Absence of Women in Iranian Universities

 Submission to the UN, On the Occasion of Student Day in Iran

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This year, the Iranian anniversary of Students Day arrives at a time when women are banned from access to education in 14 fields of higher education and severely restricted from admission into 241 additional fields.

It is in connection with this anniversary that Justice for Iran submits the following findings to the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice

 Overview

1. A considerable number of university courses are either only available to male applicants or are accessible to inexorably few female applicants, demonstrating a serious case of gender-based discrimination in access to higher education.

Denial of admission

2. JFI’s findings based on data from 22,800 courses offered during the current academic year at Iranian public universities indicates there are no women admitted into the following fields of study: petroleum engineering (reservoir evaluation or drilling), railway engineering, data management, communication, emergency medical technology, veterinary technician, mechanical engineering (water, gas and installations), electrical engineering (power), physical education and sports (coaching), law, political sciences (security studies), policing, social sciences (security studies), and religious studies. Gender-based university admission policies entirely impede women’s participation in these fields. For instance, out of 1360 spaces available for new entrants into the field of emergency medical technology, none have been allocated to women.

Employability

3.  JFI’s research indicates that admission into those public universities affiliated with governmental agencies, also guarantees students employment at government offices. Therefore, by admitting no female applicants in most fields, relevant government offices move through a gradual process of gender discrimination culminating in eradication of female employees. Accordingly, women face diminishing chances of government employment.

Petroleum University of Technology affiliated with the Ministry of Petroleum denied admission of any female applicants into the following fields: technical inspection of safety engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, petroleum engineering (oil drilling and oil exploration), production engineering, petroleum reservoir engineering, accounting, business administration and industrial management. It is in this manner that women’s free and equal access to employment in these fields as a basic human rights, is severely diminished.

4.  In addition to the public job market, gender-based quotas in fields involving the sciences and mathematics will affect employment opportunities in the private sector, causing many fields to be dominated by men.

5. Aside from those fields in which admission of female applicants is entirely banned, in many other fields, gender-based quotas seem to violate the rights of women to free and equal access to higher education and entry into the job market.

6. In 92 fields involving natural sciences, in addition to gender-based quotas, other forms of discrimination against women are also implemented. For instance, out of 494 spaces, 263 are reserved for male applicants, meaning female applicants can only compete for the remaining 231 spaces open to both male and female applicants. Notwithstanding the fact that women account for 68% of natural sciences students, meaning prior to the implementation of the quota policies 356 out of 494 spaces were filled by female applicants.

7. In 47 fields related to physics and mathematics, including civil engineering, mechanical engineering, agricultural engineering and material engineering opportunities for women to pursue these fields of study have clearly diminished. In mining engineering alone, out of 590 spaces throughout Iran, 488 (82%) are exclusively allocated to male applicants, meaning women can only compete with male applicants for the 102 remaining spaces.

8.  JFI’s research indicates that gender-based quotas in 53 fields related to the social sciences, on average, block 50% of female applicants while 63% of applicants are women.

9.  In fields related to the arts, women face troubling restrictions in TV and digital arts, and restoration of historic sites and rugs. In case of TV and digital arts, a mere 20% of the allocated spaces are open to female applicants.

10. In foreign languages, once again, quotas have resulted in discriminatory barriers against women. As an example here, while 77% of applicants to study German are women, only 35% of the spaces have been allocated to them.

Parallel policies

11. Furthermore, our findings suggest another policy parallel to that of gender-based quotas and bans that result in gender segregation in Iranian universities. Many universities have divided their annual quota so that during the first half of the academic year they admit students of one gender and during the second term, students of the other gender. In this vein, women and men admitted at different times will not benefit from shared classes and consequently, these fields will suffer from gender-based segregation.

Lorestan University in Khorramabad has chosen to admit male students into its psychology department during the first term of the academic year, and female students during its second term. Likewise, Zabol University admits female students into its Persian literature program during the first term of the academic year, and male students during the second term.

12. Following the same policy on gender-based segregation in various fields of some universities implies some are exclusive to one gender or another. Accordingly, while the total number of men and women admitted has not changed dramatically, the academic space is no longer gender-neutral. This is evident in the case of the faculty of political sciences at two of Iran’s universities, where only men are granted admission into Esfahan University, and women into Shahid Chamran University in Ahvaz. Such a policy not only creates a gender-specific atmosphere at these universities but also in light of constraints imposed as a result of the current culture in Iran, women will have even less access to universities. In addition to cultural constraints, it should be noted that the foundation of legal system in Iran encourages discrimination against women and diminishes their chances of access to higher education throughout the country.[1]

13. Although it is too early to assess the long-term social impact of gender-based quotas and segregation in accessing higher education among Iranian women, nevertheless, our preliminary research points to a process initiated by the Islamic Republic authorities and agencies that seek to eliminate women from a significant number of fields of higher education and professions resulting in deep-rooted segregation of professional spaces. It is important to note that a mere 13% of Iran’s women are currently in employment.

Conclusion

14. Implementation of gender-based segregation and quotas in higher education is in violation of Articles 28 and 30 of the Iranian Constitution as well as international obligations of the Islamic Republic, in particular Article 13 of the ICESR, which requires the commitment of the Iranian government as a signatory to this Convention to ensure “Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means” as well as Article 6, whereby States must recognize “the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.”

15. Therefore, Justice for Iran (JFI) recommends that all international agencies, including the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice, take the necessary steps to demand that the Islamic Republic of Iran immediately lifts its gender-based bans and barriers against female university applicants in accordance with its international obligations.

 

To see the tables of gender-based quotas for the academic year 2012 based on gender, please click here.

 


[1] Article 1117 of Iran’s Civil Code provides any husband with the right to legally bar his wife from engaging in work outside of home.