TEHRAN (AFP) — Fatemeh Karroubi is campaigning tirelessly for her husband ahead of Iran's presidential vote. A win for him, she says, would also be a victory for all Iranian women.
Her reformist husband, Mehdi Karroubi, is one of three challengers to incumbent conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June 12 election.
Karroubi is convinced her husband is the one best placed to restore the rights of women in the conservative Islamic republic.
"Women's rights are widely being breached," the 63-year-old former deputy minister for social affairs in ex-president Mohammad Khatami's government told AFP in an interview.
She is particularly upset that Iran's powerful constitutional watchdog, the Guardians Council, did not clear a single woman candidate to contest the election.
"One of my objections is that they did not qualify even one woman," she said in an interview in her office in central Tehran.
The council, which vets all candidates, approved only four male candidates from a list of 476 men and women who had registered for the vote.
The situation in which women are allowed to register but then automatically disqualified by the council is "ambiguous" and needs to be changed, she stressed.
Karroubi is seen openly campaigning for her husband, something of a rarity in the Islamic republic.
In similar fashion, Zahra Rahnavard, the high-profile wife of another candidate ex-premier Mir Hossein Mousavi, is also regularly seen out on the campaign trail speaking on her own husband's behalf.
Karroubi said she is also upset that women face "unequal status" when it comes to employment opportunities in the Islamic republic.
"They think only men are the bread winners and hence they don't hire women in senior positions," said the bespectacled activist, dressed in a black chador with a colourful headscarf.
Her husband, in a separate interview with AFP earlier this month, indicated that improving women's rights would be among reforms he planned to introduce should he win the poll.
High on the list, he said, would be the withdrawal from the streets of the feared moral police patrols, which enforce strict Islamic dress code on Iranian women.
An advisor to her husband on social affairs when he was the speaker of the Iranian parliament between 2000 to 2004, Karroubi has far more in common with her cleric husband than their surname.
Husband and wife both share a passion for politics and on several occasions have been seen campaigning together.
"I give speeches and do as much as I can to support him. We think about victory. We want the current situation to change," said Karroubi, who is heading her husband's Tehran provincial campaign.
Iran's deteriorating economic situation also does not escape Karroubi's wide-ranging attack on the policies of Ahmadinejad.
"We have a very rocky economic situation... there is a lack of economic, political, individual and social security," she lamented.
Karroubi has played a significant role in building and managing dozens of hospitals and clinics run by the Martyr Foundation, an organisation dealing with the needs of families who lost members in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
She also publishes the women's magazine "Irandokht" (Daughter of Iran) and heads a women's group.
Her marriage was a not uncommon tie-up between a traditional mercantile and a clerical family.
She met and married her husband in their hometown of Aligoudarz in the western Lorestan province when she was only 14.
"It was strange for me to get married into a clerical family. I honestly didn't know him well. But I was a lucky girl as he was always there for me," she said, smiling.
As a young bride, Karroubi had to endure the hardships of her husband's political life, which saw him jailed in the 1970s during the time of the shah.
"(He) was taken to jail several times. He saw our second son Taghi for the first time in Tehran's Qasr prison when he was already six months old," she said.
Taghi is now one of his father's campaign managers.
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