Meet Iran’s Record Breaking 17+1 Female Parliamentarians
Its official — the makeup of Iran’s incoming (tenth) parliament has been decided following a politically dizzying three votes in nine weeks, marked by Iran’s dual parliamentary and Assembly of Experts election in February, as well as the recent 29 April second-round parliamentary runoff vote. After the dust had settled, 216 incumbents lost their seats.
Since February, analysts and observers have continued to churn out post-election reports, arguing the merits of the vote and whether voting ultimately can have an impact on Iran’s complex system of governance. Additionally, political speculation an intrigue continued run rampant as it remained unclear which political faction would have a majority in the new House after the February vote. Following last week’s parliamentary runoff, reformists and moderates aligned with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani made gains, but not enough to hold a parliamentary majority. In the end, they were able to secure 122 seats in the 290-member Parliament, while conservative hard-liners hold 84, and independents have 82 seats (the last two remaining seats remain undecided and it is unclear when they will be filled).
Regardless of where you stand politically on Iran, these parliamentary elections were unique and subsequently produced two surprising results: The incoming parliament will have more women (17) than clerics (16), and in addition, this group of female parliamentarians marks the highest number of women in the Parliament since since the founding of the Islamic Republic — proving that following President Hassan Rouhani’s 2013 surprise election victory, the people of Iran can continue to surprise the world at the ballot box.
Furthermore, all nine incumbent conservative female lawmakers from the outgoing ninth parliament lost their seats. While all 17 (+1) of the incoming female parliamentarians consider themselves to be reformists and/or moderates. Meaning unlike the last term, there will be no hard-line female MPs echoing their hard-line male counterparts this time around.
A Century Long Struggle For Iranian Women
The roots of Iran’s feminist movement extend as far back as Persia’s 1905 Constitutional Revolution. Since the 1979 revolution, women have struggled to regain lost rights and win a larger role in society, but they have also been key players in the Islamic Republic’s political process over the past three decades, with their participation in elections consistently being a decisive factor — often causing the political pendulum to swing.
The February 26 elections were no different. As Al Monitor’s Arash Karami noted, “a record number of women registered as candidates for parliament: 1,234 out of the total of 12,123 hopefuls. Out of the over 6,200 registered candidates who were approved by the Guardian Council, 586 were women.”
After the February parliamentary vote, a record-tying 14 women won seats in Iran’s 290-seat parliament. The previous record of 14 women was set nearly 20 years ago during the fifth parliament. There are nine women in the outgoing ninth Iranian parliament, and eight out of the nine are conservatives and take hard-line stances on social issues.
Following the April runoff vote, the 17 (possibly 18) women makeup about six percent of the new Parliament. This may not seem like much upon first take, especially when women make up more than 50 percent of Iranian society, but it’s the composition of this new women’s faction, and its recent four editions that make it so intriguing.
High Expectations VS Reality
The diversity of age and political ideology of this incoming crop of MPs has generated a lot of buzz inside Iran as Iranians have read this as a step towards political inclusiveness. Eight of the 14 women elected in February were on a pro-reform moderate backed candidate list for the Tehran constituency, led by prominent reformist politician Mohammad Aref. This list was known as the “List of Hope.” In addition, two of the four female MPs elected in the April runoff vote also ran as candidates on Aref’s pro-reform candidate list.
Prior to the election, deeper aspirations for female political participation came in the form of both grassroots and state-level campaigns. In March 2015, journalist Arash Azizi reported that at the parliamentary level, MPs were discussing methods to increase the number of female MPs, with some of the conservatives even agreeing to a quota system which could potentially mandate a minimum of one female member of parliament from each of Iran’s 31 provinces.
More recently, a campaign led by women’s rights groups called, “Changing The Male Face of Parliament,” began to gain steam inside Iran. According to RFERL’s Golnaz Esfandiari, “Taking on Iran’s patriarchal political world, organizers of the campaign hope to see the number of women in parliament eventually grow to at least 50, or 30 percent — if not in the February elections, then in the future.”
Shahindokht Molaverdi, President Hassan Rouhani’s vice president of Women and Family Affairs, recently sounded optimistic about the new crop of female MPs, and pointed out how ideologically different these incoming women are from their conservative predecessors in the ninth parliament (see below for an example of just how conservative they were).
But Molaverdi also warned that with new-found power comes with great responsibility saying, “The women that have been elected to parliament must put more effort into women’s rights [than their predecessors] because the people have put their trust in them and voted for them.” Molaverdi additionally alluded to the younger female MP-elects in this incoming group, expressing great confidence in their ability to keep tabs on the issues plaguing Iranian society due to their “personal familiarity and connection with society.”
Quality over Quantity?
Not everyone believes that a record-high number of female MPs will automatically benefit the women of Iran. Turan Valimorad, a women’s rights activist and secretary of Islamic Coalition of Women recently cautioned against holding high expectations. Valimorad pointed to the fact that a number of the women have no experience in women’s or family affairs. According to Valimorad, “In the Tehran constituency, only one or two of them (Ms. Sohaila Jelodarzadeh and Ms. Parvaneh Mafi) have experience in women’s affairs. Even during their university years [the rest] weren’t active [in women’s affairs], and now because of reasons that may or may not benefit a [political] party, they have found a way into parliament.” The veteran activist continued to keep expectations low adding, “We aren’t expecting miracles. I believe that Ms. Jelodarzadeh and Ms. Mafi have an extremely tough road ahead of them, and it’s known that they care about women’s issues, but the question is if they will be able to push women’s issues into the right direction, in the face of political opposition.”
Another longtime expert on women’s issues pulled no punches on the obstacles these women will soon face. Ms. Zahra Nejad-Bahram (who also was appointed as the Islamic Republic’s first female deputy governor of Tehran back in 2001), was quoted saying that these new female MPs should not solely focus on women’s issues, stating that “female unemployment is an issue for all members of parliament, not just the female members.” According to Nejad-Bahram, from an operational perspective, “Activists would have liked to have more women voted into the tenth parliament, but from an elections standpoint, this is a victory for women.”
Soraya Azizpanah, a prominent women’s and children’s rights activist, and board member of the Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child (SPRC), remained hopeful and predicted that this record-tying group of female MPs “will play an important role in seriously tackling women’s and children’s issues.” Azizpanah admitted that although this new group is “untested” and “lacks a track record of fighting for women’s rights,” the women of the outgoing ninth parliament advocated for women to remain “traditional” and stay inside the home. “In the end, we are hopeful that this group of women, in particular because of their young age, will be aware of the needs of the youth and women,” said Azizpanah.
Meet Iran’s New Female Parliamentarians
1) Sakineh Almasi
Sakineh Almasi is 37-years-old and hails from the southern part of Bushehr Province, representing Jam County. She has an MA is social work and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in sociology and economics. She has been heavily involved with social work, women’s sports, community development, and state-welfare organizations throughout her professional career. In an IranInSight post on the Atlantic Council’s website, journalist Mehrnaz Samimi wrote that Almasi “identifies as a moderate and has refuted members of the press and pundits who have introduced her as a reformist candidate. In an interview she reportedly said that she is neither a reformist nor a conservative.”
Her campaign platform: Educational reform, protecting women’s rights in southern Bushehr, and providing jobs for the local population.
An Instagram account reportedly created by her supporters provides a brief glimpse into her constituency, Jam County.
See this Instagram photo by @sakineh_almasi * 91 likeswww.instagram.com
2) Hajar Chenarani
Hajar Chenarani is 37-years-old and represents Nishapour in the northeastern Razavi Khorasan Province. Chenarani ran as an Independent candidate and holds an MA in sociology. She is a specialist in the intellectual development of children and youth. She also has expertise in women’s and veterans affairs and is a university professor. According to Mehrnaz Samimi, “Chenarani has been active in Rouhani’s government, and is married with three children and got high marks of 80 percent for “transparency” from the voters.”
Her campaign platform: Speedy economic improvements, create commissions for families and workers, keep local talent from leaving Nishapour (to bigger cities) by creating jobs for youth.
Chenarani has a nifty website of her own that provides photos, video clips, and information about herself and her programs.
هدف از این طرح حمایت از شرکت های قدیمی و کمک برای ایجاد شرکت کوچک زود بازه به منظور دستیابی به مقاصد زیر می باشد الف ـ…hajarchenarani.ir
3) Seyedeh Fatemeh Hosseini
Seyedeh Fatemeh Hosseini, at 30-years-old, is one of the youngest members of the group. Outspoken, articulate, and confident, Hosseini has the potential to become a powerful symbol and role model for Iranian women (she is pictured in the masthead photo holding her son after voting on Election Day). She won her seat running as a Reformist in the highly competitive capital, Tehran. Hosseini has her MA in executive management, and is a Ph.D. student in financial management. According to a published bio, she is a member of the Iran-Spain Friendship Association, and was a financial adviser for a number of different companies. Hosseini also has strong revolutionary pedigree. Mehrnaz Samimi reported that “Hosseini is the daughter of Safdar Hosseini, a minister in the government of former president Mohammad Khatami.”
Her Campaign Platform: Ensuring a secure environment for foreign investment through the development of effective legislation, and to create jobs for women.
In an unofficial Instagram account created by her supporters, a number of celebrity endorsements were posted in the run-up to the election. In the photo below, Iranian national team female speed skater Negin Dadkha, threw her support for Hosseini in a campaign ad promoting her candidacy. The Persian text reads: “I’m delighted that Seyedeh Fatemeh Hosseini, someone from my own generation, is running as a candidate in these elections. She, as a young woman, understands issues that people my age face.”
See this Instagram photo by @seyedefatemeh.hosseyni * 147 likeswww.instagram.com
At 30-years-old, Hosseini has a distinct ability as an orator, speaking at rallies as if she was a political journeywoman. In the short 15-second Instagram clip below, Hosseini is speaking at a pre-Election Day campaign rally. Her statement in Persian translates as, “I want to be a representative for [our] generation, so that happy and hopeful livelihoods will be our inalienable right…not unemployment, discrimination, and injustice.”
4) Sohaila Jelodarzadeh
At 57-years-old, Sohaila Jelodarzadeh is one of the anchors of the women’s Reformist female faction from Tehran. This former parliamentarian has a BA in textile design, and was an MP in the 5th, 6th and 7th parliaments. She has held advisory roles with a number of state-related women and family affairs organization councils including: The Expediency Council’s Women’s Committee, adviser for the Ministry of Industry, Mining and Trade, chairwoman of the Women Workers Union, adviser to the Minister of education, as well as Labor Affairs adviser to the President.
In an unofficial Instagram account reportedly ran by her supporters, Jelodarzadeh is seen with a number of senior government officials including President Hassan Rouhani, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, and MP-Elect Mohammad Aref.
"#جلودارزاده #روحانی #ریس_جمهور مردان با چشم توانمدی به زنان نگاه کنند"www.instagram.com
5) Minoo Khaleghi With Update (Currently Known as the “+1")
Representing Iran’s third largest city, Isfahan, Minoo Khaleghi is another 30-year-old Reformist MP-elect. She holds a law degree and is currently a Ph.D. student studying public law. She’s worked for multiple local and municipal agricultural organizations and NGOs. Interestingly at 30, Khaleghi is already a veteran journalist as she began her reporting career when she was 18 years old. She is reportedly known for being active in reformist political activities in Isfahan.
An unofficial Instagram account attributed to Khaleghi exists but the account is private.
مینو خالقی پژوهشگر دکتری حقوق عمومی و استاد دانشگاه منتخب مردم شریف اصفهان در دهمین مجلس شورای اسلامی کانال من در تلگر…www.instagram.com
MINOO KHALEGHI UPDATE:
Unfortunately, the newly elected MP from Isfahan had her votes nullified in mid-April by Iran’s Guardian Council, and as a result has been barred from entering the next parliament. The reasons for her disqualification remain unclear and have been the source of rumors and speculation, with reasons ranging from shaking hands with an unrelated man during a trip abroad, to not covering her head with the compulsory head cover (hijab).
Public outcry in support of Khaleghi, led outspoken MP Ali Motahari to publicly criticize the powerful Guardian Council, as well as inaction on the part of President Rouhani’s Interior Minister. Since the Council’s decision was made public, the Interior Ministry has protested the decision.
Interestingly, since last week’s runoff vote solidified the incoming group of female MPs as the highest number ever, there has been additional public support for MP-elect Khaleghi to regain her seat. President Hassan Rouhani went out of his way in a Tweet to praise all 18 women that were voted into Parliament. “The entry of 18 women into Parliament is an outstanding record. I hope such a success will promise more effective activity of competent women in all fields,” Rouhani Tweeted.
Political cartoons and reformist newspapers went to bat for MP-elect Khaleghi as well, with Arman Daily featuring her on their May 2, front page. Clearly making it a public point that her disqualification will not be swept under a rug so easily.
And of course, maverick MP Ali Motahari continued his public defense of Khaleghi, warning that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may get involved in Khaleghi’s case if it isn’t resolved in a just manner (at the moment of writing, Khaleghi’s case remains unresolved, and her seat unfilled).
6) Parvaneh Mafi
Parvaneh Mafi is is 58-year-old Reformist MP-elect from Tehran. She has a MA in management and has extensive experience working with Iran’s Interior Ministry. She is a member of the Central Population Council for Women, a member of the “Executives of Construction (political) Party,” and has been the editor-in-chief for multiple women’s magazines. Mafi has also been an adviser to both the Minister of Education, and the former Governor of Shemranate County (Tehran province), as well as an economic secretary for the Expediency Council.
Her campaign platform: Improve the livelihoods of the people of Iran.
Her unofficial Instagram account provides viewers with a brief look into the professional life of a career politician.
"آیت الله هاشمی همه پای صندوق رای بیایند. #اصلاحات #انتخابات #هاشمی_رفسنجانی #هاشمی #هاشمی_صدای_من_است"www.instagram.com
7) Zahra Saeedi-Mobarakeh
At 32 years of age, Zahra Saeedi-Mobarakeh is another rising star in this new class of female MPs. Running as an Independent (but affiliated with Reformists), she won a seat to represent the provincial city of Mobarakeh (Isfahan Province). She has a MA degree in industrial engineering and systems management, and according to her bio, she has studied abroad in Poland. In the past, Saeedi-Mobarakeh has worked in academia as well as for Iran’s Red Crescent society. She reportedly is a published author, having written a 10,000 word book.
Her campaign platform: To improve the livelihood of the people of the town of Mobarakeh, create local jobs, battle drug addiction, improve education and sports activities, and promote religious virtues.
8) Farideh Oladghebad
Farideh Oladghebad is 45-years-old and is a Reformist MP from Tehran. She holds an MA in social sciences, and is considered as an expert on women and youth affairs. She has taught both students and teachers at the secondary level for a number of years. Oladghebad has been a committee member in multiple fields which include: veterans affairs, social and cultural affairs, female athletics, and educational management. She is held in very high regards by her peers as she has been nominated as a national woman of the year candidate, and was awarded the national “regional teacher of the year award.”
Her campaign platform: Adopt comprehensive welfare programs for families and women, and develop comprehensive systems for social health of Iranian families.
9) Fatemeh Saeidi
Fatemeh Saeidi is a 52-year-old Reformist MP-elect from Tehran. She has her MA in educational administration, and is a member of the “Executives of Construction (political) Party.” Saeidi has over 15 years of experience in professional educational management and has been politically active for over 20 years in the Kerman province.
10) Parvaneh Salahshouri
Parvaneh Salahshouri is a 51-year-old Reformist elected to represent Tehran. She has a Ph.D. in sociology and has taught at the both the secondary and university level. Salahshouri is a member of the Iran-India Islamic Student Association, and the acting head of the Women’s Union of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiyari Province.
Her campaign platform: To promote different ethnic and minority in parliament.
Salahshouri’s isn’t active on Instagram, as an unofficial account attributed to her only yields two posts.
دکترای جامعه شناسی، مدرس دانشگاه، تحلیلگر مسائل اجتماعی و امور زنانwww.instagram.com
In a recent interview with an Italian journalist, Salahshouri made waves both inside and outside Iran. As reported by Saeed Kamali Deghan of the Guardian, Salahshori criticised the nine existing female MPs, who mostly belong to the conservative camp, saying that they did not represent women. “They think completely differently from us [reformists],” she told Corriere della Sera. “They are against women, I think some women are against women and these women are not women, only their gender is female, but their language is pro-men.”
Much of the source of controversy derived from the viral five-minute video clip below (in English), where Salahshouri goes back-and-forth with the Italian reporter about women’s issues in Iran, even discussing the future viability of wearing the mandatory hejab (head cover).
11) Tayyebeh Siavoshi
At 49 years of age, Tayebeh Siavashi is another experienced reformist MP-Elect from Tehran. She has a BA in political science and a MA in international relations. In the past, Siavashi has worked on female empowerment programs for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and actively works with disadvantaged children in southern Tehran. She is also a member of the Women’s International Research Institute. In a recent piece in Al Monitor, Narges Bajoghli wrote about the interesting ad-hoc nature of Siavashi’s candidacy in relation to pre-election female political empowerment campaigns: “I wasn’t even considering a run until these campaigns started,” she said prior to the vote. “When I saw women’s rights activists encouraging women to register, I decided to do my part and I registered like thousands of others. It was only after so many people were unjustly disqualified from the elections that I decided to continue the candidacy.”
12) Nahid Tajeddin
Nahid Tajeddin is another Reformist MP-elect from Isfahan. She is 39-years-old and holds an MA degree in environmental studies and is a Ph.D. student studying genetics. She is a professor at Azad University of Isfahan, and also serves as an alternate member of Isfahan’s City Council. Tajeddin is also a member of Baharestan’s Women’s Commission and a member of Isfahan’s Advisory Council.
13) Sepideh Hamideh Zarabadi
Sepideh Hamideh Zarabadi is a 35-year-old Reformist MP-elect from Qazvin. She has her MA degree in electrical engineering, and is also a female sports official for the Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA) of (northwest) Iran.
Her campaign platform: To improve the rights of women and youth.
In her unofficial Instagram account, Zarabadi has posted a few photos of religious calligraphy designs (Qazvin is well-known for its calligraphy), as well as an intimate photo of her and her grandfather (below).
". دیدار با پدربزرگ عزیزم. #آیت_الله_شیخ_علی_صدیقی"www.instagram.com
14) Fatemeh Zolghadar
Fatemeh Zolghadar is a 45-year-old Reformist MP-elect from Tehran. She is fluent in a number of foreign languages and has taught at multiple universities.
Her campaign platform: Improving the social and political rights of women and youth, to improve foreign policy in order to benefit Iranians both inside and outside the country, to create economic prosperity and jobs, to support domestic industries and production, and create a peaceful competitive atmosphere.
15) Khadija Rabiei (Elected in April Runoff Vote)
Khadija Rabiei is a 36-year-old independent MP-elect representing Borujen, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province. She is the first and only female MP to represent the province. After not receiving the necessary 25 percent or more votes in the initial parliamentary vote in February, she secured 99 percent of the vote in the second round runoff vote. Rabiei received her BA in chemistry from Yazd University, and her MA and PhD in organic chemistry from Kashan University. Although she is considered an “independent” candidate, a promotional campaign flyer posted on Instagram by one of her supporters shows her image alongside President Hassan Rouhani’s.
Her campaign slogan: “I’m going to parliament with a spotlight,” referencing her commitment to a transparent Parliament.
16) Somayeh Mahmoodi (Elected in April Runoff Vote)
Somayeh Mahmoodi is a 32-year-old independent MP-elect hailing from Shahreza, Isfahan Province. She ran her campaign on a “legacy of courage,” as her father is a commemorated martyr, celebrated for his leadership as a battalion commander during the Iran-Iraq war. Mahmoodi received her BA in sociology from Isfahan University, and her MA in sociology from Islamic Azad University, where she was the top student in her class. She has nine years of experience in as a professional with managerial experience in a number of sectors including, finance, culture, education, health, labor, agriculture, and industry. She is also active among youth and women’s NGOs.
17) Masoomeh Aghapour (Elected in April Runoff Vote)
Masoomeh Aghapour is a 47-year-old MP-elect from Shabstar, East Azerbaijan Province. Although she is an independent, she ran on the pro-reform “List of Hope,” led by MP-elect Mohammad Aref. During her undergrad, Aghapour studied mathematics and experimental science, and went on to receive her MA in economic energy from Tehran University. Her thesis investigated the economic and technical uses of solar energy and communication systems. She recently received her PhD in labor management, from Azerbaijan University, in East Azerbaijan Province. Aghapour has worked for a number of years at Iran’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, and has taught finance, accounting, and marketing courses at the university level. She is also a published writer, commenting on economic and cultural affairs.
18) Zahra Saei (Elected in April Runoff Vote)
Zahra Saei is a reformist 36-year-old MP-elect from Tabriz, East Azerbaijan Province. She studied chemistry and Persian language and literature during her undergrad studies, and went on to receive her MA immediately afterwards. Saei is currently a PhD student studying geopolitical studies at Kharazmi University in Tehran. As a student, she’s always been active in student associations and has been the editor-in-chief for a number of student publications. She has a strong background in research and is currently a researcher for women’s studies at Tehran University. In addition, she’s a foreign policy researcher at the Expediency Council’s Center for Strategic Research. Saei also works as an adviser of cultural and social affairs for the Tehran Municipality, and is an active member of the National Youth Organization. Two years ago, at the age of 34, she was appointed as an adviser of women and family affairs to the Tehran Governor's Office. Saei’s father is a commemorated martyr and veteran of the Iran-Iraq war.
Without a doubt, Iranian women will remain key players in Iran’s political process in the years to come, and their political participation in elections will continue to be a decisive factor.
The struggle has been long but the future is bright for Iranian women. 70% of of Iran’s science and engineering students are female, and this pursuit of higher education, alongside a new era of political re-engagement, will surely lead to yet another record breaking number of female MPs in four years — the next time Iranians vote for a new Parliament.