She grew up in a privileged family in Iran, part of the establishment, with a father involved in academe and politics. The family moved to Paris in the late 1940s, where her father represented the government. Until she was fourteen, she had a nanny who bathed and dressed her; at that point she read Jane Eyre and began to realise her privilege and how dependent on others she was. She persuaded her parents to allow her to go to England, where she attended a boarding school in Solihull, initially speaking no English.
Whilst at college in Brighton Haleh won tickets to see The Beatles in a game of poker and even rode pillion on the motorcycle of Ranulph Fiennes.
As an undergraduate at York she learned to cook (crediting "the sainted Delia"). She had an agreement with her father that she would not have to marry while she was still studying, so she applied herself to her studies, completing a PhD degree from the New Hall, Cambridge. She worked as a journalist before and after her first degree. She returned to Iran in her late 20s, where she worked as a civil servant in the field of land reform, and also as a journalist and gossip columnist.
In the end she married a New Zealander (the academic, Maurice Dodson) who would accept what she anticipated to be an international career. She initially thought motherhood was not for her, considering it to be "de-skilling" and incredibly difficult in Britain, where the system did not allow a woman to be both a mother and a worker. She was seven months pregnant before she realised her condition, but now considers her two children to be "the best things I ever did in my life". She is a grandmother.
Afshar is the third generation of women not to veil; her maternal grandmother rejected the hijab. Her family wanted to extend possibilities for women, and Haleh Afshar was one of the first cohort of Iranian women to vote, feeling she was fulfilling her mother's wishes. Many of the people she grew up with were killed in the Iranian Revolution. She thinks it would be unwise to return to her homeland, having criticised Ayatollah Khomeni's stance on women, saying it was unIslamic, and has been threatened because of this.
Haleh Afshar is a professor in politics and women's studies at the University of York, England and a visiting professor of Islamic law at the Faculté Internationale de Droit Comparé (International Faculty of Comparative Law) at Robert Schuman University in Strasbourg, France. Afshar serves on several bodies, notably the British Council and the United Nations Association, of which she is Honorary President of International Services. She was appointed to the board of the Women's National Commission in September 2008. She has served as the Chair for the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES). Afshar is a founding member of the Muslims Women's Network. She has served on the Home Office's working groups, on "engaging with women" and "preventing extremism together".
She was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 2005 Birthday Honours. for services to equal opportunities. On 18 October 2007 it was announced that she would be made a baroness and join the House of Lords as a cross-bench life peer. She was formally introduced into the House of Lords on 11 December 2007, as Baroness Afshar, of Heslington in the County of North Yorkshire.
In March 2009, she was named as one of the twenty most successful Muslim women in the UK on the Muslim Women Power List 2009. The list was a collaboration between the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Emel Magazine and The Times, to celebrate the achievements of Muslim women in the UK.
In April 2009, she was appointed an Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences.
In 2011, she received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Essex.
In January 2013, Afshar was nominated for the Services to Education award at the British Muslim Awards.
Haleh Afshar has written extensively on Iran and Iranian politics both for academia and the media in Europe, the United States, the Middle East and South East Asia. Her books include Islam and Feminisms: An Iranian Case Study (Macmillan, 1998), and Islam and the Post Revolutionary State in Iran (Macmillan, 1994). She has also edited thirteen books on women and development.Women, Work and Ideology in the Third World. 1985.
Iran, a Revolution in Turmoil: A Revolution in Turmoil. 1985.
Women, State, and Ideology: Studies from Africa and Asia. 1987.
Women, Poverty and Ideology in Asia: Contradictory Pressures, Uneasy Resolutions. 1989. (Co-Autorin: Bina Agarwal)
Women, Development, and Survival in the Third World. 1991.
Women in the Middle East: Perceptions, Realities, and Struggles for Liberation. 1993.
The dynamics of "race" and gender: some feminist interventions. 1994
Women and Politics in the Third World. 1996.
Women and Empowerment: Illustrations from the Third World. 1998.
Islam and Feminisms: An Iranian Case-Study. 1998.
Women, Globalization and Fragmentation in the Developing World. 1999.
Ms Haleh Afshar (1944–1974)
Dr Haleh Afshar (1974–?)
Professor Haleh Afshar (?–2005)
Professor Haleh Afshar OBE (2005–2007)
The Rt. Hon. Professor The Baroness Afshar OBE (2007–)