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Women banned from Iranian universities

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Universities across Iran have announced that almost 80 subjects in both the liberal arts and sciences will be off limits to incoming female scholars. 77 subjects in an estimated 36 Universities will be banned for future students.

There are some out there who consider feminism "outdated" and that, since women's rights progressed so much during the 20th Century, anyone who considers themselves a feminist must have ulterior and extreme motives and views. 

But the ban clearly demonstrates that the journey towards global gender equality is an uphill battle, and far from being unnecessary, we need feminists and others to accept that change is crucial, in order to truly call ourselves a modern world.

The Oil Industry University, which has several campuses across the country, says it will no longer accept female students at all, citing a lack of employer demand. Isfahan University provided a similar rationale for excluding women from its mining engineering degree, claiming 98% of female graduates ended up jobless.

Gholamrez Rashed, head of the University of Petroleum Technology, told Mehr news agency on Tuesday that his school would not be needing the contributions of any female students. Bloomberg reports that difficult working conditions in the country's oil industry were Rashed's main reason for not admitting women. Meanwhile Mohammad Hossein Ramesht, the chancellor of the University of Isfahan, said high unemployment rates among women in science justified the ban.

The backlash against the ban is evident. One of the more vocal defenders of women's rights, Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, spoke of her disgust at the prohibition in an open letter to The United Nations dated August 17th, stating: "The gender segregation policy... suggest the imposition of a patriarchal culture that aims to strengthen the role of women at home and within the family unit in order to undermine their important function in society."

In another letter, to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and Navi Pillay, the high commissioner for human rights, Mrs Ebadi, who is a human rights lawyer exiled in the UK, said the real agenda was to reduce the proportion of female students to below 50% – from around 65% at present – thereby weakening the Iranian feminist movement in its campaign against discriminatory Islamic laws.

"The aim is that women will give up their opposition and demands for their own rights," said Ebadi.

So is the agenda one of suppression? The reasoning behind the ban has taken many different shapes, with the excuses pouring out on the educational lockdown.

Radio Zamaneh, a Persian-language radio station, blamed Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who they allege has "pointed the finger at universities as the breeding ground for subversive behaviour and called for a greater focus on Islamic principles in universities."

Senior clerics in Iran are "concerned" about the effects of educational progress for women, such as lowering birth and marriage rates, and believe that this goes against the traditional male dominated society.

To sum up, Abolfazl Hasani, a senior Iranian education official, claimed that "some fields are not very suitable for women’s nature.”

What Hasani perhaps doesn't grasp is there isn't one "women's nature", but that women come in many different forms and that education is a right not reserved based on one's biology.

Iran's ban strikes me as fear of departing from 'traditionalism' and clearly, the threat of declining births and marriages in favour of knowledge and carving out a respectable career are a threat too large to handle. In a country where women are told what clothes they can wear and are given limited job opportunities, education seemed to offer a glimmer of hope that there was at least room for equal opportunity in this area.

According to the latest data from the UN's Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 52% of Iranian undergraduates in 2009 were women. In the sciences, female contributions were even more pronounced, with women making up 68% of all graduates, and in 2011, women out-performed men on an average of 3-2 on entry examinations.

Coincidence?

Given these academic achievements, it only cements the theory that the ban is a way of controlling what is viewed as women going beyond traditional dogma, and threatening the status quo.

This is discrimination disguised as a benefit for both men and women. If the ban does go ahead, the only hope can be that it does not send attitudes in Iran and the world back a step, and that such restrictions are considered unacceptable in the modern world - and are challenged .

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