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Home » Gender Relations » Historically Significant Women of Iran and the Neighbouring Countries
 
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GENDER RELATIONS
Historically Significant Women of Iran and the Neighbouring Countries
by:
Last Updated: October, 2009
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1901-1970s Fakher Afagh Parsa

A pioneer feminist activist, with her mother's help she was educated at a primary school behind her father's back. At age 12 she was forced to continue her studies at home. She was fluent in Arabic and French and became a teacher and a school principal. Following her marriage to Farrokh Parsa a journalist she was encouraged and managed to publish a feminist magazine called Jahl-i Zanan (Women's Ignorance) in Mashhad, a religious stronghold. Considered radical for the period she was forced to close the paper and was sent into exile to Tehran, There she opened another feminist publication called Jahan-i Zanan (Women's World). She was forced to close this one as well and was sent into exile to Qum, the centre of Shii religious scholarship in Iran. She was one of the founding members of the popular women's society, Anjoman-i Nesvan-i Vatankhah (Society of the Patriotic Women). Her daughter Farrokh Roo Parsa became the first female minister in Iran.

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Early 1900s Mrs. Safieh Yazdi

The wife of a prominent pro-constitution clergy Mohammed Yazdi, she opened the Effatiyah School for girls in 1910. Her action encouraged others and more schools were opened.

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Early 1900s Mrs. Mahrukh Gawharshinas

In 1911 she defied her husband and started Taraghi girl school in Tehran that became one of the best girl's schools of the time.

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Early 1900s Mah Sultan Amir Sehei

She opened the Tarbiyat School in 1913 that became another well-known progressive girl's school in Tehran.

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1885-1964 Sadigeh Dawlatabadi

One of the most influential and prominent leaders of the women's movement in Iran, she was born in Isfahan in a religious family with Babi/Bahai sentiments. Many members of her family were involved in the Constitutional Revolution of the 1906-1907 including her prominent brother Yahya Dawlatabadi. She was the founder of the first day care and adult education center in Iran and a member of several women's societies including Anjoman-i Mokhadarat Vatan (Society of the Daughters of the Homeland 1903). She opened the first girl's school in Isfahan, Maktab-khaneh Shariyat, but was forced to close it. Soon after, she founded a women's society called Shirkat Khavatin Isfahan (The Corporation of the Women of Isfahan). She also published the first newspaper in Iran that had the word woman in its title (1922), Zaban-i Zanan (Women's Tongue). Once forced to close it, she moved to Tehran and published Zanan-i Iran (Women of Iran) in 1923. She also founded free charity schools for poor girls in Isfahan and Tehran. Next, was a women's center in Tehran called Azmayesh-i Zanan (Women's Trial). In 1925 she left for Europe to continue her education in France. She was the first Iranian woman to attend the International Women's Congress in 1928 in Paris and graduated from Sorbonne University with a Bachelor in Education in 1929. Once back in Tehran she became the director of the newly opened Women's Center (Kanoon-i Banovan) in Tehran. She contributed as a writer to several magazines and newspapers and wrote constantly on women's issues. She also taught at various institutions including Dar al-Moalemat (training college for teachers). She was amongst the first women who appeared unveiled in Iran prior to the official emancipation of women in 1936. She died in 1964. Her grave was destroyed and leveled after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 by the Iranian authorities.

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1907-1966 Frough Azarakhshi

Born in Mashhad, she founded the first girl's school in that city (Frough School). The school created uproar and for two years security guards were hired to protect the school, staff and the students. Amongst the objections was the issue of girls sitting behind desks and not on the floor. It took her five years to establish the school and make it safe. She also founded Banovan School (Ladies School) for adult women and the first high school for girls in Mashahd named after her. She was involved in charities and Red Cross in the city.

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1911-? Safieh Firooz

Born in an affluent family, she was the daughter of Haj Mohammad Hussein Namazi and adopted her husband's name after marrying a Qajar aristocrat (a son of Abdul Hussein Farmanfarma). A social and political activist, she ran a heath clinic for women during the Second World War and was a participant in many international conferences on women. She was amongst the first educated women who paid attention to social work and regularly visited prisons and organized classes to educate and train prostitutes and criminal women in correctional institutes.

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1916-2008 Maryam Firouz

The first woman to become an executive member of a major political party, the Tudeh Party (Mass Party; the Soviet backed communist party in Iran). Daughter of Prince Abdul Hussein Farmanfarma, most members of her family were involved in political life of the country. Her brother Nosrat Dawleh and his son Mozafar Firouz were prominent politicians of the late Qajar and the Pahlavi era. Her first marriage to Abassgholi Esfandiari was dissolved. Through Bozorg Alvai the prominent writer she was introduced to the Tudeh Party. It was her second marriage to Nour al-Din Kianouri the leader of the Tudeh Party that made her a permanent fixture of the political life in Iran in the first half of the 20th century. She was instrumental in organizing the women's league of the party, despite objections, since women were not originally allowed to become members of the party. Following the crack down on the Tudeh Party she and her husband spent many years in exile in Soviet block countries. They came back after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and ended up in Jail. She published her memoirs after her husbands' death.

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1932- 2001 Queen Soraya Pahlavi

From mixed Iranian and German ancestry Soraya's father was a prominent member of the Bakhtiari tribal group. She married Mohammad Reza Shah in 1951 and was asked to leave Iran in 1958 because of her inability to produce heir for the throne. She was a modern woman, fluent in German, French, Italian and English and followed the European styles and conduct. During the brief period she was married to the shah she got involved in charity work and appeared publicly and in all state functions. Following her divorce she lived in Europe, joined the European aristocracy, played in a movie and lived with an Italian director, Franco Indovina until his untimely death in 1972. She was the first Iranian queen in recent memory that was able to carry a life of her own and as she wished, following her divorce.
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1947- Shirin Ebadi

Winner of Noble Peace Prize 2003. Born in Hamedan in 1947, she was the first woman to become a judge in Iran in 1969, a position she lost after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. She obtained her doctorate with honours in private law from Tehran University in 1971 and became the president of the bench in 1975. Following the revolution she was demoted to the position of a clerk in the same court she presided as a judge, since women are barred from being judges in the Islamic code. She was forced into early retirement and started working on human rights' issues in Iran. She was finally given a permit to set up her own law practice in 1992. She has been very active in defending political prisoners, highlighting the shortcomings of the Islamic legal codes with respect to women, children and minorities. She is the first Muslim woman and the first Iranian to have been awarded a Noble Prize.
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1892-1960 Politically Influential H.M.

Queen Soraya Shah of Afghanistan She influenced her husband, King Amanulluh Shah(1892-1960), who was one of the most liberal rulers of the country. He abolished slavery, liberalized the family code, child marriage was limited, allowed women the right to choose their own husband. In 1928 Soraya and her daughters appeared unveiled. Conservative forces forced her husband to abdicate in 1929, and they went into exile first in India and then in Rome. She was the daughter of Mahmud Beg Tarzi, sometime Minister for Foreign Affairs, and lived (1897-1968).

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1941-79 Politically Influential Princess Ashraf Pahlavi of Iran

In 1946 her twin brother, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, send her to negotiate with Stalin in the Kremilin, to secure the return of some Soviet occupied parts of Iran. She was Head of the Woman's Organization of Iran and a Special Ambassador to the United Nations. Her first two marriages ended in divorce and her third husband died. 

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1938- Empress Farah Diba Pahlavi of Iran (in Egypt and France)

She is widow of The last Shah of Ian, she was Acting Head of the Imperial Family and acted as regent for son who became shah on his 20th birthday in 1980. Queen Farah was Shah's third wife and married him in 1959. She became very active culturally, socially and politically and became a role model for other Middle Eastern female dignitaries. She was the first queen to be crowned in Iran since the Islamic conquest of the 7th century and was officially proclaimed Regent by the Parliament. Since the Islamic Revolution of the 1979 she has been living in exile.
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1970s Dr. Farrokh Roo Parsa

The first female minister in Iran and the daughter of a pioneer feminist and educator Fakher Afagh Parsa. She was executed after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
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1985-92- President of the Government-in-Exile Maryam Rajavi, Iran (in Paris)

From 1985-92 Commander-in-Chief of Mujahedin-Army operating from Iraq. Mujahedin were a millitant Islamic group that oppose both the Shah and the Islamic government of Iran. She was head of the 250 member self proclaimed parliament in exile. Half of its members were women and the exile-government is dominated by women. Following the American occupation of Iraq the position has deteriorated and have ceased to be functional.
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1960- Vice-President Dr. Masoumek Ebtekar, Iran

As Vice-President for president Khatami she was in charge of the Ministry of Environment (b. 1960-). A militant Islamist turned reformist, she was the spokesperson for the militant students who occupied the American Embassy following the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and started the hostage crisis. She lost her position in 2005 after the election of Mr. Ahmadinejad as the new president.
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1962- Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani

Daughter of President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and a member of the parliament from 1996-2000. She has been trying to improve women's rights in Iran and has been very active in promoting women's sports in Iran. She currently is working on her Ph.D thesis in England.

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This list is a work in progress, it is not finished, more women will be added.

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