Hassan Rouhani appoints 3 women to top govt posts: Iran's women never had it easy in politics

After Iran president Hassan Rouhani was criticised by reformists for lack of women in his new Cabinet line-up, he appointed two female vice-presidents on Wednesday, but continued to face flak.

The announcement came one day after Rouhani had unveiled an all-male list of ministers to Iranian Parliament, which was seen as a betrayal by reformists who backed his re-election campaign in May.

A day later, there was small comfort in the appointment of two women as vice-presidents who do not require parliamentary approval.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Massoumeh Ebtekar, known internationally for her role as spokesperson during the 1980 US embassy hostage crisis, was named vice-president in charge of women's affairs, having previously run the environment brief.

Laya Joneydi was appointed vice-president for legal affairs, while another woman, Shahindokht Mowlaverdi, was named special advisor for citizens' rights.

Rouhani, a moderate cleric who had three female vice-presidents during his previous term, has several more deputy positions to fill and it was unclear if any would go to women.

However, it would be the exception and not the norm, for the role of women in Iranian politics has always been limited. Since the Iranian revolution of 1979, only 49 women have served in the Iranian parliament — accounting for only 3 percent of all parliamentary seats, according to The Guardian.

The article also said candidates who wanted to get involved in Iranian politics needed to be considered 'Rajol-e-siasi', or statesmen, which made it tough for women because female lawmakers were expected to have conservative Islamic values while also accepting the social development in women's rights.

In fact, outspoken female parliamentarians have even been jailed for their views.

The condition of women in other areas of development, like education, has improved considerably since the Iranian revolution. For example, in 1976, the female literacy rate was 35 percent, which rose to 52 by 1986, according to this an article in The Diplomat. In 2013, girls in Iran aged between 15 and 24 years had near universal literacy.

But when it comes to politics, women continue to face obstacles. In 2013, around 30 women had signed up to run for president but the Guardian Council had rejected their candidacies solely on the basis of gender.

Even before the revolution, two women served as Cabinet ministers under the Amir-Abbas Hoveida premiership, but were not given important roles.

Of course, there has been considerable development too. Even though women served in Parliament in the 80s and 90s, the taboo against this was abolished during the presidency of Seyed Mohammad Khatami.

Over the past week, the expected lack of women has been a focus of criticism by reformists, who say Rouhani is probably bowing to pressure from the religious establishment.

In his first term, Rouhani did have three women among his large cohort of vice-presidents, who do not require parliamentary approval.

Ironically, the sole female minister since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution came under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani's hardline predecessor, whose health minister Marzieh Dastjerdi served between 2009 and 2013.

Rouhani sailed to victory in May over hardliner Ebrahim Raisi with the backing of reformists after vowing to improve civil liberties and rebuild ties with the West.

With inputs from AFP

Updated Date: Aug 10, 2017 22:46 PM

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