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Candidates' wives steal the show

Video by Gulliver CRAGG

Text by Lorena GALLIOT

Latest update : 2009-06-14

The unexpected high-profile figures in Iran's presidential elections are not the candidates themselves, but their wives. A day before Iranians go to the polls, reformists and conservatives alike are pandering to the female electorate.

For the past few years, Iranians have been used to a first lady so discreet Western media don’t even know her first name.


That may be about to change.


The 2009 presidential elections which take place on Friday pit incumbent hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against former Prime Minister Mirhossein Mousavi and cleric Mehdi Karoubi.


The wives of these two reformist candidates have been at the forefront of their husbands' campaigns.


Mirhossein Moussavi’s wife, 64-year-old academic and artist Zahra Rahavnard (pictured above), has been very vocal in promoting women’s rights during her husbands campaign rallies.


“We must revise laws that treat men and women unequally” she told a cheering crowd of mostly women and students at a meeting at the Bahman cultural center of Teheran.


“Iranian women must be able to choose their professions according to their merit” she added, to cries of “Rahavanard, we love you!” from the public.


Fatemeh Karoubi, 63, has been just as active in her husband Mehdi Karoubi's campaign.


Her past experience as vice-Minister of social affairs in former president Mohammed Khatami's government gives her solid political credibility, and she is pushing hard to get more women into the government.



“I would like to know why the Council [of Guardians of the Constitution] did not qualify a single woman candidate in these elections”, she asked in a rally, referring to the 42 women who were banned from running by Iranian authorities.



Women are "no longer invisible"

The obvious complicity between Rahavnard and Moussavi -he holds her hand in public and asks her to speak first at rallies- appeals to Iranian women.
“Mousavi is good with his wife and that’s important to me. I’ve never seen a politician who holds his wife’s hand in public” one young woman voter told The Independent.

Iran’s feminist organizations are thrilled at this turn of events.


“Whoever comes to power has to respond to the demands of the women's rights movement,” rights campaigner Sussan Tahmasebi told Reuters. “We are no longer invisible.”


According to Tahmasebi, there was an attempt under Ahmadinejad to "push women back into the private sphere and promote them as mothers and wives” that may cost him the female vote and the election.


The position of women has become such a prominent issue in the campaign that even conservative candidates have begun pandering to the female electorate.


A usually invisible Mrs. Ahmadinejad began silently shadowing her husband during public meetings. The wife of conservative candidate Mohsen Rezaï, who claims to want to open to governmental posts to women, has also increased her visibility.

Neither Karoubi nor  Rahavenard are pushing for a radical departure from the Islamic Republic.Rather, they claim that there is room for improvement of women’s rights within Iran’s traditional religions framework.
After the 1979 Islamic revolution, Dr.Rahavanard became the first woman to be named Dean of an Iranian university, but was discharged under Ahmadinejad’s increasingly intolerant rule.
She has consistently presented herself as a firm follower of the Islamic revolution with books such as The Beauty of the Veil. Dubbed Iran’s Michelle Obama, Rahavenard rejects the nickname.“I am a follower of the daughter of the prophet Mohammed, who has the same name as I do. I am no Michelle Obama. I am Zahra Rahnavard.”

Date created : 2009-06-11