A soldier, war photographer, and an Olympian are some of the women gracing public billboards in Iran’s capital Tehran in a rare move in the conservative country.

The billboards showcase the achievements of ground-breaking Iranian women, including the late mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani who in 2014 became the first woman to win the Fields Medal – the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for mathematics. She died in 2017 aged 40.

The campaign comes after a pro-reform party politician was elected the city’s mayor in 2017. It contrasts with street posters produced under the previous, conservative administration that minimised women’s roles to household duties.

Social media users welcomed the unusual move but some suggested the billboards are meaningless without concrete action to improve women’s rights.

Last week an Iranian woman who publicly removed her headscarf to protest the mandatory hijab law was sentenced to two years in prison.

Who are the women?

The women chosen to appear on the billboards include intellectuals, artists, athletes and scientists. Some are not wearing traditional Islamic dress while others have their hair fully-covered with black veils. Some of the women in the campaign are:

  • The first female Iranian Olympic medallist, Kimia Zonoozi, who won a bronze medal in the taekwondo 57kg class in the 2016 Summer Olympic games.
  • Shahla Riahi, who is the first woman director in Iran and has also starred in films before her retirement.
  • Iran’s first woman war photographer, Maryam Kazemzadeh, who captured the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
  • Marzieh Hadid Chi, the first woman commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps – a branch of the Iranian army. A woman’s rights activist, she later became an MP.
  • The first recognised female Islamic scholar, or mujtahid, in modern Iran, Nosrat Amin.

  • Alenush Terian, a physicist known as the mother of modern Iranian astronomy. She died in 2011.

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