Friday, October 26, 2012

Restrictions on Educational Fields for Women in Iran

By: Chelsa Lewis-Bevel
Produced & edited by: Molly Nocheck

In late June, 1.6 million of Iran’s high school graduates sat down to take the nationwide college entrance exam; the Concours. As August approached, nervous graduates waited in anticipation for the exam results. Scores were announced, disappointing some and elating others. But none were expecting the news that several universities across the country would be instituting “single-gender courses”; this effectively banning women.

Of the 2012 accepted applicants, nearly two thirds were female. This news came as a shock. Iran was one of the first Middle Eastern countries to allow women to attend college, and has seen progress in equal rights for women. 36 of the nation’s universities announced that 77 undergraduate courses, in both the liberal arts and sciences would be unavailable to women. With no additional statements from the 36 institutions or any remarks from the Iranian government, citizens are left contemplating how and why something like this could happen.

Some citizens believe this is an act to combat the reported low birthrate in Iran, others fear the country may want to bring back a more traditional Islamic state. Shirin Ebadi, a popular human rights advocate, believes the real agenda is to reduce the number of female students, weakening the Iranian feminist movement.

Mohammad Jalali, a recent graduate of University of Tehran believes this decision comes mainly from the government, not the individual institutions.

“This is not fair,” he said. “Women should have the same opportunities as men”. He believes the banning stems from the low job opportunities in Iran, and the push to get more men in the workforce.

Dr. Jalal Jalali, a professor at Guilan University, condemns the ban. “I don’t understand why they did it, it should be removed.” Guilan is not among the 36 universities imposing the restrictions, but still there is little room for discussion and debate about the ban, at the university. “It is not easy to talk to [the students] about the ban and political issues are not easy [to talk about]”, said Jalali. Yet it is difficult to silence the collegiate youth completely.

Nima Radi, a senior, civil engineering major at University Azad Lahijan, believes the ban may hurt the effected educational fields, “Some courses can be done better by women, like English translation, they are hurting courses that can be better done by women”.

If mums the word across college campuses and the government and universities imposing the ban are keeping tight lipped, the citizens have very little to go on when constructing their views on the situation. Factors concerning the course restrictions may extend beyond a simple social injustice, and coverage of the ban may be misleading according to country officials, who believe the media is blowing the situation out of proportion.

Out of the 350 plus universities in Iran, only 36 are imposing restrictions. Each university follows its own admission policies and applicants can apply to the same banned fields at other universities. Women who have already started study in the banned fields are allowed to continue, at universities imposing the ban. Some of the restricted courses are only limiting the amount of women taking the course, not all women. These facts go unreported in the media.

Science and higher education minister, Kamran Daneshjoo, dismisses the controversy, saying that 90% of degrees remain open to both sexes and that single-gender courses are needed to create "balance." Iran has the highest ratio of women to men in college throughout the world. How does this notion of creating balance play into the restrictions? Someone looking at the ban from a human rights perspective will see fault there, but is that the only scope through which this issue needs to be looked upon?

Mohsen Radi, a civil engineering PhD student, believes that many are not looking at the situation as a whole. Although he does not agree with the ban itself, he can understand the motives, and why country officials fear the growth of women in college.

“The restrictions are only in areas where there is a large imbalance between men and women”. An imbalance that he feels is detrimental to the country. Right now 65 percent of all college students are women, and that percentage is slowly rising every year. This growing imbalance could potentially affect the Iranian society. “Sometimes you have to think of the good of the country, before individual needs. It’s not about putting women down, it’s about balance”, said Radi.  

“The growth of female students, they couldn’t control it”, said Majid Radi, manager at an engineering consulting firm in Tehran. He works closely with women daily, and does not think gender matters in terms of work ethic. He believes there’s a political and economic aspect to the issue that people are ignoring in favor of social ideals. “More men are needed in the workforce, it is better for our country”, he said. Not necessarily the men, but the balance of gender is better for the country. Radi is against the ban, citing it as a superficial solution to a problem that is deeply rooted and will take time and better planning to resolve.

The issues concerning the ban are complex, and the government and imposing institutions’ silence, only adds to the confusion. Two months after the announcement, citizens still have minimal information, and no sign as to when the ban will be lifted. Their only option is to wait, like so many students did back in august, for results that may have huge implications for their country.

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