Mahnaz Afkhami interview on work as a female government minister advocating for women's rights in Iran, BBC Persian Hard Talk (video, Persian)
Mahnaz Afkhami discusses her work as a female government minister advocating for women's rights in Iran during the period 1970-1978. At that time, Akhami was able to pursue and negotiate for reforms because the government's goals supported progressive movement toward modernization and development. Afkhami conceptually linked the advancement of women to the goal of national development. In her work with grassroots women, Afkhami focused primarily on programs to meet her constituents' needs in the areas of economic empowerment, training, and education, rather than legal reforms; grassroots women were less interested in legal change until the had the ability to support themselves financially.
Afkhami also served as secretary general of the Women's Organization of Iran (WOI), boosting Iran's connection to the work of the United Nations ahead of the 1975 First World Conference on Women in Mexico City. Iran played a central role at the Mexico City Conference, and formulated key concepts for its World Plan of Action. The WOI then used the World Plan to formulate and implement a National Plan of Action for Iran, and used it as a way to be involved with many government decisions and processes, even in matters not traditionally considered women’s issues. The WOI also created a Center for Research on Women to conduct research on women across socioeconomic and geographic sectors, often in support of greater gender equality.
Afkhami also negotiated with the Minister of Justice to achieve an important reform acknowledging a woman's honor in her own right (rather than as associated with a male relative or spouse). Afkhami states that the Iranian Revolution was, to a significant extent, a reaction to women's advancement during the 1970s. Following the overthrow of the Shah, Ayatollah Khomeini's first action in office was to nullify the landmark Family Protection Law of 1975, which had been the most progressive family legislation to date in modern Muslim societies.