Zahra Rahnavard
courtesy of Zahra Rahnavard

Dr. Zahra Rahnavard is Chancellor of Az-Zahra University (Iran’s only all-women higher-ed institution), a presidential advisor, author of 15 books — more on the way — activist, politico and, oh yeah, accomplished sculptor, mother of three daughters and wife of former prime minister Hossein Mousavi.

She’s proud of the strides made by Prez Khatami’s reform government, but still sees plenty of opportunity for more progress.

“Twenty-three years after the revolution, we see that 60 percent of university admissions are women and this is a great change,” she says. “But I am not yet personally satisfied, and believe that women need to strive harder to gain more liberties, equality, employment and high managerial positions and a presence in the Cabinet.”

Similarly, she’s devoted to Islam, but she believes Iran’s lasting success as an Islamic nation hinges on giving people the freedom to make that choice. “Religion can only be in harmony with democracy when we accept that it rises from the heart of the people…” she says. “The important thing is that governments leave people free in choosing religion at their own will.”

She encourages students at her university to express that freedom by picking their own style and color hejabs. “There should be no “must” to it besides the fact that it “must” be self-chosen and not forced.”

She explores this idea of freedom within a set of beliefs in her book The Message of the Hejab of the Islamic Women, one of two she penned and published illegally while living in the U.S.

From the Interview

“Because of my artistic character I can approach politics in a more poetic and free way.”

“An Islamic woman’s hejab has a message to it — a message of freedom, thought, wisdom and of course, faith…”

“I think that the West’s understanding of hejab has not been correct and I invite them to come to Iran and see for themselves how Iranian women are participating in everything and progressing and have freedom.”

“When the youth attend Mr. Khatami’s speeches, they clap, whistle & cheer freely, but in the end they raise their hands to God and pray. They pray because they have been able to clap and whistle freely.”

“The atmosphere in our family is very complex — art, religion, politics, sports and happiness co-exist.”

“We have great women movie directors at an international level. In the world of science, we have great women professors. We have women managing high positions. So this shows that women are ahead and the laws and regulations must run a marathon to catch up with them.”

Coordinates: Iran

Dr. Zahra Rahnavard

prez advisor


Tehran, Iran

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