacked the house and the house arrest officially started.”
After six months, Fatemah Karroubi was released for medical treatment, but her husband has remained under house arrest. Although she is not officially under house arrest, intelligence agents constantly monitor her visitors and her activities.
She continues to protest the ongoing house arrest of Mehdi Karroubi, Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard. Reformists were hoping that with the election of Hassan Rouhani to the presidency in 2013, the house arrest of the Green Movement leaders would end, but Fatemeh Karroubi says that, “contrary to public perceptions, the change in the government not only has not changed the situation of the house arrest, but in practice, the authorities are acting more irresponsibly.”
“In his message to Rouhani, he [Mehdi Karroubi] urged the president to use his momentum and insist on protecting the rights of the people as stated in the third chapter of the constitution,” she said. “For Karroubi, the path is the same, and he is standing as firm as before. He has a lot to say, and wants nothing for himself. He has told the operatives several times to move him to Evin Prison so the government is forced to go through the legal process and put him on trial. It has been five years that the government, using state media as its own mouthpiece, has refused to listen, has made accusations and spread lies and has prevented us from responding and defending ourselves… Karroubi has repeatedly said that he is ready to be prosecuted based on Directive 168 of the constitution, which provides for a public and open trial.”
Also in the series:
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