Last updated: 29 August, 2013

Iranian foreign ministry appoints first-ever spokeswoman

Iran’s foreign ministry has appointed its first-ever spokeswoman, with President Hassan Rowhani appearing to welcome the move as part of a campaign to empower women, reports said Thursday.

However, the appointment has drawn criticism from some conservative quarters.

Marzieh Afkham, a career diplomat with nearly three decades at the ministry, has been media and public diplomacy director there since 2010, media reported.

According to the Twitter account @HassanRouhani, associated with the new president, the moderate cleric welcomed the appointment as part of “campaign to empower and elevate women in Iran.”

It said Afkham is fluent in English and French.

Announcing the appointment, outgoing spokesman Abbas Araqchi told the ISNA news agency Afkham “is seasoned and experienced in the field of media diplomacy.”

“Those who have criticism about this will understand that her expertise was the only factor in this appointment,” Araqchi added in reference to opposition voiced by members of parliament’s ultra-conservative faction.

Hojatoleslam Morteza Hosseini, a cleric from a powerful religious faction, said the clergy “might be opposed” to the employment of women to such posts.

“We decided to deliver a caution to the foreign minister (Mohammad Javad Zarif), so that he appoints a man instead of a woman,” Hosseini was quoted by the 7 Sobh daily as saying.

Araqchi had said on Tuesday that another woman, whose name was not given, was being groomed to become Iran’s first-ever ambassador.

Afkham’s appointment comes as Rowhani has reportedly asked officials to appoint women to high-ranking posts.

The cabinet is dominated by men, except for Elham Aminzadeh, who is the vice president for parliamentary affairs.

During his election campaign, Rowhani vowed that “discrimination against women will not be tolerated” in his administration.

Although more liberal than those of many Arab countries, Iran’s laws since the 1979 Islamic revolution have been criticised as unfair to women in matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance.

While women may hold key posts, including in parliament and the cabinet, they are not allowed to run for the presidency.

Iran’s clergy, which still hold sway in the country, defend the laws, saying they are designed to protect against a Western lifestyle they say takes advantage of women.