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How death of maths genius Mirzakhani is breaking taboos for women in Iran

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How death of maths genius Mirzakhani is breaking taboos for women in Iran

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The death of world-renowned Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani is breaking taboos in her conservative homeland.

As tributes poured in for the professor, two developments have signalled a possible sea change in the position of women in Iranian society.

First, in reporting the 40-year-old’s death from cancer, Iran’s state-run newspapers broke the country’s strict rules on female clothing to print pictures of Mirzakhani without a hijab or anything covering her head.


The second could be longer-lasting: MPs are urging reform that address the country’s brain drain problem.

They want children with a mother from Iran and a foreign husband to be able to get Iranian nationality.

At present if it’s the other way round – an Iranian father and a foreign mother – the child is able to get citizenship.

The marriage of U.S.-based Mirzakhani to a Czech means her daughter cannot easily visit Iran or become one of its citizens.

It’s unclear whether Mirzakhani had wanted to return to Iran with her family, but she had applied for citizenship for her daughter.

The group of 60 MPs are using Mirzakhani’s case to argue for measures to tackle the emigration of the country’s best minds.

Iran is said to be one of the worst countries in the world for losing its best-educated people abroad.

Reza Faraji Dana – the country’s minister of science, research and technology – said in 2014: “Every year about 150,000 highly-talented people emigrate from Iran, equalling an annual loss of $150 billion (130 billion euros) to the economy.”

There are however signs this is changing. Iranians who are educated abroad, especially with business degrees, can earn better money at home.

“For years Iran has had a brain-drain problem. Now people holding a Western degree can get high-profile jobs and move up through the ranks (in Iran) at a much faster pace than anywhere else,” said Sarmad Afarinesh, an Austrian-educated Iranian whose Vienna-based company, Arhax Consulting, helps multinational firms enter Iran.