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Iran is a country one rarely hears about these days on other topics than the controversy and the uncertainties surrounding the development of the country’s nuclear programme. This month however, an unsettling piece of news related to higher education made the tour of the globe, announcing further segregation in Iranian universities.
According to Iranian news sources, decisions had been taken in the country to bar the access of women to 77 fields of study, in the forthcoming academic year. Among the first to ring the alarm bell and raise the attention of international organisations and media was Shirin Ebadi – laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize and a key figure in the Iranian human rights movement – through an open letter to the United Nations (UN). Ms. Ebadi’s letter as well as the media sources report that this measure is to be applied by 36 universities and that it mainly concerns the fields of engineering, management, but also English language and literature, all labelled as “not very suitable for women’s nature” by the director general for education in the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology. Ms. Ebadi also fears that this discriminatory act of institutions will lower the representation of women in universities, from 65% of all university students currently, to less than 50% in the near future.
Interestingly, the measure has not been presented as a uniform government policy, but rather as the unilateral act of university administrators. At first, education officials and the president dissociated themselves from the measure. However, various newspapers trace deeper roots of this development, which is seen by many as part of a larger national strategy to align the universities with the Islamic criteria. This follows the recommendations of an important national clerical body that convened last year, pleading for more segregation of sexes in Iranian universities as a measure to protect the “sanctity of youth”. Ms. Ebadi also portrays this development as yet another move to prevent women from participating in the public arena, and for getting them to stay at home.
It remains unclear at this stage what is the real position of the Iranian government on this matter and also whether the reversal of this measure is in preparation, as a result of the wide national and international criticism received this month.Rooz Online (Iranian news source) Ms. Ebadi‘s letter Universities News