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Iranian press mourns eminent female mathematician

July 17, 2017

TEHRAN: Iranian media have hailed trailblazing Iran-born mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani following her death from cancer, with her image blazoned across newspaper front pages on Sunday.

In some cases newspapers even broke with tradition and portrayed Mirzakhani without her hair covered by a hijab — mandatory for women in public since the Islamic republic’s 1979 revolution.

Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the coveted Fields Medal, died aged 40 on Saturday in a US hospital after the breast cancer she had been battling for four years spread to her bone marrow. Mirzakhani was born and studied in Iran before leaving to pursue her career in the US.

When she won the Fields Medal in 2014, newspapers used every means possible to avoid showing her hair, including publishing old images of her in Iran with covered hair or drawing her picture with an improvised head scarf.

Some criticised the move then and on Sunday many chose to publish Mirzakhani’s picture without a hijab — perhaps easier to justify for authorities after her death.

Hamshahri, a centrist newspaper owned by the municipality of Tehran, and reformist economic daily Donyaye Eghtesad both used full-blown portraits of her without a hijab. “The Queen of Mathematics’ Eternal Departure,” Donyaye Eghtesad’s headline read.

The reformist Shargh daily published a photo of her wearing a hat — under the headline “The Queen of Numbers Land” — while some others used designs and photo editing to fade her signature short hair into a black backdrop.

Writing in Shargh about Mirzakhani, reformist figure Azar Mansouri urged Rouhani to pick female ministers to his new cabinet which will be formed in the coming weeks, following his re-election in May. Rouhani currently has three female deputies but no woman ministers.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2017