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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Shahindokht Molaverdi is Vice President for Women and Family Affairs, appointed by President Hassan Rouhani in 2013. She has been an activist for women’s rights for the last 20 years, and she has never backed down when hardliners and religious conservatives have criticized and attacked her.
Molaverdi, who has a master’s degree in human rights from Tehran’s Allameh Tabatabaei University, completed a dissertation on international approaches to opposing violence against women. She is the author of several books on women’s rights and issues, including International Standards for Women’s Rights, Fighting Violence Against Women in Islamic Countries and Dissecting Violence Against Women.
She was born in 1965 in the province of West Azerbaijan, where she lived until she moved to Tehran to study law. She worked as a schoolteacher for four years before returning to college to earn her master’s degree. She later said that her research for her dissertation on violence against women opened new vistas for her and helped shape her career. As a result, she became active in supporting women’s rights, becoming a founding member of the Society for Women’s Rights and a member of the Reformist Women Assembly.
Under the reformist President Mohammad Khatami, Molaverdi was the director of the president’s International Center for Women’s Participation. In August 2013, when the newly-elected Rouhani announced his cabinet, Molaverdi criticized him for ignoring women for government positions. “Why is the women’s share in a 33-person-strong list zero?” she asked. “Why does he not trust women?...We must be aware that society must pay the price for gender inequality and leaving half the population idle.” On October 8 of the same year, Rouhani appointed Molaverdi as one of his vice presidents and said that she had “valuable experience” in family and women affairs. She is the youngest member of Rouhani’s cabinet.
Since then, Molaverdi has attracted much criticism from hardliners. In June 2015, she was attacked for supporting a woman’s right to attend volleyball games after security officials refused to honor 200 tickets sold to women planning to attend a much-anticipated volleyball game between the US and Iranian national teams in Tehran. In turn, she condemned her critics in harsh terms. She wrote on her Facebook page that her conservative opponents were from a group that was “denounced two years ago by voters, and who had crawled into their cave of oblivion.” She also condemned the “crowd of sanctimonious people who published one notice after another denouncing the modest and decent girls and women of this land” and who “used obscene and disgusting insults that only befit themselves”.
Not all her critics are men. On occasion, several female representatives to the Iranian parliament have been critical Molaverdi’s stance on women’s issues.
In July 2014, Molaverdi came up against a law that allows girls under 15 to be married. According to official statistics, in 2013 more than five percent of marriages — or close to 31,000 — in Iran involved girls under 15, some of whom were as young as nine.
Some Iran observers have expressed concern that because Molaverdi has become such a target for hardliners, she cannot play an effective role in government and that she could be pushed out. Molaverdi has dismissed these concerns. “Each position has its own conditions and demands,” she said in an interview with Al-Monitor. “On the one hand, because of my current position, I have access to many officials and it is easier to follow up on certain issues. In fact, this is a valued opportunity for me to have access to all the ministers twice a week. I can meet with them and talk to them directly without having to go through a long bureaucratic process. On the other hand, it took a while for me to convince myself that I am part of the government and not independent. Although I should say that I have never thought working for the government is necessarily in opposition to working independently. To me, independent activists are those who get involved and help follow up on the projects in places and times when the government cannot or does not want to interfere. This position has its own benefits and its own limitations. I, however, see my new position as an opportunity to follow up on issues related to women and the family.”
Also in the series:
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