TEHRAN: Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, Iran's new health minister, is a respected gynaecologist and is blazing a trail for Iranian women by becoming the first female minister in the history of Islamic republic.
Dastjerdi, 50, managed to impress MPs with plans to expand the scope and range of health coverage, and was approved yesterday by 175 MPs out of 286 who voted.
Two other women nominated to the cabinet by recently re-elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad failed to make the grade, and more cynical observers have suggested Dastjerdi squeaked through as a token woman.
Tellingly, she is not a well-known public figure, but she has a reputation as an excellent gynaecologist. Dastjerdi, who is married, was born in Tehran to a family from the central province of Isfahan and studied medicine at Tehran University. Though she served two terms in parliament as a representative for Tehran in the 1990s, she has never held an executive office in government.
However, she does have a background in medical administration. She has run Tehran's Arash hospital, which specialises in women's diseases and obstetrics, since 2004.
Dastjerdi is known to be politically on the conservative side, but has taken a strong stand in favour of women in society.
"I think today women reached their long-standing dream of having a woman in the cabinet to pursue their demands," she said after the vote.
"This is an important step for women and I hold my head high."
Conservative clerics objected to women being nominated but MPs insisted their vetting would not be affected by gender and they would focus instead on competence for the job.
"Women must have a greater role in the country's affairs," Dastjerdi told MPs, noting that half of health ministry employees were women, while there are 1.6 million female students in the country. "Also when there are women and men working together, miracles take place," she said.