Leila Mouri Sardar Abady

(WOMENSENEWS)– Mahmoud Ahmadinejad–the man many Iranians believe stole the presidency in Iran’s contested June 12 elections–two weeks ago nominated three women to head ministries and this week Iran’s parliament begins the vetting process.

These are the highest positions for which women have been nominated since the emergence of the Islamic Republic 30 years ago.

Since the nominations were announced high-ranking clerics and Ahmadinejad supporters have decried the appointments as anti-Islamic.

Iranian rights activists, meanwhile, have very different reasons for denouncing the president’s historic nominations of female ministers.

We see a new strategy to undermine women’s hard-fought human rights.

Our dismay is generated by two of the nominees: Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi as minister of health and Fatemeh Ajorlou as minister of social security and welfare.

The third woman, Fatemeh Keshavarz, nominated as minister of education, is harder to predict since she is a relative newcomer. So far all we really know about her is that she served as deputy to the previous education minister in a department devoted to mentally challenged students.

A Different Story

But the other two–Ajorlou and Dastjerdi–are a different story.

Ajorlou belongs to the conservative fraction in Iranian parliament and is staunch supporters of Ahmadinejad.

Dastjerdi is a former member of Parliament who belongs to Principalist Women, one of the conservative political parties that backed Ahmadinejad in the June elections.

Both Dastjerdi and Ajorlou supported Ahmadinejad’s 2008 bill–turned back by Parliament–to limit married women’s out-of-house work to six hours a day. The point of that bill: to enable them to spend more time for their “priority duties” such as serving their husbands and raising their children at home.

Ajorlou and Dastejerdi have both explicitly defended the idea of gender segregation in hospitals, universities, public transportations, parks and other public places.

Dastjerdi, a gynecologist, believes that women should be treated only in single-sex hospitals and only by female doctors; a suggestion that faced objections from, among other quarters, the medical community. Physicians and other clinicians argued that there were not enough female doctors to justify such an approach, particularly not in smaller town and cities that suffer shortages of all types of specialists, male or female.

However, Ahmadinejad’s minister of health, Kamran Bagheri Lankarani embraced the idea and opened a female-only hospital in 2007 in south of Tehran. It joins at least one other such hospital, located in the holy city of Mashhad, in northeastern Iran.

Typical Approach

The Last Female Minister

The last woman to hold a ministerial post in Iran was Farrokhroo Parsa, minister of education under the Shah. She was executed in 1980 by the Islamic state.

Since the Revolution the government’s top woman has been the presidential advisor on women’s affairs, a post established in 1995. First held by Shahla Habibi, the post is now held by Zohreh Tabibzadeh Noori. Ahmadinejad also changed the name of this organization from the Center of Women’s Participation Affairs to the Center of Women and Family Affairs.

This kind of initiative is typical of the gender segregation that Ahmadinejad’s administration has promoted since he took office in 2005.

The Aftab news agency has reported similar gender segregations in several other ministries.

The Ministry of Guidance and Islamic Culture, for instance, bans women after 6 p.m.

The Education Ministry in September 2005 announced that male teachers would no longer be permitted to teach in female-only schools. (Iran’s schools are almost all single sex; the exceptions are in small villages lacking the money to provide gender-segregated facilities.)

Ajorlou, a parliamentarian from Karaj, a city west of the capital, Tehran, was a leading advocate of gender quotas to stem the rise of female students in Iran universities, where 64 percent of students are female.