August 23, 2012
There is a war going on; it is against women and it’s on a global scale. From the outrageous remarks on “legitimate rape” made by US Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), to the arrest of the three feminist rockers of the band Pussy Riot in Russia accused of speaking out against Vladimir Putin, to the practice of defacing women with acid in Pakistan, Uganda, Bangladesh, Nepal, Cambodia and 15 other countries, to female genital mutilation, child brides, sex trafficking of young girls, and on and on it goes.
And now, Iran, a country not known for its stellar human rights records, has taken its hardline stance against women a step further. In an officially-approved act of sex-discrimination, Iran is barring female students from more than 70 university degree courses. According to Robert Tait of the UK Telegraph, the move “has prompted a demand for a UN investigation by Iran’s most celebrated human rights campaigner, the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi.” The Iranian government’s decision means that 36 universities will no longer allow female students to enroll in 77 BA and BSc courses in the coming academic year. These courses have been labeled as “single gender” and open exclusively to men.
Here’s a partial list of university degree programs from which women are barred: English literature, English translation, hotel management, archaeology, nuclear physics, computer science, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, business management, petroleum engineering, chemical engineering, mining engineering. The universities complicit with the Islamic Republic’s agenda claim that they are creating an even field, a balance between the sexes by restricting these fields to single-gender students as a large percentage of female college students were left unemployed after graduation.
Just two months ago I wrote a blog about higher education in Iran, and the rising number of Iranian women holding university degrees. In fact, women account for nearly 60 percent of the total enrollment at Iranian universities. Higher education and global awareness of social issues have freed Iranian women to embark on a life of singlehood to pursue careers, rent apartments, travel, and question their rights. Iran’s recent barring of women from more than 70 university degree courses is telling of the Iranian government’s agenda on suppressing women in the traditionally male-dominated society.
Iran, as noted in Tait’s article “has the highest ratio of female to male undergraduates in the world, according to UNESCO. Female students have become prominent in traditionally male-dominated courses like applied physics and some engineering disciplines. The relative decline in the male student population has been attributed to the desire of young Iranian men to “get rich quick” without going to university.” The radical steps taken by the Islamic regime and followed in lock step by the universities are to turn back the clock, return women to a domestic life and suppress their voice in the public arena. Whether the government bans women from a large portion of university degree programs, it does not mean that young Iranian men are going to flock to the universities and take the place of their female counterparts.
The attacks against women are attempts to silence their demands for equal rights. Like everything in life, we cannot take anything for granted. The struggle is not over.
Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI