Iran’s U-Turn On Education: Universities Ban Women From Degree Courses

Iran shows fear of women getting ahead by simply barring them from being educated.

Last week we asked, is Saudi Arabia’s policy of segregating women designed to help or hinder their economic independence? Tricky to answer – but in Iran, things are a little more clear-cut. Its government has just announced that 36 of the country’s universities will be barring women from enrolling on a total of 77 BA and BSc degrees for at least the next year.

Why? Two reasons are offered: firstly, a lack of demand for women employees in the jobs these courses work towards…and secondly, quoting a senior Iranian education official:

Some fields are not very suitable for women’s nature.

– Abolfazl Hasani, as quoted at Rooz.

In other words – women aren’t wanted in these professions, even if they were capable of excelling in them, which allegedly they aren’t.

Time to quote some damning statistics.

  • Women account for nearly 60% of University students in Iran. (New York Times).
  • In 2011, women outnumbered men 3 to 2 in successfully passing university entrance exams. (Telegraph)
  • In 2009, just 15% of the Iranian workforce (3.5 million) were women, as compared to the global average of 45%. (Payvand News Of Iran)
  • In the same year, less than 4% of employed women were in senior, executive or managerial positions. (Payvand News Of Iran)
  • Iran’s University of Isfahan justified barring women from taking its mining engineering degree by stating that 98% of the course’s female graduates ended up unemployed. (Telegraph)

In a way, it’s a neat argument: the education system is barring women to avoid wasting money teaching them professions they will find it difficult to find employment in. Why would they find it so difficult? Because of endemic sexual discrimination.

It’s also easy to construct an argument for this being a panicked reaction to the development of the women’s rights movement in Iran, as follows: under Iranian law, women need the permission of their husbands to work. This means that a career-minded woman would either be choosier with their choice of husband, or refuse to seek one altogether – just the kind of erosion of a traditionalist way of life that a high-ranking theocrat would be afraid of.

To Iranian Nobel laureate and human rights campaigner Shirin Ebadi, it stinks of repression – and she’s demanding the United Nations launches an investigation:

The aim [of single-sex degree courses] is that women will give up their opposition and demands for their own rights.

  – Shirin Ebadi, as quoted in the Telegraph.

 A year ago, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described proposals to segregate students as “shallow and unwise,” and called for their cancellation.

It seems a year is a long time in Iranian politics.

Image: Paul Keller.

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.