One of Iran’s most high-profile female public figures is poised to become the country’s first female ambassador to be based abroad in nearly 40 years, the Daily Sabah reported Monday. If she accepts, Marzieh Afkham, who is currently a spokeswoman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, would be Iran's first woman diplomat since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, though it is unclear when she would be appointed or to which country she would be assigned.
A strong defender of human and women's rights -- two areas in which Iran is frequently criticized as having antiquated policies -- Afkham has broken Iran’s gender barrier before, having become a spokeswoman for the country’s foreign minister in 2013. At the time, Iran scholar Farideh Farhi noted what a groundbreaking move it was to appoint Afkham to such a lofty, visible position. "This is an extremely bold move by Foreign Minister [Mohammad Javad] Zarif to appoint a woman to such high-ranking and politically visible post," Farhi told CNN.
Afkham, who would become the country's first female diplomat since Mehrangiz Dolatshahi served as Iran's ambassador to Denmark in the 1970s, has also been outspoken on the current crisis in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has launched an offensive against the Houthi Shiite rebels who have taken control of the country’s capital, Sanaa, and forced President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee.
â€” DAILY SABAH (@DailySabah) April 14, 2015
Afkham was one of the Iranian officials to condemn the airstrikes, categorizing them as dangerous and something that would only exacerbate poor conditions in an already conflict-ridden part of the world. “These attacks will expand terrorism and accelerate insecurity all over the region,” the state news agency IRNA quoted Afkham as saying, the Wall Street Journal reported. “This is a dangerous move and against international responsibilities and respect for national sovereignty of countries.”
Shortly after being named a ministry spokeswoman, Afkham took aim at the Arab League, which at the time had blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad for a chemical weapons attack near Damascus. "The adoption of this stance by the Arab League before the official announcement of the results of the United Nations' investigation proves that it is politically motivated and is a kind of prejudgment," she said during a news conference, the National reported.
Afkham's expected appointment is widely seen as being part of Iranian President Hasan Rouhani's efforts to improve women's rights in the country, although progress has not been as swift as some have wanted, the Al Bawaba news outlet reported. Sixty percent of college students in Iran are women, and 10 percent of the female population is employed, i24 News reported.