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Iranian Influential Women: Mehrangiz Dowlatshahi (1919-2008)

November 6, 2023
3 min read
Women’s rights activist Mehrangiz Dowlatshahi was the first Iranian woman to serve as an ambassador
Women’s rights activist Mehrangiz Dowlatshahi was the first Iranian woman to serve as an ambassador

Mehrangiz Dowlatshahi was not only Iran’s first female Iranian ambassador and one of the first Iranian women to be elected to the parliament, she was also a tireless fighter for women’s rights. In 1997, in recognition of her contributions, she was selected as Woman of the Year by the Iranian Women's Studies Foundation in the United States.

Mehrangiz was born in Isfahan on December 13, 1919, to a family of progressive and well-connected aristocrats. His father, Mohammad Ali Mirza Meshkout Al Dowleh, was a member of parliament during the last years of the Qajar dynasty and became a cabinet minister after Reza Shah Pahlavi became the Shah. Her mother was Akhtar ol-Mulk, daughter of Hidayat Gholi Khan. Mehrangiz was the cousin of Esmat Dowlatshahi, Reza Shah’s fourth wife.

Mehrangiz attended a high school run by American missionaries and graduated in 1936 when she was only 15 years old. After her father died, she was sent to Germany for her university education. She held a bachelor's degree from the Humboldt University of Berlin and received a PhD in social and political sciences from Heidelberg University.

After returning to Iran, she worked for several social services agencies and at the organization for support of prisoners. In 1954, she founded the New Way Society that offered training to women and advocated equal rights for them. The society later joined the International Women’s Syndicate. She launched adult literacy programs in the impoverished southern Tehran

Her activities convinced Dowlatshahi that, without the right to vote, women could not achieve equality with men. In 1951, she and Safieh Firouz, another women’s rights activist, met with Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi to encourage him to support Iranian women’s right to vote.

She was the director of the advisory committee on international affairs at the Women's Organization of Iran. In 1973, she was appointed president of the International Council of Women and held this position until 1976.

Mehrangiz believed that women’s progress would remain limited until they themselves enter politics and become legislators. His father had been a big landowner in the western city of Kermanshah and, in 1963, when Iranian women finally earned the right to vote, she declared her candidacy for parliament in this city and was one of the six women who found their way into the legislature for the first time.

For 12 years Mehrangiz represented Kermanshah in the Iranian parliament and, during these years, she played an important role in passing laws that guaranteed women’s civil rights. One such legislation was the Family Protection Law that was passed in 1967 and was amended in 1975. The law for the first time granted women the right to divorce and, in the case the husband wanted to take a second wife, forced him to seek the permission of his first wife.

Finally, in March 1975, Abbas Ali Khalatbary, Foreign Minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Amir Abbas Hoveyda, chose her as Iran’s envoy to Denmark, making her the first Iranian woman ambassador. She remained at this post until the 1979 Islamic Revolution and never returned to Iran. She moved to Paris and remained there until the end of her life.

In 2002, she published a book entitled Society, Government, and Iran’s Women’s Movement, which is considered an important document about Iranian women’s long fight to achieve equality with men.

Mehrangiz Dowlatshahi died in the French capital on October 1, 2008, at the age of 88.

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