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Op-Ed: Remembering Iran’s first female minister who was executed on International Women’s Day

In honor of International Women’s Day, Iranian human rights activist Shabnam Assadollahi recalls that under the Pahlavi Dynasty, Iran had a female minister who championed women’s rights. When the Pahlavi Dynasty was overthrown, she was executed for she refused to regret struggling for gender equality within her country.
Photo Credit: Shabnam Assadollahi

On International Women's Day, I remember my role-model, the late Dr. Farrokhroo Parsa who was executed by the barbaric uncivilized Islamic Republic of Iran in 1980. Dr. Farokhroo Pārsā, (1922-1980) (Persian: فرخ‌رو پارسا) was an Iranian physician, educator and parliamentarian. She served as Minister of Education of Iran during the Pahlavi Dynasty and was the first female cabinet minister of an Iranian government.

Before Dr. Parsa was executed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, she wrote this last letter to her children from her jail cell: "I am a doctor so I have no fear of death. Death is only a moment and no more. I am prepared to receive death with open arms rather than live in shame by being forced to be veiled. I am not going to bow to those who expect me to express regret for fifty years of my efforts for equality between men and women. I am not prepared to wear the chador and step back in history."

Farrokhroo Parsa was born on March 22, 1922 in Qom to Farrokhdin and Fakhr’e Afagh Parsa. Her mother Fakhr’e Afagh was the editor of the women's magazine Jahan’e Zan and a vocal proponent for gender equality and for educational opportunities for women. Her views on this subject met with opposition from the conservative sections of the society of her time, leading to the expulsion of the family by the government of Ahmad Qavam from Tehran to Qom and Farrakhroo’s subsequent birth.

She was sent to school and encouraged by her parents to become an educated woman. She proved to be a brilliant student at Homa primary school. As the situation in the country had changed under Reza Shah, Parsa had the chance to enjoy equal rights, at least as far as education was concerned. With her parents’ eagerness to educate their children, she continued her studies even after she was married and bore children. After obtaining a college degree in natural sciences, she became a biology teacher in Jeanne d'Arc High School in Tehran, where Farah Diba was one of her students. Her dedication to her job as well as women's rights promoted her to the school’s principle position. She also used after school hours to visit and teach women in prisons.

She was admitted to Tehran University as a medical student and graduated as a doctor in 1950, although she did not practice medicine and preferred to work at the Ministry of Culture. She soon became active in politics and participated in parties that advocated issues such as women suffrage. Parsa became a Majlis representative in 1963. On August 27, 1968, she became Minister of Education in the cabinet of Prime Minister Amir Abbas Hoveida's government, thus becoming the first female minister in Iran's history.

She was arrested after the 1979 Islamic Revolution after been out of office for eight years, although even out of office, she remained an outspoken campaigner for women's rights. She was prosecuted in the Revolutionary Court headed by Ayatollah Khalkhali. She wrote in a letter sent to her family that she would not bow to those who expected her to express regret for fifty years of her efforts for equality between men and women. Apparently, at the primitive court, she was given a last chance to repent, which she refused. Farrokhroo Parsa was executed on May 8, 1980.

Dr. Parsa was a brave and intelligent Iranian women for all times and all freedom loving people in this world should be proud of her courage, knowledge, and dedication to women's rights. May her memory forever remain in our hearts and souls!

JOL Blogger | Shabnam Assadollahi
Shabnam Assadollahi is a multi-award-winning Canadian human rights activist and freelance writer/journalist of Iranian origin. She has a Master’s degree in Social Anthropology and has worked extensively helping newcomers and refugees resettle in Canada and has distinguished herself as a broadcaster, writer and public speaker. 
Shabnam was arrested and imprisoned at age 16 for eighteen months in Iran's most notorious prison, Evin. Shabnam’s primary and heartfelt interest is to focus on the Iranian community and world events affecting women and minority communities.

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