Taraneh Salke is a public health professional and cultural anthropologist who received her Master’s degree in Public Health and Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from UCLA. She began her career in women’s health in the 1990s, when she started her anthropological studies among a Kurdish nomadic tribe living in the mountains of the Kurdistan region of Iran.
After receiving permission from the community elders, she set out to live among this remote and marginalized community of sheepherders to assess women’s access to health care.
Soon, she was surprised to learn that the women used various types of modern contraceptives.Their access to family planning methods and services was provided through visiting health workers who navigated the difficult terrain, and through a basic village health house.
Building on what she had observed in the mountains, Taraneh studied the factors and strategies that led to Iran's successful family planning programs and subsequent reduction in maternal mortality rates, in particular in rural areas. Taraneh learned that through its family planning programs, Iran achieved a dramatic decline in women’s fertility and an impressive increase in the use of modern contraceptives that is on par with the US. She uncovered critical insights into this success through her interviews with policy makers, practitioners, local health providers and visiting women in urban slums and villages. Taraneh has presented extensively on what we can learn from Iran’s strategies to expand family planning, and how we can apply this knowledge in other countries.
Armed with these practical strategies, Taraneh decided to test how applicable her knowledge would work in another male-dominant area in the Middle East. Shortly after the fall of the Taliban, she began her work in Afghanistan as a consultant for US-based NGOs, advising them on strategies to increase women's access to family planning. In 2005, concerned about the lack of cultural understanding and the influence of Western thinking and models in Afghan women's development programs, she founded Think Responsive, formerly known as Family Health Alliance (FHA). Think Responsive is a non-profit organization that develops and implements culturally appropriate programs in resource poor environments, particularly male-dominant societies.
The success of Taraneh’s male training program in Think Responsive led her to produce the award-winning documentary “Where Are The Men?” which depicts women’s health and status, and the critical role men can play in the advancement of women in Afghanistan. The film made the international community aware of opportunities that they have missed to advance women’s development in this male-dominated society. Further, it was the impetus that garnered financial support from the UNFPA to continue the program. The documentary is currently screened at universities, women’s organizations, film festivals and churches nationwide.
Taraneh’s deep understanding and expertise in the factors and strategies that contribute to the success of maternal health care and family planning programs was further enhanced through her participation in an official delegation of the American Public Health Association to Cuba in 2010. The goal of this delegation was to observe and report on Cuba’s public health system. In this capacity, Taraneh headed a committee to research and publish on the success of maternity care in Cuba. The committee has reported and published on their insights, as well as lessons learned about Cuba’s model of community-based regional maternity homes and how it significantly lowered its infant and maternal mortality rates. Taraneh has presented on the factors that have led to Cuba’s public health successes and lessons learned, highlighting that these achievements were reached at a fraction of the US’ expenditure on health services.
In 2013, Taraneh received the “Women of The World Awards” sponsored by 50/50 Leadership and the United Nations Association. The award recognizes "women who are impacting lives throughout the world." Taraneh’s work and extensive experience at the grassroots level has made her a valuable resource in educating and informing the public and policy makers on issues related to women’s advancement and development in the Middle East and other male-dominated societies. She lectures regularly at several universities about the importance of culturally sensitive global development programs and her experience in the field.