Fariba Davoodi Mohajer
Female students, who will be admitted to universities in the new academic year, are facing the worst conditions of gender discrimination. The constraints and limitations based on gender are unprecedented in the history of Iranian universities.
In Iran, gender segregation was applied in approximately 60 subjects at 600 universities. In fact on average, one out of six subjects at Iranian universities is segregated. In subjects related to engineering and applied science, 194 subjects and majors were allocated to male students and female students only can study in 71 subjects. This discrimination is similar in the field of liberal arts as well. The ratio of exclusive same-sex subjects is 12 for male and six for female.
However, in humanitarian, medical and foreign languages, gender segregation favors female students. The ratios are:
Medical sciences: 74 for female and 57 for male
Humanitarian sciences: 93 for female and 44 for male
Foreign languages: 15 for female and seven for male
Gender segregation is applied in 19 percent of engineering and applied science classes, in 10 percent of medical science, 32 percent in the humanities, 34 percent in liberal arts and 25 percent in foreign languages.
For example, there are 47 gender segregated subjects at Chamran University in Ahvaz city and this issue is protested seriously among students. Arak University does not grant admission to female students in pedagogy, material engineering, computer science, chemical engineering, industrial engineering, software engineering, mechanical engineering and agriculture machinery engineering. These fields of study are open only to men.
At Shiraz University there is no gender segregation in the humanities but gender discrimination exists in the number of students admitted to the university. In seven subjects, 248 male students versus 180 female students can attend the university.
In the field of engineering and applied science in all 21 subjects, 341 male students and 253 female will be admitted. Also in medical and experimental science, gender discrimination is also observed as in 23 subjects, 250 female students versus 313 male students will be admitted.
Only males are accepted at the Oil Industry University in Tehran. At the technical school of Khouy, 40 male students will be admitted to civil engineering and only half the number of females.
Ilam University is one university which just accepts male students in the field of engineering.
Birjand University grants admission to male students in post-graduate studies of livestock production technology. Also, at the engineering faculty of this university only male students can study electrical engineering, mineral engineering and post-graduate studies in electrical irrigation technology.
This system is followed at most Iranian universities and will likely include all universities in the future. Even though significant gender segregation is implemented during the admission process, 60 percent of young people who took part in national entrance to study at university were female. Therefore, the decision to segregate universities has no meaning except to impose gender discrimination against the larger part of future students.
Iranian officials believe that mixed female and male classes causes moral corruption and encourages illegitimate sexual relationship. In the government’s interpretation of Islam, relationships between males and females when they are not family members are illegal. The government has been using this excuse to segregate classes or establish same sex universities for many years. They also believe that some subjects are not suitable fields of study for women as they are incompatible with their future role as a mother and society has no use for female experts.
Also Islamic republic officials fear increasing the ratio of girls in the student population. This new restriction is driven by the goal to ban women from rising and accessing higher employment opportunities. This restriction intensifies in jobs where women have to work with men in the same place and will be outside of their houses for a while.
Different university and government officials have stated their support for gender segregation. The director of public relations at Sanatt Naft University recently stated, “This University does not consider the hardship of this job proper for women.” Hassan Zamanian president of Lorestan University in the similar expressed, “Some subjects at university have a male nature and male students must be admitted to them such as veterinary medicine. This field of study needs male expertise because for this job a veterinarian should be available whenever a villager needs them, so women cannot meet this requirement.” Even though Ahmadinejad’s cabinet members always insists on gender segregation at universities, Ahamdinejad himself has shown discontent with such approach.
Gender segregation was considered a difficult and expensive process to implement at universities so the government planned a multiphase design in order to quicken the process and make it less expensive. This segregation is supported by many clergies and members of the Principalist political front.
Gender segregation and discrimination are against the UN declaration of human rights and its conventions, and are remarkable violation of civil rights.
The goals of the government for applying gender discrimination at universities are described below:
- The elimination of women from many subjects deprives women from becoming experts and enjoying equal opportunity. They actually cannot gain many good positions.
- This discrimination plays a significant role in decreasing the economic autonomy of women. It marginalizes women in the decision-making process and puts men above them. Therefore, women lose some self-confidence and feel inferior.
- Unequal laws and regulations cause women to forcefully obey patriarchic rules. This planned discrimination systematically puts women subordinate to men in the society and home.
It should not be forgotten that Iranian female students outpaced male students in recent years. More than 60 percent of freshmen were female.
By forcefully decreasing the number of female students hinders the development of women in science and technology and consolidates the superiority of men in the labor market and social roles.
Gender segregation forces universities to place sexuality as a criterion for admitting students instead of academic qualifications. It is obvious that the outcome damages the credibility and quality of education in Iran. Talented and deserving girls loose the opportunity and some less qualified male students take their right and vise versa. Another serious problem is that this policy causes a low number of registered students for some classes and so they cannot be held because of a failure to reach a minimum number of participants. In this case some subjects may be eliminated and so the total number of students decreases. Lastly, a negative outcome is the end of growth and health of sexual relationships among the young generation which in turn increases social problems.
It may be coined that the elimination of women from some subjects is a kind of cultural coup at universities. It not only affects the theoretical sphere but the male face of universities has negative outcome on humanitarian relations, scientific development, social action, competition, and motivation in academic environments. Some problems in society will not be dealt with as there will be no female experts to address these needs.
However, the main concern of Islamic republic officials is that by allowing females to study at university, they will increase their demands for gender equality and modern approaches to sexuality. Authorities are well aware of the role of education in creating a new identity for women that is controversial with the traditional definition of a woman.
If human rights organizations, activists, students and women do not show a strong and effective reaction in opposing the government’s policy then authorities will implement gender segregation and further restrict, limit and discourage female students in Iran.
Fariba Davoodi Mohajer