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A woman in politics supports women’s groups

In towns like the port city of Bandar Lengeh in southern Iran, tradition infuses every aspect of daily life, and this means that the men are nearly always the breadwinners and women’s place is in the home.

Changing these attitudes takes time and tenacity, but thanks to people like Zahra Yaghobinezhad, who works at the Interior Ministry as a Women’s Affairs Specialist and advises the district governor, women are coming together to form cooperatives and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and to develop new skills and opportunities.

“The governor later appointed me as officer in charge of the local non-governmental organizations. I was supposed to be a people's representative but I also motivated them,” notes Zahra. “Now we have 13 active NGOs. We have computer training for 380 girls aged 19-29, free consultation classes for family planning, some sessions about culture and special programmes for women who are the head of a household. We have reached 10,000 women so far.”

In her job, she acts as a liaison between the government, local women and NGOs to support women’s groups and to facilitate their social and economic involvement.

Zahra’s groups received financial aid, telephone lines and water tanks from the governor’s office but she also invited some heads of the ministries of water, electricity and communications, as well as the local mayor, to support her programmes – and then convinced them to supply the organizations with electricity and water at a discount.

Two of the cooperatives’ goals are to give women the necessary skills to hold a job and to help create those jobs, such as a car service using women drivers and small sewing factories. But Zahra has bigger dreams: She hopes one day to be able to offer small loans to women who want to escape poverty by starting their own business. “When you want a loan, the banks say they need an official guarantor. Who would support a woman with a low income?”

Before coming to Bandar Lengeh with her husband and daughter, Zahra did similar work in another town. The idea of equality between men and women faced resistance from many of the men. Women who stand up for themselves and their children are sometimes ostracized by the traditional communities they live in.

“During my grandmother’s time, she was not even allowed to leave the house. My mother had a better time. And by the time I was a student, I could travel to different cities and volunteer as a researcher. Here, men didn’t believe in women,” she sighs. “We had to work on changing their views.”

“Women have so many capabilities that, given a chance, we can be very successful,” says Zahra. “I would like gender equality in all areas. If I were in a higher position in government, my message to other women in government would be to support women more and not to forget their own experiences with gender discrimination.”

Like Zahra, women in local politics tend to focus greater attention on issues related to women and children, hence the need to encourage more participation for women in political life. Read more about inequality in politics.