Farokhroo Parsa (1922-1980 AD) was Iran’s first female cabinet minister and an outspoken supporter of women’s rights in Iran. A physician and educator, she served as Minister of Education of Iran prior to the Islamic revolution.
Farokhroo Parsa was born to a mother who was also a vocal proponent of gender equality and educational opportunities for women. In fact, the progressive views of her mother, Fakhr-e Afagh, who was the editor of a woman’s magazine called The World of Women, were met with opposition from conservative forces within the society, leading to the expulsion of her family by the government. Later with the intervention of Prime Minister Mostofi ol-Mamalek, her family was allowed to return to Tehran.
Upon obtaining a medical degree, Parsa became a biology teacher at Jeanne d’Arc high school, where she came to know Farah Diba, one of her students, who later on would marry Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.
In 1963, she was elected to the parliament and began to petition for suffrage for Iran’s women. She was also the driving force behind the legislation that amended existing laws concerning women and family. In 1968, she became Minister of Education in the cabinet of Amir-Abbas Hoveyda’s government. It was the first time in history of Iran that a woman had occupied a cabinet position.
When the Islamic revolution occurred, Farrokhroo Parsa who had been out of the office for eight years, was arrested and charged with corruption and prostitution. According to Ms. Afkhanmi, Ayatollah Khomeini viewed all political participation by women as tantamount to prostitution.
Farokhroo Parsa was executed by firing squad on 8 May 1980 in Tehran. In her last letter from prison, she 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 veil and step back in history.”