(CNN) -- When she officially accepted her appointment as spokesperson for Iran's foreign minister Sunday, Marzieh Afkham wore a chador.
To feminist critics of the Islamic government, the black head-to-toe cloak, leaving only the face visible, is a symbol of women's second-class status in Iran. But the most surprising symbol Sunday was Afkham herself, the first female diplomat appointed to such a visible position.
Since his election in June, President Hassan Rouhani has urged officials to appoint women to high-ranking posts. During Sunday's ceremony introducing Afkham, Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif quoted a line by Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri, "We need to wash our eyes and see differently."
Afkham, 48, is a career diplomat described by her predecessor, Abbas Araqhchi, as "seasoned and experienced."
Women have held high-ranking posts in the Iranian parliament and a few ministries, such as health. And a woman, Elham Aminzadeh, now is vice president for parliamentary affairs.
But Iran scholar Farideh Farhi said Afkham's visibility at weekly press conferences will be an important first for women in the government.
Afkham "will be closely watched by many inside Iran and around the world," said Farhi, an adjunct professor at the University of Hawaii at Manao who also has taught at the University of Tehran.
"This is an extremely bold move by Foreign Minister Zarif to appoint a woman to such high-ranking and politically visible post," Farhi said.
At her first meeting with reporters Sunday, she warned of any "adventurous" military action against Syria. She did not mention the United States.