Iran’s president under pressure to appoint female pastors

Concerns raised that Hassan Rouhani may unveil all-male listing of ministers responsible for in cabinet reshuffle as he prepares for second term

Irans chairwoman is under pressure to appoint female pastors as he mulls a cabinet reshuffle before his swearing-in rite on Sunday.

Hassan Rouhanis all-male list of ministers during his first word in office dismayed his base even though the moderate clergyman appointed a number of women as vice-president, a comparatively less senior position in Irans political hierarchy.

As jockeying intensifies before the unveiling of his new cabinet, fears have grown that Rouhani may give in to pressure from hardliners and not include females as pastors. Expectation is particularly high because he operated on a reformist agenda. Under the Iranian constitution, the Majlis( parliament ), would have to approve his appointees.

Tehran is preparing for a big inauguration ceremony after Rouhanis landslide victory in May. Officers have declared Sunday a bank holiday as eight presidents and senior diplomatic delegations gather in the Iranian capital to mark the beginning of his second term in office. In a sign of thawing relations, the UK is for the first time sending a minister of state, Alistair Burt, who is in charge of the Middle East and North Africa at the Foreign office.

Despite shortcomings, one existing Rouhani appointee his vice-president for women and family affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi has won the support of some of the countrys most respected womens rights campaigners. Her hands have largely been tied in the past four years as she came under huge pressure from hardliners, who threatened her with prosecution.

Molaverdi said in April that as many as three women would be appointed as ministers but she has voiced pessimistic more recently and it is not clear if she would maintain her job.

Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, the Rouhani administrations spokesman, said on Tuesday, that the number of women in the cabinet would not go down, the semi-official Isna news agency reported, but he sent mixed signals over ministerial appointments, suggesting there may not be any females as pastors at all.

If there would be no females pastors in the cabinet, that does not mean were not utilizing the potential of women[ in the government ], he said. Women will still play a significant role. Its an injustice to girls to think that they should only be used to fill ministerial roles.

The taboo of appointing female pastors after the 1979 Islamic revolution has in fact already been broken. In 2009, former hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad nominated three women as ministers amid opponent from conservative MPs and some senior clerics. One of his appointees, Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi, was approved and she became the countrys first post-revolutionary female minister, serving as health ministers and medical education.

Ghoncheh Ghavami, a resulting womens rights activist based in Tehran, said it is much more important to have gender-sensitive and feminist policies than just merely relying on descriptive representation but nevertheless having female pastors is still important because Irans political system is too male-oriented.

Shahindokht Molaverdi, Irans vice-president for womens and family affairs. Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images

She said: This structure has eradicated women working in the excuse of meritocracy and experience but it looks like that main criteria for them is being male. Thats why appointing female ministers is symbolically important and would send a powerful signal in a country where politics still originates from humen.

Ghavami said Dastjerdis appointment meant Rouhani had run out of excuses, especially now he was facing a friendlier parliament. She said even a conservative figure such as Dastjerdi performed better than her male colleagues and was removed before too long after a spat with Ahmadinejad.

Conservatives, however, still have traditional positions about females, their own priorities is for women to stay at home and take care of their kids. Even their female parliamentarians held such a world view and were seeking policies that were discriminatory towards females, she said.

Womens rights campaigner Fatemeh Sadeghi is among six speakers invited to a discussion panel in Tehran this week called Violating the Glass Ceiling, in reference to Iranian women in senior managerial roles. She believes symbolic appointment of women as ministers will not resolve challenges faced by women in Iran.

The presence of one or two women in the cabinet wont much advance women rights and the experience of Mrs Mowlaverdi shows that until we seek gender[ equality] policies, we wont find a massive change or transformation for women, she said.

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