girls' education in Iran
In recent years, girls’ education in Iran has fallen victim to many restrictions and limitations. While Iran was one of the first countries in the Middle East to allow women to study at the university level, many things have changed since the violence of the Iraq war and other related conflicts. Many Iranian politicians in the years after 9/11 have viewed girls’ education in Iran in a different light, often as a threat to political power.

Repression for Girls’ Education in Iran

The presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from 2005 to 2013 ushered in an era of repression for girls’ education in Iran. Before his election, women accounted for more applications to universities than men in Iran. During Ahmadinejad’s presidency, however, many restrictions were introduced to girls education including separate entrances and classrooms, as well as separate social areas and a repression of the subjects women were allowed to study.

This trend represents what many politicians labeled a return to more traditional Islamic values and a “re-Islamisation” of the Iranian people. This call for change from political leaders placed an emphasis on reducing Western influence on Iranian culture and many of these reductions were felt by the female population in Iran. Conservative government officials made it known that they felt the education of women was leading to a diminishment of family values and desire for women to bear children and perform familial duties.

To promote this view, President Ahmadinejad’s administration primarily linked girls’ education in Iran to an increasing divorce rate and decreasing fertility rate. In addition to linking these factors, the administration promoted gender-based admission policies through the Iranian ministry of science, which selects who leads universities in Iran.

Change in Admissions and Leadership

In August 2012, Mehr news agency reported that women were being prevented from admissions in 77 majors, 36 universities and in important areas such as accounting, education, chemistry, engineering and advising in Iran. Many of the majors reserved for men included engineering, surveying, management and leadership positions.

In 2013, Iran elected Hassan Rouhani as its president, which marks a hopeful improvement in the fight for equal rights for women’s education. Rouhani criticized gender-based education in Iran, and has stated that his administration will not discriminate between men and women seeking employment or education in Iran. While the President and his administration feel that this is fair, many in Iran oppose his rollback of gender-based education and his administration has not had much effect on the state of women’s education in Iraq today.

An Upwards Battle

While the fight for girls’ education in Iran will undoubtedly be better received by the Rouhani administration, it is still an upwards battle for the women in Iran to see educational improvements in their lives.  Even though girls’ education in Iran has largely been accepted and promoted since the turn of the twentieth century, in recent years many people have called for a return to a more traditional Islamic model of women having more familial duties in the home.

It is the hope of many people that Iran allows its women to gain the educational opportunities they want and deserve. With a presidential administration amenable to equal education for women, Iranian women may gain equal access to education soon.

– Dalton Westfall
Photo: Flickr

Women's Empowerment in IranIran has made notable progress in women’s education and health, including an increased ratio of literate women and girls. Women make up more than half of all university students, as reflected in the 2009 Gender Development Index of 0.770. The Iranian Parliament has adopted “The Charter on Women’s Rights and Responsibilities”, which emphasizes the use of social insurance to provide support to female-headed households and bring about women’s empowerment in Iran.

Unfortunately, the participation of women in the community and social development programs is very low. Women lack any social decision-making power and suffer from low confidence and self-esteem. Iran has not yet acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women due to opposition from its Guardian Council, who believe that the convention is incompatible with sharia law.

Women’s empowerment in Iran does not have much-needed support from its government, and social barriers continue to restrict women at every step. This is lack of support is partly due to the political ideology that demands women do not stray from their roles as mothers and wives.

Iranian law considers the husband as the head of the household with complete control over his wife’s choices. For example, a husband can prevent his wife from working (some employers even ask for the husband’s written consent) and can even forbid her from traveling abroad and from obtaining a passport. Women’s rights are obstructed to the point that they are not allowed to watch men’s sports in stadiums. An Iranian woman can even be killed by her husband for adultery, according to Iranian law.

Women are not allowed to hold leadership offices like the Presidency or the Supreme Leadership. In fact, according to the 2010 Freedom House report, current laws are more conservative and discriminating than customary practices.

Under the Gender Inequality Index, empowerment is measured by the share of parliamentary seats held by women and by attainment of primary and secondary education by each gender, whereas economic activity is measured by labor market participation. Women’s empowerment in Iran can thus be understood by looking at simple statistics. Only 3.1 percent of women hold seats in Parliament and only 66 percent have gone through secondary education. As for economic activity, female participation in the labor market is a meager 16.2 percent.

UNDP, along with the government of Iran, introduced the Carbon Sequestration Project to help achieve women’s empowerment in Iran. Thanks to the project, women are able to showcase their work and talents, which include handicrafts and traditional culinary skills, at exhibitions.

The government has also implemented projects to enhance Iranian women’s knowledge of information and communication technology (ICT):

  • Establishing a specialized women’s digital library
  • Providing ICT training for women, especially housewives
  • Designing the Presidential Center for the Participation of Women (CPW) website to disseminate the Islamic Republic of Iran’s official information
  • Training the staff of the CPW
  • Establishing the Iranian Genius Women’s Bank for identifying scientifically superior women within professor, assistant professor and lecturer ranks, instant access to necessary information and better usage of outstanding women’s work and providing better-quality services for the country’s scientific and educational geniuses.

Education is a vital part of women’s empowerment in Iran, which the government has recognized. To continue what it has started, changes need to happen on a cultural level, including the elimination of gender stereotypes in textbooks and seeking men’s participation in protecting women’s rights. Continued work can ensure that all women have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

– Tripti Sinha

Photo: Flickr