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Entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist, before her examination at a Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City, outside Moscow, 24 August 2006. (MAXIM MARMUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Inspiring leaders

Five Iranian women visionaries you need to know

By Alli Maloney on March 8, 2016

In Iran, patriarchal systems in place keep women at a disadvantage.  Women hold less power in public—preventing them from watching sports in stadiums, for example — and also in their private lives, where unequal laws are in place to subdue women in affairs of marriage, child custody, divorce, inheritance, speech, and control of their bodies. Iran’s married women are disallowed from leaving the country without their husband’s permission, unmarried girls are controlled by family. It’s unjust but in the face of adversity, Iran’s women have proven powerful and pushed back, some leaving their home country to pursue their dreams. This International Women’s Day we’re celebrating the achievements of five women who’ve excelled in the face of limitations imposed on them, making more room for women in the world to follow in their footsteps.

The rock star-geneticist

Dr. Pardis Sabeti is a computational geneticist who graduated from Harvard Medical School, who doubles as the lead singer and co-lyricist of the alternative rock band Thousand Days. Her lab at Harvard, with close ties to the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, focuses on infectious disease research and is named after the brilliant Tehran-born 41-year-old, a Rhodes Scholar who has won Smithsonian’s Ingenuity Award. Her CV is stacked with work published in top journals and includes her rock credentials, proving science and soul can go hand in hand.

Pardis Sabeti
Pardis Sabeti

The space explorer  

Anousheh Ansari is considered the first female private space explorer and first space ambassador, earning a place in history as the fourth private explorer to visit space and the first astronaut of Iranian descent. She emigrated to the United States as a teenager and made her way to the top universities, helping to found a number of successful IT companies before setting her sights on the stars. Last year, Women in the World wrote about the serial entrepreneur’s bold initiative to connect families in rural India to the web by way of cell phones.

Arkalyk, KAZAKHSTAN: The world's first female space tourist Anousheh Ansari (R) looks at her husband Hamid, after the landing of the Russian "Soyuz TMA-8" space capsule not far from Kazakh town of Arkalyk (some 300 kms from Kazakh capital of Astana), 29 September 2006. The capsule carrying Iranian-born American national Anousheh Ansari, Pavel Vinogradov of Russia and US astronaut Jeffrey Williams touched down softly at 0114 GMT near Arkalyk, Russian news agencies quoted the Russian space flight control centre as saying. AFP PHOTO/ ALEXANDER NEMENOV. (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)
The world’s first female space tourist Anousheh Ansari (R) greets her husband Hamid, after the landing of the Russian “Soyuz TMA-8” space capsule, 29 September 2006. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

The New Age chanteuse 

Sussan Deyhim was at part of Iran’s national ballet company starting at age 13. She travelled to join the Bejart Ballet in Europe in 1976, where she was trained in music, theater, and dance. Now also an activist, composer and performance artist, she has been in the United States since 1980 and has been named “one of Iran’s most potent voices in exile” by the Los Angeles Times. Deyhim has collaborated with dozens of artists — from The Blue Man Group to Jerry Garcia — and her vocals can be heard on numerous soundtracks, including the Oscar-nominated movies Argo, The Kite Runner and Any Given Sunday.


The visionary feminist  

Historian Dr. Nina Ansary has written extensively about women’s rights in Iran. Her bestselling book, Jewels of Allah: The Untold Story of Women in Iran, made Ansary one of the first to highlight the untold accomplishments of Iranian women and tell a story of a “global sisterhood” of women who have achieved great things amid a domestic culture of significant oppression (with 100 percent of the proceeds to charities that support Iranian women).

Nina Ansary
Nina Ansary

The Internet watchdog 

As head of security at Google Chrome, Parisa Tabriz — Google’s self-proclaimed “Security Princess” — protects the tech giant from cyber criminals in a booming industry in which women are vastly underrepresented. She’s worked at the U.S. Digital Service to enhance software security at the White House and considers herself a “jac(queline) of all trades,” with hobbies that include photography, baking, and rock climbing. The 33-year-old, who didn’t touch a computer until college, made Forbes’ “Top 30 People Under 30 To Watch in the Technology Industry” list in 2012.


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