Women’s rights have emerged as an important issue in Iran’s presidential race to be held Friday. Women make up half of the Iranian electorate and candidates have been courting their votes. While incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has the support of some women, many are excited by the campaign of his strongest challenger, reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Mousavi’s wife, Zhara Rahnavard, has played an uncommonly visible role in the campaign. She is respected by many as Iran’s first high-ranking female university professor and for her work as an artist, according to BBC. President Ahmadinejad attacked her integrity during a televised debate last Wednesday, accusing her of university violations including not taking an entrance exam before entering a graduate program. Rahnavard responded by threatening to sue Ahmadinejad for defamation. “Those who made up this case against me wanted to say it is a crime for women to study, to get two graduate degrees, to become an intellectual or an artist,” Rahnavard stated at a press conference Sunday.
The majority of Iranians support more rights for women, according to a 2007 Gallup poll. About nine out of ten respondents believed that women should have the same legal rights as men, and three out of four thought women should be able to have a job outside the home and to hold positions in the cabinet and national council. It is uncertain how much the next president could advance women’s rights, however, as most government decisions are ultimately made by the conservative religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds the title Supreme Leader.