TEHRAN, Iran — A central part of President Hassan Rouhani’s campaign for re-election ahead of Iran’s May 19 balloting focused on addressing the demands of female voters. Emphasizing women’s rights more than any other candidate, the moderate Rouhani promised Iranian women equal employment opportunities and access to better services if elected to a second term. Now, women expecting the president to fulfill his promises have launched various campaigns to demand that he appoint women as ministers in his second-term Cabinet.
Using a Persian hashtag that translates as #NoToTheModerate’sMaleCabinet, women’s rights activists have turned to Twitter and other social media networks to push for a more active role for women in managing the country. These efforts are nothing new; many first used the hashtag during a Cabinet reshuffle in October to push Rouhani to introduce female nominees for three ministerial posts he was seeking to change — the ministers of youth affairs and sports, of education and of culture and Islamic guidance.
In September 2009, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appointed Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi health and medical education minister in his second Cabinet, making her the first woman to serve as a minister during the Islamic Republic. Ahmadinejad was much more conservative than Rouhani, who failed to introduce a single female nominee for his first Cabinet but did, however, break a few taboos in regard to women. For instance, he appointed Iran’s first female Foreign Ministry spokesman in 2013. She later went on to serve as the country's first female ambassador since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
A group of female activists who demanded on May 21 that Rouhani give women a more prominent role said that although they have and will continue to support him, their support is “not one-sided and not without demanding women’s rights.” Shahindokht Molaverdi, Rouhani’s vice president for women’s and family affairs, is one of the main figures in the administration who has pursued a more prominent role for women.
During the past four years, Molaverdi has come under repeated criticism by the hard-liners, who accuse her of being Westernized and supporting the adoption of Western culture in Iranian society. Regardless, Molaverdi has been one of the strongest female managers in the Islamic Republic's history, and despite facing more criticism than other women in similar positions, she has persevered and is viewed by women’s rights activists as a successful manager.
On June 15, Molaverdi posted a picture on Twitter of a group of women’s rights activists meeting with First Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri and captioned it, “Today, women are looking forward to the belief and trust in their qualifications and competencies.” The day before, Jahangiri had tweeted, “The need for women’s active participation in different fields of management has been accepted today, and the 12th [incumbent] administration will use more of their potential.”
Such attempts at persuasion are not limited to women serving in the executive branch. Female parliamentarians such as Parvaneh Mafi, a Reformist legislator from Tehran, have campaigned to strengthen the presence of women in managerial posts. In a June 25 interview with Khabar Online, Mafi said, “It is true that for various reasons, such as the workload or women’s lack of experience and the like, some do not agree with having women in ministries. However, we have many capable women who can serve in different managerial positions. What is important is that their presence not be limited to just the administration. This trend should be continuous and we will strive to consolidate and establish a female presence in middle management as well.”
Have the efforts of women’s rights activists been effective so far? Sina Ghanbarpoor, a veteran journalist and women’s rights activist, tweeted July 3, “Last year, with our efforts in #NoToTheModerateMaleCabinet, Mrs. [Zahra] Ahmadipour and Mrs. [Ashraf] Boroujerdi were appointed as the heads of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handcrafts and Tourism Organization and the National Library [respectively].”
Following Rouhani’s re-election, a group of activists posted a series of tweets introducing women they deemed qualified to serve in various managerial posts. These efforts were initially limited to a few names, but later grew into longer lists, which were then more broadly circulated on social media, containing the names of dozens of women who could serve in ministries, state organizations and other government institutions.
In a campaign documentary, Rouhani placed special emphasis on women’s role in society. In one segment, he rhetorically asked, “Is it possible to deprive half of a population from being active in society? Is it possible to manage a country with only half of the society?”
Fahimeh Hassanmiri, a women’s rights activist and a journalist covering social affairs, told Al-Monitor, “Rouhani, more than his rivals, emphasized the importance of the role of women during the elections. This has raised expectations of him. It should be noted that instead of the focus being solely on introducing female ministers, a more comprehensive vision regarding women’s role in different managerial positions needs to be pursued." She said the country needs a well-managed structure seeking greater women's participation and following up on it.
In broad terms, the view that women should have an active presence in society and management has become increasingly positive among the Iranian public. There are still some, however, who are not very much in favor of this trend. On July 8, Khabar Online invited readers to express their views on whether women should head one or several ministries, in the comments section of an online post. Although most respondents supported the proposition, it was far from overwhelming.