Born in Kerman, Iran, Mahnaz Afkhami is a feminist, activist, and writer. She is the Founder and President of the Women’s Learning Partnership, Executive Director of the Foundation for Iranian Studies, and former Minister for Women’s Affairs in Iran. She founded the Association of Iranian University Women and served as Secretary General of the Women’s Organization of Iran, prior to the Iranian Revolution.
Afkhami has been a leading advocate for women’s rights for more than four decades. As Minister for Women’s Affairs, Afkhami played a key role in the passage of the progressive 1975 Family Law in Iran, which dramatically increased women’s rights in marriage, child-rearing, and divorce. She also helped create and mobilize support for the establishment of the United Nations Asian and Pacific Centre for Women and Development (APCWD) and the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW). Living in exile in the United States after the revolution and disheartened by the loss of personal documents and archives of the women’s movement in Iran, Afkhami took it upon herself to chronicle women’s accomplishments and feminist milestones from around the world, and to champion women’s oral history projects for historians and future women’s rights activists.
Formerly, Afkhami was President of the Sisterhood is Global Institute and has co-founded and headed several international non-governmental organizations focused on advocating for women’s rights, including: Women Leaders Intercultural Forum (with Mary Robinson, Lisa Anderson, and Thoraya Obaid); Gender at Work (with Kumi Naidoo, Aruna Rao, Joanne Sandler, and Joanna Kerr); and Global Women’s Action Network for Children (with Madeleine Albright, Melanne Verveer, Marian Wright Edelman, and Pat Mitchell).
Afkhami has received a number of awards, most notably the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans; the 2019 International Trailblazer Award from Georgetown University Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) “Celebrating Iranian Women”; the Shirzan Award for Lifetime Achievement, for her four decades of visionary, global work in the civil society sector to advance women’s human rights and agency; the Walk of Courage Award, from the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services; the Democracy Courage Tribute, on behalf of the Iranian Women’s Movement; the Human Rights Award from Encyclopedia Iranica; and the Trust Women Hero Award (shortlisted from 400 nominees, representing 78 countries). Afkhami was also one of the world peacemakers featured in Michael Collopy’s Architects of Peace.
Afkhami currently serves on the boards and steering committees of several organizations, including the Freer/Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian Institution, International Women’s Democracy Network, the Advisory Committee on Women, and the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. Formerly, she served on the Advisory Board of Global Fund for Women; on the Steering Committee of Women Waging Peace Initiatives, of the Women and Public Policy Program of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government; and as Chair of the Global Council of the International Museum of Women.
Afkhami’s publications have been translated into over a dozen languages and include: Feminist Advocacy, Family Law, and Violence Against Women: International Perspectives (2018); Beyond Equality: A Manual for Human Rights Defenders (2015); Victories Over Violence: Ensuring Safety for Women and Girls (2011); Leading to Choices: A Leadership Training Handbook for Women (2001); Claiming Our Rights: A Manual for Women’s Human Rights Education in Muslim Societies (1999); Faith and Freedom: Women’s Human Rights in the Muslim World (1995); Women in Exile (1994); and In the Eye of the Storm: Women in Post-revolutionary Iran (1994).
Afkhami has also contributed to numerous documentaries produced under the auspices of Women’s Learning Partnership, including Equality: It’s All in the Family (2017); Human Rights: The Unfinished Journey (2015);Because Our Cause Is Just (2013); From Fear to Freedom: Ending Violence Against Women (2012); Against All Odds: Women Partnering for Change in a Time of Crisis (2006); Cultural Boundaries and Cyber Spaces: Women’s Voices on Empowerment, Leadership, & Technology (2000).
Afkhami has been featured on the BBC, CNN, PBS, NPR, and other national and international TV and radio outlets. She is a sought-after speaker on human rights issues and has presented at the Roosevelt Institute, Council on Foreign Relations, Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women Conference, and Women Deliver, as well as at international human rights conferences and academic institutions around the world.
Afkhami resides in Maryland, US, with her husband, Dr. Gholam Reza Afkhami.