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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Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been a constant and often controversial presence on the Iranian political scene since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. His wife and two daughters have also played their part in politics. When Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani was recently sent to Evin Prison after being convicted on corruption charges, Rafsanjani’s wife Effat Marashi responded with anger and daughter Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani spoke out against the judiciary, saying his trial was unjust and flawed.
Although the Rafsanjanis do not always hold the same opinions, as a family they have always stood together and supported one another.
Effat Marashi, Wife
Effat Marashi, born in 1939, is the wife of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and the granddaughter of the prominent and extremely conservative Ayatollah Mohammed Kazem Yazdi. Marashi and Rafsanjani were married in 1958 and have two daughters — Fatemeh and Faezeh —and three sons — Mohsen, Mehdi and Yaser.
Prior to 2009, very little information about Effat Marashi was available beyond what her husband had provided to the public. The most newsworthy event in her life appears to have happened in the early 1980s, when Rafsanjani saved her from an assassination attempt by the extremist Islamist group Forghan. The group murdered close to 20 political and religious figures in the early days following the revolution.
Her views, according to her husband, were sometimes out of line with the prevalent policies of the Islamic Republic, but she never directly engaged in politics.
The disputed 2009 presidential election, and later, the trial and the imprisonment of her daughter Faezeh (see below) changed this, pushing her on to the public stage.
On election day, after she had cast her vote, a journalist asked her what should be done if the election proved to be a fraud. She encouraged people to take to the streets. The comment was recorded on video and the clip was broadcast on state-run television, after which the media paid more attention to her commentary.
This year she was asked about the imprisonment of her son Mehdi Hashemi. She sarcastically replied that she was happy that he was going to Evin Prison because that was where the revolution had started, implying that the current event was comparable to what the shah did, which led to the Islamic Revolution. Prior to this, the media reported that she had written letters to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in an effort to save Mehdi Hashemi from going to prison. After she was unsuccessful, it was reported, she adopted a more critical stance toward the regime.
Marashi has also been vocal in defending her husband against accusations and attacks from hardliners. “My mother is very upset by attacks on my father,” said her daughter Fatemeh in an interview. “She says that my father toiled for the revolution and for 20 years before that, he was either in prison or on the run. Such treatment is not fair.”
Fatemeh Hashemi, Daughter
Fatemeh Hashemi was born in 1961 and is eldest child of the family. She is a medical doctor and has been less politically active than her siblings. She was a founder of the Charity Foundation for Special Diseases in 1995 and since 2005 has been its president.
Despite her relatively non-political stance, she was a founding member of the centrist Moderation and Development Party in 2002. Its best-known member is the current president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani.
In 2013, after a member of parliament attacked her brother Mehdi durig a parliamentary speech, she demanded that her family be given a chance to rebut the accusations. She stated that the Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and his brother, who is the chief of Iranian Judiciary, “must guard the interest of the country, not the interests of their own families.”
Larijani did not file a complaint, but the Revolutionary Court sentenced Fatemeh Hashemi Rafsanjani to six months in prison. The sentence was later vacated by the appeals court.
There are rumors that Fatemeh Hashemi might run for parliament in the next parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for February 2016.
Faezeh Hashemi, Daughter
Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former journalist and women’s rights activist, is the most political and outspoken of the three Rafsanjani women. She holds a Ph.D. in human rights and two master’s degrees in management and political science.
In 1990 she became the president of the Islamic Federation of Women’s Sports. To encourage women to be more active in society, she regularly rode a bicycle in the street and dared to wear jeans in public when her father was the president of the Islamic Republic. Hardliners responded to much of her behavior with hostility. In 2001 her office at the federation was attacked and soon after the government canceled its budget. As a result, the federation was shut down.
In 1995, Faezeh Hashemi was elected as a Tehran representative to parliament, gaining a large percentage of the votes. “I was active in three areas: current social problems, women’s issues and sports,” she later said. She failed to win in the next parliamentary elections, however, and did not run again.
After the election of the reformist Mohammad Khatami to the presidency in 1997, she founded Zan (Women), the first newspaper for women, and was its managing editor. But in less than a year the government shut the newspaper down after it criticized the Islamic hejab, printed a cartoon lampooning a religious law concerning women, reported news about the former queen Farah Pahlavi, and published political articles critical of the regime.
In the campaign leading up to the 2009 presidential election, Faezeh Hashemi actively supported Mir Hossein Mousavi. During a speech, she characterized Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government as a “disaster”. After the election, she participated in Green Movement protests and was arrested twice, but was later released.
In 2012, at the funeral of a relative, an unidentified group physically attacked Faezeh Hashemi. The attack was captured on video, which was later edited and distributed by Saeed Tajik, a member of the paramilitary Basij, who called her a “whore”. In response, she stated that the attack had been deliberate and organized.
In the face of hardliners’ criticisms, she did not retreat. She continued to give interviews condemning “black” hejab and Islamic vigilantes. She was tried behind closed doors at the Revolutionary Court presided over by Judge Salavati, a judge accused by the European Union of gross violations of human rights. She was given a prison sentence of six months in 2012, which she served at Evin Prison.
“I liked, and still like those days,” she said in an interview after she was released. “It was a strange experience and costly, and I thank God. I still look at it as the best time of my life, and I thank those who offered this opportunity for me. Prison opened another world to me. I think it was my own spirit that turned this threat into an opportunity.”
“Some customs have been built and imposed that contradict human rights and especially women’s rights,” she said. These “customs have no base and are forced.”
When sh was asked what led her, as the daughter of Ayatollah Rafsanjani, “to wear jeans and colorful headscarves and to break many taboos for women,” Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani said that it had to do with “personal tastes [and] breaking a taboo in front of limitations and forced customs.” She added that despite “pressures from specific groups,” she stood her ground and that this was even “welcomed by many religious families.”
She continues to take part in political life and be outspoken on a range of issues, even in the face of constant attacks from hardliners.
Also in the series:
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