Mahnaz Afkhami

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Mahnaz Afkhami
Mahnaz Afkhami on Poletik.jpg
Mahnaz Afkhami on Poletik - September 2014
Personal details
Born (1941-01-14) January 14, 1941 (age 73)
Kerman, Iran
Spouse(s) Gholam Reza Afkhami
Education University of Colorado, M.A.
Occupation Activist, Author

Mahnaz Afkhami (Persian: مهناز افخمی‎), is Founder and President of Women's Learning Partnership (WLP). She is also the Executive Director of the Foundation for Iranian Studies[1] and former Minister of Women's Affairs of Iran.[2] She has lived in exile in the United States since 1979.

Afkhami has been an advocate of women's rights for more than three decades,[3] having founded and headed several international non-governmental organizations[4] focused on advancing the status of women. Afkhami has lectured and published extensively on the international women’s movement, women's human rights, women in leadership, women and technology, the status of women in Muslim majority societies, and women's participation in civil society building and democratization. Her books have been translated in multiple languages and distributed internationally.[5][6]


Afkhami's activism has focused primarily on

  • leadership and political participation
  • gender equality
  • the international women's movement
  • culture and a universality of rights

Leadership and Political Participation[edit]

At 17, she joined a trade union and successfully challenged a breacn of her rights as a worker when an employer laid her off temporarily then rehired her to avoid paying for her earned vacation.[7] She credits this incident with giving her the belief that organizing could bring about social change.

In 1975, she was asked to join the cabinet of the Iranian government and became Minister of Women's Affairs.[2] The post had not existed in Iran before; the only other person in the world to hold that position was Françoise Giroud of France. At the same time, her sister was a leader in the students' movement, demonstrating for the overthrow of the Shah. Mahnaz Afkhami and her sister Farah Abrahimi were featured in the PBS series Destination America in 2005.

In 2001, she published Leading to Choices: A leadership training handbook for women to encourage women to be leaders in their families, communities, and countries. It has been translated into 20 languages. In 2010, she published Leading to Action: A political participation handbook for women. The manuals have been used in trainings around the world and reached thousands.

Gender Equality[edit]

In 1969, two years after returning to Iran as a professor of literature and Chair of the Department of English at the National University of Iran, she founded the Association of University Women[8] and was drawn into Iran's women's movement. In 1970 she became the secretary general of the Women's Organization of Iran (WOI).[8] She remained at the head of the WOI for ten years during which she worked for Iranian women's rights.[7]

During her time as Minister of Women's Affairs, Iran's legislation granted women equal rights to divorce, raised the minimum age of marriage for girls, support women's employment with maternity leave and childcare provision, and built upon the family laws of 1967.[7][9]

Afkhami has served as a member of Iran's High Council of Family Planning and Welfare, the board of trustees of Kerman University, and the board of trustees of Farah University for Women.[10]

She wrote that, “Women’s empowerment is a process, a holistic approach that involves raising consciousness, building skills and reforming unjust laws that limit women’s education, their employment, their participation in decision making, and above all, their opportunities for economic independence."

Exile and International Women's Movement[edit]

Afkhami was in New York negotiating with the United Nations to establish the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) in Iran when the Islamic Revolution broke out in Iran. She was charged in absentia with "Corruption on Earth and warring with God." She never returned, and has lived in exile since,[11] although she has said she would like to return to help rebuild Iran if its political system changed.[12]

In 1994, she published Women in Exile, a collection of portraits of activist women in political exile.

She then joined the international women's rights movement, saying “The conditions women have in common outrank and outvalue those that set them apart.”. She became an advisor to Human Rights Watch and the Vice-President and Executive Director of.[13] And wrote Towards Global Feminism.

She is serving or has served on a number of boards, including the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, the International Museum of Women (since 2000), the Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy (1999-2010), the International League for Human Rights (2000-2006), the Global Fund for Women (1998-2007) and Gender At Work (2003-2008).

Afkhami is also co-chair of the Women Leaders Intercultural Forum[14] and the Global Women’s Action Network for Children.[15] She serves on the boards and steering committees of a number of international organizations including Global Fund for Women,[16] International Museum of Women,[17] Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, Women's Human Rights Net, Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch,[18] and World Movement for Democracy.[19]

Culture, Islam & Universality of rights[edit]

Mahnaz Afkhami believes that religion and feminism are not incompatible ("Women ought not to be forced to choose between freedom and God"). Nonetheless culture and religion can be problematic in terms of women's human rights, "We must pose the question: why is it that the denial of the most rudimentary rights to civil treatment for women is always based on some fundamental point of culture? Is this culture real, or is it a fetish that is used to maintain some economic, social, or simply psychological privilege?"

Yet she took a stand against Cultural relativism and Islamic excepionalism, stating clearly that human rights are universal and must supersede religious frameworks - particularly in Faith and Freedom: Women's Human Rights in the Muslim World: "At the center of [the] conflict is the dilemma of Muslim women’s human rights – whether Muslim women have rights because they are human beings, or whether they have rights because they are Muslim women." See also A vision of gender in culture, At the crossroads of tradition and modernity, Cultural Relativism and Women's Human Rights

Iranian Women's Movement[edit]

Looking back on the changes which occurred in Iran just before the revolution, she said “It seems to me that our main mistake was not that we did not do other things which we should have done. Our main mistake was that we created conditions in which the contradictions related to modernity, progress, equality, and human rights, especially women’s rights, increased and the reaction to our work put perhaps too much pressure on the country’s social fabric.” in [1]

She has also publicly supported the Iranian One Million Signatures campaign by promoting a book written by Iranian activist Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani on the campaign to end discriminatory laws against women.[20]

Mahnaz Afkhami believes that the movement is the new phase within a century-long cause.[21]

Afkhami’s life and work in the women’s movement in Iran, breaking with tradition, and living in exile are the topics of the 2012 Voice of America Persian’s biopic on Afkhami.


Mahnaz Afkhami was born in Kerman, Iran in 1941, the eldest of three children. Her early childhood was spent in Kerman, Iran in a complex that housed a large extended family who belong to the Sheikhi branch of Shi'ite Islam. When she was 11, her mother divorced her father, and they moved to the United States. She attended the University of San Francisco and the University of Colorado in Boulder.

In 1967, Mahnaz returned to Iran as a professor of literature at the National University of Iran. She worked there until 1978.

Since then, she has lived in the United States. She resides in Maryland.

She is married to Gholam Reza Afkhami. They have a son and two grandchildren.

Chronology Summary[edit]

  • 2000– Present Founder and President of Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace
  • 1981–Present Founder and Executive Director of Foundation for Iranian Studies
  • 1996–1999 President of Sisterhood Is Global Institute
  • 1992–1996 Executive Director of Sisterhood Is Global Institute
  • 1989–1996 Vice-President of Sisterhood Is Global Institute
  • 1979–1981 Consultant on Women and Development, Palo Alto, California
  • 1976–1978 Minister for Women's Affairs, Government of Iran
  • 1970–1979 Secretary General of the Women's Organization of Iran
  • 1968–1970 Chairman, English Department, National University of Iran
  • 1967–1968 Assistant Professor, Department of English, National University of Iran
  • 1966–1967 Lecturer, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • 1965–1966 Assistant Editor, Abstracts of English Studies, Boulder, Colorado


Afkhami has published a large number of articles and books, with a particular focus on women's human rights, Muslim women, as well as the Iranian women's movement.

  • Toward a Compassionate Society, edited, Women’s Learning Partnership, Bethesda, MD, 2002.
  • Leading to Choices: A Leadership Training Handbook for Women, co-authored, Women’s Learning Partnership, Bethesda, MD, 2001.
  • Safe and Secure: Eliminating Violence Against Women in Muslim Societies, co-authored, Sisterhood Is Global Institute, Bethesda, MD, 1998.
  • Muslim Women and The Politics of Participation, co-edited with Erika Friedl, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY, 1997.
  • Claiming Our Rights: A Manual for Women’s Human Rights Education in Muslim Societies, co-authored with Haleh Vaziri, Sisterhood Is Global Institute, Bethesda, MD, 1996.
  • Faith and Freedom: Women's Human Rights in the Muslim World, Syracuse University Press and I.B. Tauris, 1995.
  • Women and the Law in Iran (1967–1978), a compilation with introduction, Women's Center of the Foundation for Iranian Studies, 1994 (in Persian).
  • Women in Exile, The University Press of Virginia, 1994.
  • In the Eye of the Storm: Women in Postrevolutionary Iran, edited with Erika Friedl, Syracuse University Press and I.B. Tauris, 1994.
  • Iran: A PreCollegiate Handbook, with Charlotte Albright, the Foundation for Iranian Studies, 1992
  • Notes on the Curriculum and Materials for a Women's Studies Program for Iranian University Women, Tehran, 1978. Manuscript prepared for the Women's Organization of Iran Center for Research on Women.
  • Iran's National Plan of Action for Integration of Women in Development: Theory, Structure and Implementation, Manuscript prepared for the Women's Organization of Iran, Center for Research on Women, Tehran, 1978.


  1. ^ "Staff | Foundation for Iranian Studies". Bethesda, MD, USA: Foundation for Iranian Studies. Archived from the original on 2012-11-17. Retrieved 2013-03-09. 
  2. ^ a b Jecks, Nicki (August 19, 2009). "'I Was Iran's Last Minister'". BBC World Service. Retrieved April 22, 2010. 
  3. ^ Latham, Judith (June 11, 2008). "Women’s Learning Partnership’s Goal Is to Empower Women, Says President of the Organization". VOA News. Retrieved April 22, 2010. 
  4. ^ Hill, Mary Ann (April 5, 2005). "International Women’s Rights Advocate Mahnaz Afkhami to Speak at Wellesley College April 6". Wellesley College Office for Public Affairs. Retrieved April 22, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Mahnaz Afkhami - Iran". World People's Blog. Retrieved 2010-04-23. 
  6. ^ "Leading To Choices Manuals". Women's Learning Partnership. Retrieved 2010-04-23. 
  7. ^ a b c d Afkhami, Gholam Reza (2003). Zanun-e Iran, 1357-1342: Mosahebeh ba Mahnaz Afkhami (Women, State, and Society in Iran 1963-1978: An Interview with Mahnaz Afkhami). Bethesda, MD: Foundation for Iranian Studies. 
  8. ^ Hansen, Liane (August 23, 2009). "Executed But Not Forgotten: Iran's Farrokhroo Parsay". NPR. Retrieved April 22, 2010. 
  9. ^ Ahmadi Khorasani, Noushin (October 14, 2008). "The Fate of the Family Protection Law". The Feminist School. Retrieved April 22, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Special Meeting of Women Ministers of Culture: Keynote Speaker Biography". Special Meeting of Women Ministers of Culture - Reykjavik 2005. Retrieved 2010-04-22. 
  11. ^ Afkhami, Mahnaz (1994). Women In Exile. The University Press of Virginia. ISBN 978-0-8139-1543-2. 
  12. ^ "Destination America: Mahnaz Afkhami & Farah Ebrahimi: Iran". PBS. October 1, 2005. Retrieved April 23, 2010. 
  13. ^ "About The Sisterhood Is Global Institute". Sisterhood Is Global Institute. Retrieved 2010-04-22. 
  14. ^ "Women Leaders Intercultural Forum Addresses Global Security". Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative. October 26, 2006. Retrieved April 22, 2010. 
  15. ^ "The Global Women's Action Network for Children". Children's Defense Fund. Retrieved 2010-04-22. 
  16. ^ "Global Fund for Women - Consejeras". Global Fund for Women. Retrieved 2010-04-22. [dead link]
  17. ^ "Global Council - International Museum of Women". International Museum of Women. Retrieved 2010-04-22. 
  18. ^ "Human Rights Watch: Board of Directors". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2010-04-22. 
  19. ^ "Steering Committee World Movement for Democracy". World Movement for Democracy. Retrieved 2010-04-22. 
  20. ^ Latham, Judith (December 11, 2009). "Iranian Women Campaign to End Discriminatory Laws Against Them". VOA News. Retrieved April 23, 2010. 
  21. ^ Askary, Hooman (November 16, 2011). "Fighting for Women’s Rights: An Interview with Mahnaz Afkhami". Arseh sevom civil society NGO Website. Retrieved December 7, 2011. 

External links[edit]