Abbasgholizadeh, Mahboubeh (1958–)

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Abbasgholizadeh, Mahboubeh

Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh is an Iranian women's rights activist who has played an important role in Iran since the 1990s. She is an active member of the Stop Stoning to Death Campaign and the Iranian Women's Charter. She was the director of the Non-Governmental Organisation Training Centre (NGOTC) and the director of the Association of Women Writers and Journalists NGO. She was also the chief editor of Farzaneh Women's Studies Journal and the director of Entesharate Banoo (Banoo publication) and Entesharate Jamee Iranian (Iranian society publication). She has attended numerous international and national conferences, and she is a regular contributor to Sharg (East), the most popular opposition newspaper in Iran and Zanan (Women), the first independent journal after the Iranian Revolution that specifically dealt with women's issues.


Abbasgholizadeh was born in 1958 in Khoramshahr, in the south of Iran. She has a BA in Theology from Tehran University; a BA in Islamic Sciences from Islamic University in Tehran and an MSc in Communication Sciences from Allameh Tabatabaee University in Tehran. In 1980–81 she studied Arabic literature at AinShams University in Cairo, Egypt. She has also completed a number of short courses on human rights, women's studies and women and development. Her intellectual starting point was the dynamism of religion and modern ideas. For many years she concentrated on feminist readings of the Qur'an. As she commented in a recent interview with the author: "I came to the conclusion that in the context of gender equality, what is practiced is not equal to what is said in the Qur'an" (Rostami-Povey).

In the 1990s she was engaged with the reform movement associated with mohammad khatami's government. In this period, she moved away from gender and cultural activities to NGO activities focusing on economic development and feminist issues. As a journalist and as an editor, she also produced ten issues of Farzaneh Women's Studies Journal. As a publisher she translated and published a number of feminist books.


In the 1990s, the conservatives in control of the judiciary objected to the reform movement and closed down many newspapers, journals, and publications. Abbasgholizadeh established the Association of Women Writers and Journalists NGO. Her aim was to support unemployed female media workers by facilitating income-generating activities for them. She explained: "I did not give them money. I organised projects and exhibitions and suggested to them to work for these projects and exhibitions. I provided them with computers and cameras. Once they completed the projects and the exhibitions, they benefited intellectually and financially" (Rostami-Povey). Through her activities, she also raised the issue of women's right to work and the undemocratic nature of the closure of newspapers, journals, and publishing houses (Rostami-Povey 2004 and 2005).


Name: Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh

Birth: 1958, Khoramshahr, Iran

Family: Divorced; two daughters Maryam Ommi and Mahya Ommi

Nationality: Iranian

Education: B.A. Islamic University, Tehran; M.Sc. Allameh Tabatabaee University, Tehran; studied Arabic literature at Ainshams University, Cairo


  • 1993–2000: Editor in Chief, Farzaneh Women's Studies Journal
  • 1996–1998: Director of Banoo Publishing House
  • 1998–2002: Director of Jamee Iranian Publishing House
  • 1997–2004: Director of Association of Women Writers and Journalists Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)
  • 2002–present: Director of NGOTC
  • 2006–present: Founding member of Stop Stoning to Death Campaign and Women's Charter

The association was also closed down, and Abbasgholizadeh then established the NGOTC. In the NGO Training Centre she pursued capacity building and advocacy work in order to strengthen women's civil society organizations. In 2004 she became actively engaged with the "Beijing + 10" and was responsible for organizing women in the region and in Central Asia for this Bangkok conference reviewing the United Nations' plan for action regarding women's rights. She also attended the European Social Forum in London. In October 2004 the Iranian government imprisoned her for one month, making her more determined to promote feminist activities. In a recent interview with the author Abbasgholizadeh said:

I went to jail as an NGO activist. I came out as a feminist activist. I also had to review my position as a Muslim feminist. When I was insisting that I am a Muslim feminist, my interrogator kept saying that I am not. I came to the conclusion that whatever we try to argue for a different reading of Islam, the conservative Islamists will insist on their own discourse. I, therefore, decided to change my discourse and to become a secular feminist, to work with ordinary women and to try to challenge the unequal gender relations from below.

Prior to 8 March 2007, International Women's Day, she was arrested along with thirty-two other women's activists. They were released on bail awaiting trial and possibly several months of imprisonment. She has argued that her aim is not to change but to reform the system. She is an active member of the Campaign to Stop Stoning to Death and the Iranian Women's Charter. These activities are based on the website, meetings, and conferences. She feels that "solidarity work with other women's groups is the essence of women's rights activism: Only through solidarity with each other and work with ordinary women and men from below we can achieve our rights" (Rostami-Povey).


In a recent interview with the author, Abbasgholizadeh argued that "the world is a small place; women's activities globally and regionally can impact each other. Women in Iran and the region are at the centre of the wars, conflicts and the debate over Islam and the West. Through our struggle for women's rights and democracy we can end wars, conflicts and the dichotomisation of Islam and the West" (Rostami-Povey). When she was in jail in March 2007 Abbasgholizadeh and other imprisoned women activists received hundreds of thousands of sympathetic letters and emails from around the world. She said:

It is important that we make a difference in the modern world. I am optimistic and I feel that the changes in the future have roots in our activities today. One hundred years ago women in Iran fought to establish girls' schools. Today 64% of university students are women. I hope that our children could one day say that our parents went to jail for our gender equality and democracy. I feel that I am making a change for the future, which has legacy in our today's activities (Rostami-Povey).


Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh will certainly go down in history as a prominent Iranian women's rights activist.


Rostami-Povey, E. "Trade Unions and Women's NGOs in Iran." Development In Practice 14, 1-2 (2004): 254-266.

Rostami-Povey, E. "Trade Unions and Women's NGOs, Diverse Civil Society Organisations in Iran." In Development NGOs and Labour Unions, Terms of Engagement, edited by D. Eade and A. Leather, USA Kumarian Press, 2005.

                                    Elaheh Rostami Povey