The woman by his side: Zahra Moshir – Will the mayor’s wife become Iran’s first lady?
In recent years the wives of Iranian politicians gain wider media exposure than in the past. In the 2009 presidential election, Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of reformist opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, was put at the forefront of her husband’s campaign. In contrast, A’zam Sadat Farahi, the wife of President Ahmadinejad, made only a few appearances with her husband.
Of all the candidates’ wives in the current presidential election, one in particular deserves special mention: Zahra Sadat Moshir, the wife of Tehran’s Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. Since her husband was elected mayor, Moshir, a doctor of social science, has served as the mayor’s advisor and director of the Department of Women’s Affairs in the Tehran municipality. In recent years Moshir has worked to advance the status of women in Tehran, integrate them into the labor market, and help solve the social hardships that women face.
Moshir’s positions reflect a worldview that blends support for integrating women into the labor market and even pushing them to senior executive positions with a conservative Islamic outlook that emphasizes women’s traditional family roles and takes a positive view of gender segregation in the public space.
The growing media exposure of Iranian politicians’ wives and the increasing public interest in these women have recently come under criticism from conservative circles, who believe that this phenomenon reflects the negative influence of the Western culture. The conservative website Serat News went as far as to express concern that a candidate who brings his wife into his presidential campaign might involve her in the management of state affairs if he is elected president.
In recent years the wives of Iranian politicians gain wider media exposure than in the past. Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of reformist opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, was highly visible in the 2009 presidential election. Rahnavard, a doctor of political science, journalist and craftswoman, came back to Iran after the revolution from her exile in the United States, where she had lived when the shah was in power. During the administration of former president Mohammad Khatami, she worked as his political advisor. In 1998 she became the first woman since the revolution to be appointed as university chancellor. She was the chancellor of Tehran’s all-women Al-Zahra University until 2006. Rahnavard also served as the editor-in-chief of an Iranian women’s weekly and published a series of books and articles, mostly about women’s rights. Her presence at the forefront of her husband’s campaign drew comparisons with Michelle Obama, the first lady of the United States. Rahnavard has been under house arrest with her husband since February 2011.
In contrast, A’zam Sadat Farahi, the wife of President Ahmadinejad, has made few appearances with her husband. Farahi also avoided media exposure during the presidential campaign. In November 2009 Farahi made a rare public appearance when she came to Italy to take part in a special U.N.-sponsored conference on the problem of global food shortage and even gave a speech there. Since then Farahi has appeared with her husband on a few more occasions.
Of all the candidates’ wives in the current presidential election, one in particular deserves special mention: Zahra Sadat Moshir, the wife of Tehran’s Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. A doctor of social science, she got married to Qalibaf in 1983 in a ceremony led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic revolution.
Before her husband was elected the mayor of Tehran in 2005, his wife was not involved in public activity and received no media exposure. After Qalibaf’s appointment for mayor, Moshir became involved in public activity within the municipality and was appointed the mayor’s advisor and director of the municipality’s Department of Women’s Affairs. To avoid nepotism allegations, Qalibaf previously claimed that his wife was not paid for her work in the municipality. In addition to her work as advisor and director of women’s affairs, Moshir is member of the executive board of the Tehran municipality Organization for Culture and Craftsmanship and member of the Press Monitoring Council in Tehran Province. The couple have three children who work in the municipality as well: two sons, Elias and Eshaq, and a daughter, Maryam. The eldest son, Elias, is head of youth affairs, while Meryem works as an advisor to her mother in the municipality.
Moshir’s activity as director of women’s affairs in the Tehran municipality
As part of her job as advisor and director of women’s affairs in the Tehran municipality, Moshir works to advance the status of women in the city, integrate them into executive positions, help solve the social hardships that women face, and extend assistance to women in the areas of education and employment.
In interviews given to the Iranian media in recent years, Moshir has made the problem of women who are the sole family providers her top priority. She has noted that she makes extensive efforts to solve the difficulties encountered by these women—for example, by creating markets where they can work and earn a living.
In addition, Moshir handles other social hardships plaguing many women who live in Tehran, such as the phenomenon of runaway girls (many of whom turn to prostitution) and women held in prisons. She also has initiated a program to create a special center for women drug addicts. As part of the efforts to deal with the growing phenomenon of divorce in the Iranian society, Moshir has put forward plans to create women’s centers for aid and counseling and for intervention in family crises.
In the fall of 2012 Moshir organized a women’s conference in Tehran to discuss various issues pertaining to women, their involvement in the city life, and possible ways to solve the problems that they face. In a lengthy interview she granted in 2008 to the Asr-e Iran website, Moshir argued that she was not using her husband’s help to promote her programs. She noted that such assistance could have been an indication of her weakness, which is why she preferred to turn to other top municipality officials for help if necessary.
Moshir’s stance on the promotion of women at work and in public positions
Moshir’s positions on the promotion of women reflect a worldview that blends support for integrating women into the labor market and even pushing them to senior executive positions with a conservative Islamic outlook that emphasizes women’s traditional family roles.
In an interview given to Mehr News Agency, Moshir took pride in her alleged success to increase the integration of women into executive roles in the Tehran municipality by 10 percent. She noted that (as at 2008) the Tehran municipality was employing 6,000 women, and that the criterion for promoting employees to executive positions in the municipality was their professional ability rather than gender. However, in an interview recently given by her husband, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf admitted that an instruction he had given in the beginning of his term as mayor to allocate 10 percent of all executive positions in the municipality to women was not actually put in practice due to “resistance from men”.
In another press interview, Moshir expressed support for integrating women into the labor market, but stressed that this needs to be done without harming “their feminine values in accordance with Islam”. She noted that women should not aspire to “become men” or work in masculine occupations. If the dignity of women was preserved in the context of the family, the mayor’s wife said, they would be aware of their feminine values. Women who are content and protected in the family can succeed in society. She gave the Tehran municipality as an example of the required attitude towards women, saying that the municipality treats with respect families that have three daughters.
At an international conference of female Quran researchers, Moshir once again stressed the need to strike a balance between promoting women and the need to fulfill their traditional role in the family. She noted that women should be integrated into scientific fields, particularly the study of religion, but stressed that there is no substitute for a woman’s role as a mother, particularly in the first two years of raising children.
In an interview to Asr-e Iran, Moshir was asked about her position on promoting women to senior positions in the public sector. She said that, in principle, she supports appointing a woman for mayor, but added that this requires some “groundwork”. She also spoke in favor of appointing a woman into the cabinet, stressing, however, that such an appointment will not be enough to solve women’s problems in society.
Speaking about her personal life, Moshir said that she is responsible for most of the household chores and does not expect her husband to help her perform them, even though he does what he can to help and even makes breakfast on Fridays, when he is at home.
Her stance on the veil issue
In a press interview she gave in 2010 to Fars News Agency, Moshir expressed support for encouraging women to wear a veil as a means to protect their personal space, give them more confidence, and improve their status in society. She did, however, have reservations about enforcing the Islamic dress code and noted that the veil issue is a highly delicate one, dealing with which requires careful and thorough planning as well as using measures intended to encourage the “veil culture” in society.
Her stance on gender segregation in public
Moshir has on several occasions expressed support for gender segregation in public. As part of her work in the municipality, she even initiated projects to create parks for women only in the city of Tehran. According to Moshir, creating public parks and education institutions for women only is in line with the feelings of many women who prefer to be in a non-mixed environment. She noted that there are 1,750 parks in Tehran with no segregation between men and women, and that creating separate parks for women is intended to give them more opportunities to engage in sports and leisure activities. A 2006 poll conducted among women in Tehran showed that what they need most is women’s sports and leisure centers, Moshir said.
In recent years she has also encouraged initiatives to operate taxi cabs driven by women, to be used only by female passengers. According to those in charge of the program, operating such cabs is intended to improve the personal safety of women who use cabs in Tehran.
Her stance on feminism
A report released in September 2007 quoted Moshir as saying that “there is no place for feminists in the Tehran municipality”. According to the report, Moshir said that she subscribes to the view of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic revolution, according to which a woman is not under man’s control but she is not above him either. Such worldviews as feminism, Moshir said, seek to emancipate women from man’s control but in fact only make the suppression of women worse.
Her stance on her husband’s involvement in politics
In an interview to Asr-e Iran, Moshir said that she was against her husband participating in the 2005 presidential election, and that she had even “made a vow before God” so that he wouldn’t participate. Her stance on her husband’s participation in the current presidential election is unknown.
The wives of other candidates
Unlike Zahra Moshir, who has received considerable media exposure in recent years, the information available on the wives of the other presidential candidates is very scant.
Sa’id Jalili, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, has been married since 1992 to Fatemeh Sajjadi, a doctor. They have only one child, Hamid.
Reformist candidate Mohammad Reza Aref is married to Hamideh Moravvej Farshi. They got married in 1978 and have three sons. Hamideh is a dermatologist and works for the Ministry of Science.
Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel, former Majles speaker, is married to Tayebeh Mahroo, a doctor of education philosophy who is a member of the executive board of Tehran’s all-women Al-Zahra University.
Mohsen Reza’i, secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council, has been married since 1974 to Ma’soumeh Khadnag.
Ali-Akbar Velayati, the Supreme Leader’s advisor on international affairs, got remarried in 2007 after his first wife had passed away in 2004. We have no information on the wives of the remaining two presidential candidates, Hassan Rowhani and Mohammad Gharazi.
“The first lady”: manifestation of social change or adoption of Western culture?
The growing media exposure of Iranian politicians’ wives and the increasing public interest in these women have recently come under criticism from conservative circles, who believe that this phenomenon reflects the negative influence of the Western culture. In an article recently posted by Serat News (May 14), the conservative website criticized the growing phenomenon of candidates being accompanied by their wives in the election, from the candidacy registration stage to the campaign itself. The website argued that this is a phenomenon influenced by the Western culture and is not based on the Iranian and Islamic culture. There is no reason for a candidate to bring his wife when registering his candidacy in the Ministry of Interior, the article said. The website argued that some candidates who take their wives with them believe that this is an expression of their love for their family and their respect for the family institution. Other candidates see it as a possible means of getting more votes from women and feminist men. Serat News expressed concern over the possibility that a candidate who brings his wife into his presidential campaign might involve her in the management of state affairs if he is elected president.
List of sources on Zahra Moshir: