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Farmaian, Sattareh Farman

Abstract and Keywords

Sattareh Farman Farmaian (1921–2012) founded the Tehran School of Social Work in Iran.

Keywords: Sattareh Farman Farmaian, social change, social development, public welfare, social work education, Iran, Islam

Sattareh Farman Farmaian founded the Tehran School of Social Work in Iran. Her journey, which led to this important historical milestone in Iran, began with her earliest interest in the world and helping others. The daughter of a large and powerful Iranian family, Farman Farmaian sought the opportunity for an education. She persuaded her family to allow her journey to the United States where she began a degree in sociology (BA) and then social work (MSW) at the University of Southern California (USC). One of her first acts of courage was the travel itself; the journey took four months and was complicated by the dangers of traveling during World War II. The first Iranian to study at USC, Farman Farmaian was challenged by her studies and upon entering her MSW program, she said that she felt that she had found “the weapon … needed to fight Iran’s human miseries” (Farman Farmaian with Munker, 1992, p. 167). Her personal mission was to begin social work as a profession in Iran and she sought every opportunity possible to learn about social planning to include social program and policy development. Upon graduation, in 1948, she first worked in a settlement house for immigrants to the United States, and by 1954 she undertook work for the United Nations as an expert on the Middle East. She was posted to Baghdad, Iraq (1954–1958), where she was a social welfare consultant to the government and she assisted with helping the nomadic tribal peoples. She then returned to Iran and founded the Tehran School of Social Work in 1958; she went on to serve as the director for 20 years. Farman Farmaian also founded the Family Planning Association of Iran and the Community Welfare Centers of Iran, where she served as executive director. She also held a faculty appointment in social sciences and research at Tehran University. Her international involvement included membership in the International Association of Schools of Social Work as well as vice presidency of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

Farman Farmaian’s passion for social work was such that she was a charismatic leader. Many of her earliest students noted that Farman Farmaian’s energy and enthusiasm for establishing the profession was such that they attended early meetings with little understanding of the major ideas. However, in time, they became a part of Farman Farmaian’s team to study the discipline and undertake research on social problems. Farman Farmaian established a research program in which the students were engaged in community-based research on a variety of social problems to include family planning and other women’s issues. Today Farman Farmaian is credited with establishing a national approach to family planning in Iran; before her work there was no social planning to address birth rates or maternal and child health. She also influenced social policy, aiding in drafting legislation such as that which established the legal age of marriage. Further, she was committed to the most vulnerable people, including providing services to those living in slums and women working in prostitution, among other initiatives.

Modeling what was possible, more and more students enrolled in social work education and today this early work is considered to be the beginnings of a social welfare strategy in Iran. Farman Farmaian had excellent political and persuasion skills and she approached those in power, including engaging the mayor of Tehran about her vision. In time, the government began to rely on Farman Farmaian and the school of social work to carry out research and initiate social programs. This work is now recognized to be the earliest beginnings of the ministry of social welfare. This level of influence was not without controversy and in 1979—after 20 years of directorship of the school of social work—Farman Farmaian was arrested as a result of social changes related to the Islamic Revolution. The legal charges were based on resisting the revolution, and while these allegations were ultimately found to be false, Farman Farmaian was warned that her life was at risk and she fled Iran for safety in 1979. Her progressive views and influence on social reforms threatened the clerics who sought to silence leaders like Farman Farmaian. She sought safety in the United States where she worked in child protection for the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services for over a decade.

Reflecting on her life in a book entitled Daughter of Persia: A Woman’s Journey from Her Father’s Harem through the Islamic Revolution, Farman Farmaian traced her personal values to both her family life and Islam. Her passion for the work of social change was fueled by her vision and outstanding leadership skills including strong communication, ability to pull together teams, commitment to diversity and inclusivity, and a sheer determination to make a difference in Iran.

Further Reading

Saleh, M. F. (2008). Sattareh Farman Farmaian: Iranian social work pioneer. Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work, 23(4), 397–402.Find this resource:

    Farmaian, S. Farman, with Munker, D. (1992). Daughter of Persia: A woman’s journey from her father’s harem through the Islamic Revolution. New York: Crown.Find this resource:

      Farman Farmaian, S. (2007). Broadening Muslim tradition: Bringing family planning to Iran. In L. J. Suttenfield, P. E. Colins, & D. E. Pellegrom (Eds.), Courageous pioneers: Celebrating 50 years of Pathfinder International and 80 years of pioneering work in family planning and reproductive health around the world (pp. 27–31). Watertown, MA: Pathfinder International.Find this resource: