Jackie Kennedy, Betty Ford, Hilary Clinton, and Michelle Obama; all women who have had a huge impact on their husbands’ presidential campaigns, social influence, and popularity. To many the iconic first lady seems as American as apple pie, a symbol of US culture and prominence. But elsewhere, another potential first lady is gaining as much rock star status as Jackie O.
Mir Hossein Mousavi, an Iranian presidential hopeful, is getting a lot of campaign help from his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, who is being touted as the Iranian Michelle Obama. Zahra is being placed at the front of Mousavi’s campaign for this June’s election, a first in Iran’s history.
Zahra is drawing young people to the voting booth, and women and families appreciate that she’s both an icon and a mother of three. Many come to the rallies just to catch a glimpse of her.”I am really angry here in Iran with the position of women,” said voter Saghar Kouhestani, who said she supports Mousavi because of his right hand woman.
Wherever Mousavi — a centrist candidate — goes, Rahnavard is usually nearby.
“We look at her and we say, ‘we want to be like her in the future, ‘ ” said Shakiba Shakerhosseie, one of 12,000 people who packed into Tehran’s indoor Azadi (Freedom) sports stadium to hear Rahnavard speak
Not only does Zahra speak on behalf of her husband, the former Prime Minister, but also advocates for freedoms she says were lost during the last (Muhmoud Ahmadijenad’s) presidency. “I hope freedom of speech, freedom of the pen and freedom of thought will not be forgotten,” she said.
And Zahra isn’t just a pretty face for her husband’s campaign. She has a Ph.D. in political science and was a top political adviser to Iran’s former President Mohammad Khatami. She is the dean of Al Zahra University in Tehran, Iran’s only all-female higher education institution. She is a painter, sculptor, and writer with 15 books under her belt. In a recent article she wrote on the election, she pushed the importance of equal rights for women.
“The complicated experience from past elections show that during the election excitement and fever and [attempts ] to gain women’s votes, women are considered first-class citizens and half of the population. But as soon as the election is over women are downgraded to second- and third-class citizens and they’re being forgotten.”
However, supporters of Mousavi’s opposition are quick to sweep Zahra’s impact under the rug, stating that the voters decision will be swayed towards Ahmadijienad after the debates.
But supporters aren’t being drawn away from Mousavi, and the thought of having an iconic first lady, their first since the overthrow of the former monarchy in 1979.
“This is the first time after the Revolution we see a lady behind the president,” said Farhad Mahmoudi. “And this is why we’re so happy because we can have a first lady.”
How amazing would it be to have such a strong, educated, well rounded woman representing Iran? She’s drawing new demographics to political action and is just as popular as her husband. Although the presidential hopeful himself has not mentioned women’s rights directly, he has said he wants more leniency in the Islamic influenced dress code. He said he would put an end to police patrolling streets and arresting those not in observance.
These jumps may seem like baby steps in comparison to woman’s positioning in western governments, but baby steps are steps none the less.