WASHINGTON - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who will be sworn in for a second term Sunday, is being pressured by women's advocacy groups to add female leaders to his all-male roster of ministers.
While officials close to the president have not explicitly explained the absence of women in Rouhani's Cabinet, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said in an interview with ILNA news agency that Rouhani's staff had not been able to come up with a list of qualified women.
Female activists have responded by campaigning to get women into top political positions.
On Thursday, a group of women gathered in Tehran to protest the lack of women ministers, capping a weeklong social media campaign to raise awareness.
The Rouhani government "claimed that women are not qualified enough to be a governor. It is not true," Azar Mansoori, an Iranian reformist politician, said, translated from Farsi.
"Shahindokht Molaverdi, vice president for women and family affairs in the outgoing Rouhani administration, did not reach any of these levels before being appointed to vice president position; however, her performance demonstrated that women can succeed in taking their responsibilities," Mansoori added.
Molavderi and Masoumeh Ebtekar, vice president and head of Environmental Protection Organization, were appointed in Rouhani's first term, but will not be reappointed in his second administration. Government spokesman Mohammad Bgher Nobakht said Molaverdi and other women have held senior positions even if there are no minister-level women.
"Women will still play a significant role. It's an injustice to women to think that they should only be used to fill ministerial roles," Nobakht said.
Fatemeh Rake'ei, head of the Muslim Women's Population, said Iranian women have a "sense of insult and oppression."
"In our country, there are many women who achieve great academic accomplishments," Rake'ei said, translated from Farsi. "They are ahead of many men in terms of political leadership and have performed well in many managerial opportunities."
Seyyed Mostafa Tajzadeh, an Iranian reformist politician and former deputy interior minister, said opponents of allowing women to become ministers cite lack of high-level experience.
"As a person who has experienced management at the highest levels of the country, and has not been an unsuccessful manager, I would like to tell you, yes, there is a risk. Which social evolution does not have a risk?" he said.
Fatemeh Sadeghi, one of the speakers at the Tehran panel, said it's not enough to just demand women be appointed as ministers. The government also must be prepared and willing to take away obstacles now in place that would limit a woman's ability to succeed in such a post, she said.
She also urged the activists to think bigger.
"I think we just need a woman president someday," she said,