Monday, May 25, 2009

Politics: Women in the Campaign

I saw this article in the Financial Times en route to Frankfurt and thought it was encouraging. When my mom brought it up at dinner, my cousins were somewhat familiar, stating that Ms. Rahnavard had been a mini-jupe (French for mini-skirt) during the Shah's time, as she admits in this article about her Western past.

Iran candidate’s wife challenges convention
By Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran

There are four candidates in Iran’s presidential election, all male, but the person who is emerging as the most intriguing on the campaign trail is a woman: the wife of Mir-Hossein Moussavi, the reformist candidate.
The concept of first lady has not existed in Iran since the 1979 revolution put an end to the ceremonial role occupied by the last Queen, Farah. Iran’s presidents have since largely avoided public appearances with their wives.
But Zahra Rahnavard is determined to change that, should her husband be elected after the June 12 poll. She has already set aside years of tradition to campaign and accompany Mr Moussavi, prime minister between 1981 and 1989, at election rallies.
So far, she has not run foul of the conservative clerical establishment whose traditions she is ignoring. But then analysts point out that unofficial opinion polls still put Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the fundamentalist president, on course to win a second term. If Mr Moussavi’s ratings were to rise, the mother-of-three could find her role more closely scrutinised.
Mr Moussavi shocked a lot of people – including other reformist candidates – when he decided to challenge Mr Ahmadi-Nejad for the presidency.
Joining Mr Moussavi on the campaign trail in Tehran and other cities – sometimes hand-in-hand – Ms Rahnavard, 58, is increasingly seen, even by some rival camps, as a real asset to the candidate.
At a recent political meeting she was greeted with the same acclaim as her husband and Mohammad Khatami, the former reformist president. Ms Rahnavard says her husband’s decision to campaign for the presidency was driven by a shared “commitment for the prosperity of the people”.
“Moussavi and I address all the Iranian nation and, in particular, women, the youth and students,” she says. “Our messages to Iranians during election rallies are ‘freedom of thoughts, opening up the [political] environment, establishing a sound economy, increasing public participation . . . eliminating discrimination against women, creating job opportunities . . . and helping the youth to think freely.”
After his stint as prime minister in the 1980s he disappeared from politics and became a painter, only emerging this year to challenge the government’s heavily criticised economic record and to campaign for greater social justice. That self-imposed political exile means that Mr Moussavi is a virtual unknown to the young people who make up the majority of Iran’s population of 70m. His wife, a writer and sculptor, however, is a potential role model for young and female voters.
Should she become Iran’s first lady, Ms Rahnavard says she would be more able to help eliminate discrimination against women, solve family legal problems and protect housewives, especially those who are the main breadwinners in a family. It sounds remarkably like a political wish-list from someone who is not standing herself.
Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s wife runs a high school in Tehran but is rarely, if ever, seen with her husband in public. But Ms Rahnavard believes that her own involvement in the campaign has had a significant impact on attitudes with other candidates, including Mohsen Rezaei, former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, who are now beginning to involve their wives.
Wearing a black top-to-toe chador, which she keeps open in front letting out her floral scarf and light blue jeans jacket, Ms Rahnavard is frank about her past before the revolution, when she did not wear hijab or Islamic covering but dressed in a more western style.
Some fear this could be used against Mr Moussavi’s campaign if dirty tricks were employed. But so far it has not.
Ms Rahnavard insists that, as with her art where she has blended modernism with more traditional elements to produce hundreds of expressionist and abstract paintings and sculptures made of stone, glass, wood, iron and bronze, she should not be pigeon-holed.
“I am not a cliché type of person and would not fit categories,” she says.
But if her husband becomes president Ms Rahnavard accepts that the life the family has lived for the past 20 years will be transformed.
“What I am experiencing now is hectic, [and it] contradicts my artistic life which needs delicacy and beauty,” she says. But “Mr Moussavi and I have come to the scene to remove [political and economic] shortfalls.”


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