Women? In Ahmadinejad’s cabinet?

Proposed welfare minister Ajorlou is a hard-liner

Women? In Ahmadinejad’s cabinet?The last time a woman was elected to an Iranian cabinet was in the 1960s. It didn’t end well. Eleven years later—and just after the 1979 revolution that launched Iran’s hardline Islamic republic—Farrokhroo Parsay was executed on corruption charges. But after Iran’s 10th presidential election, re-elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is promising “a new era,” complete with “major changes” to the government. Last Wednesday, he presented his list of proposed cabinet ministers. For the first time since the revolution, it included women.

The move may be intended to soften Ahmadinejad’s image and placate the regime’s still-mounting opposition. Iran’s disputed June 12 election, which extended the president’s mandate, gave rise to the most violent domestic crisis since 1979. The new appointments may very well be a nod to the active role that women played in the opposition, taking to the streets in great numbers after the vote. Presidential rival Mirhossein Mousavi, with the help of his Ph.D.-educated wife, was able to mobilize female support with promises to bring down Iran’s “morality police.”

So is Iran on the brink of a new, female-friendly order? Unlikely. First, the cabinet nominees must still pass an Aug. 30 vote of confidence by parliament, and just this week the Tehran Emrouz newspaper quoted judicial committee member Mohammad Taghi Rahbar as saying, “There are religious doubts over the abilities of women when it comes to management.” Rahbar plans to seek guidance on the issue from Aya­tollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran since 1989.

What about the actual nominees? All are reported to be hardliners. Fatemeh Ajorlou, the proposed welfare minister, has spoken in favour of limiting the number of female university students and enforcing the Islamic dress code for women. Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, Ahmadinejad’s choice for health minister, has pushed for segregated health care. The nominations may signify only that policies oppressive to women are, from time to time, set by women themselves.