During an international volleyball tournament in Iran in 2014, Fatemeh Alia, a member of the country’s current parliament, caused an uproar when she supported banning women from watching the games live, saying that a woman’s primary duty was to “stay at home” to serve her husband and children.
As results of Iran’s first round of parliamentary election emerged, it appeared the conservative MP’s words had come back to haunt her, as she was voted out of office.
In contrast, eight female reformists prevailed, all coming from the same Tehran district as Alia. That includes a 30-year-old MBA graduate, Fatemeh Hosseini, who campaigned on an economic reform platform.
According to official results reported on Thursday, 14 female candidates, all reformists, won seats across the country, five more than the current nine members.
In addition, seven are headed for a runoff in April, potentially bringing the number of female MPs to 21 – in what could be the largest female delegation in the history of Iran’s parliament, including the pre-1979 revolution assembly.
While the number of women represents only a tiny fraction of the 290-member parliament, analysts said the increase represents progress, even if it did not hit the 30-percent benchmark envisioned by women’s rights groups prior to this year’s election.
“The most important thing is there are women,” Fateme Karimkhan, a Tehran-based journalist with news agency ISNA, told Al Jazeera.
“It could be a chance for women to have their own voice in parliament.”
Overall, reformists increased their number in parliament winning all 30 contested seats in the capital. However, they failed to achieve an outright majority, with conservatives winning outside of Tehran. About 64 seats are being contested in the second round.
Of Iran’s estimated 81.8 million population, 49 percent are women. But in the recent polls, only 586 of the 6,229 parliament candidates, or 9.4 percent, were women.
In the parallel Assembly of Experts election, all female candidates were disqualified, including a top Islamic law expert and educator from Qom, Zohreh Sefati. The 88-member council of clerics is empowered with choosing the nation’s supreme leader in the event of a vacancy.