Women living in the Islamic Republic of Iran still experience inequality on a day-to-day basis. However, in terms of education, Iranian women have been granted more access to educational institutions since the Iranian Revolution. For example, before the Revolution in 1976, the literacy rate of women was 35 percent. By 1986, the female literacy rate had risen to 52 percent. Now, despite political turmoil and internal strife, females in Iran between 15 years old and 24 years old are at almost universal literacy.
Iranian women have not taken this increased access to education for granted. For instance, the enrollment rate of females in primary education is higher than that of males. Furthermore, Iranian women and men now complete their primary education schooling at nearly the same rate. However, in efforts to “Islamicize” Iranian life, women face restrictions on what secondary education fields that they are eligible to pursue. For example, 36 Iranian universities have prohibited women from up to 77 academic fields.
Academic pursuits that have been made exclusive to men include accounting, engineering, mathematics and many sciences. According to Iranian education official Abolfazl Hasani, this decision was made since “some fields are not very suitable for women’s nature.” The process of “single-gendering” also applies to men. While men are free to pursue engineering and mathematical interests, they are restricted from pursuing history, language, literature, sociology and philosophy.
It is critical to note that although Iranian universities had limited women’s rights by banning their access to these stereotypically male-dominated courses, the Iranian government itself had not necessarily sanctioned such a prohibition. For instance, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself had struck down the proposition of segregating educational settings by gender.
Furthermore, Iranian women graduate from secondary programs at 86 percent of the rate of their male counterparts in a far cry from rampant female illiteracy during the 1970s. Additionally, women actually comprise the majority of university students in Iran, as 60 percent of secondary school students are women. Thus, Iran boasts one of the greatest ratios of female-to-male educational participation not just in the Middle East, but also in the world.
– Phoebe Pradhan