Farrokhroo Parsa was an Iranian physician, educator and parliamentarian. She served as Minister of Education of Iran during the Pahlavi Dynasty and was the first female cabinet minister of an Iranian government.
Parsa was born in 1922 in Qom, Iran. Her mother, Fakhr’e Afagh Parsa was the editor of the women’s magazine, Jahan’e Zan (The World of Women) and an outspoken proponent for gender equality and education for women. Her views had led to the family being exiled by the government of Ahmad Qavām from Tehran to Qom and put under house arrest. The family were later allowed to return to Tehran following the intervention of Prime Minister Hasan Mostowfi ol-Mamalek.
Parsa was encouraged in her education, and earned a medical degree from Tehran University. She used this to become a biology teacher at the Jeanne d’Arc high school in Tehran. Parsa rose to become the school’s principal, and would visit and teach women in prisons after school hours. Her work in education led to her being elected to the Majlis (parliament) in 1963, where she petitioned King Mohammad Reza Pahlavi for suffrage for Iran’s women. Parsa also drove legislation to amend existing laws concerning women and family. Two years later, Parsa was appointed Deputy Minister of Education and in 1968 she became Minister of Education in Amir-Abbas Hoveyda government. It was the first time in Iran’s history that a woman was appointed to a cabinet position.
Following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, many of the rights that Parsa and others had fought so hard for were abolished and any laws that breached sharia law were revoked. The hijab became mandatory in public spaces, divorced fathers were automatically awarded custody of older children and women were banned from being appointed as judges. Parsa and many others took part in protests against these changes.
“The women who participated in the revolution, and they did in large numbers, many of them were actually pushing for more rights, they were pushing for more freedoms, pushing for more equality.”
Parsa was arrested and prosecuted in the Revolutionary Court headed by Ayatollah Khalkhali. She was accused of a number of charges, including encouraging Iranian female athletes to wear shorts. From prison, Parsa wrote to her children “I am a doctor, so I have no fear of death. Death is only a moment and no more. I am prepared to receive death with open arms rather than live in shame by being forced to be veiled. I am not going to bow to those who expect me to express regret for fifty years of my efforts for equality between men and women. I am not prepared to wear the chador and step back in history.” Ayatollah Khalkhali believed that all political participation by women was “tantamount to prostitution,” for which Parsa was eventually charged. On the 8th of May, 1980 she was executed by firing squad.