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By Nathan H. Madson, Esq.
As young men and women across the world get ready to go back to university, there will be substantially fewer Iranian women enrolled in university than in years past. With the highest ratio of female to male undergraduate students in the world, Iran has decided to restrict some major fields of study to men, a move many believe is meant to reduce the number of women in higher education.
The announcement that 77 majors will now be restricted to only men has prompted Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights attorney Shirin Ebadi to call for action by the United Nations. The only Iranian woman ever named a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Ebadi has asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to investigate a move that appears to have support from the Iranian Science and Higher Education Minister Kamran Daneshjoo.
Daneshjoo has repeated much of what the universities have said in explanation of the decision to deny women the opportunity to major in some fields: that is that female graduates rarely find work in these areas. Reflecting the need and desire of Iranian employers, universities that have seen upwards of 90 percent unemployment for female graduates will no longer admit women.
The majors denied to women include English literature and translation, forestry, mathematics, electrical and industrial engineering, archaeology, history, computer science, business management, mining, agricultural machinery, nuclear physics, and natural resources and petroleum-related subjects. The Oil Industry University has gone so far as to ban women outright.
Many universities have also banned men from nursing programs.
Ebadi says that the gains made by Iranian feminists will be upturned by this policy and that it is an attempt to drive the number of women in higher education under 50 percent. This could also force women back into homes and private spheres. Though some members of parliament have condemned the universities’ decisions, many of the clerics that play integral roles in Iranian society have expressed concerns about educating women, pointing to falling birth and marriage rates.
It remains to be seen whether the UN will take any actions in response to Iran’s genderist educational policies.
- The New York Times, “Universities in Iran Put Limits on Women’s Options,” Zakiyyah Wahab, Aug. 20, 2012
- The Telegraph, “Anger as Iran bans women from universities,” Robert Tait, Aug. 20, 2012
- Los Angeles Times, “Iranian universities shut female students out of dozens of fields,” Ramin Mostaghim and Emily Alpert, Aug. 20, 2012
Nathan H. Madson, Esq. is a blogger on legal affairs for Reuters.com