Women's Rights & Movements in IranDoes Iranian government fear educated women?

Does Iranian government fear educated women?

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RFE/RL: Who’s afraid of girls? The Iranian government, it seems. Recent years have seen a dramatic rise in the number of Iranian girls enrolling in universities and other institutions of higher education. While many governments would see this as a blessing worth boasting about, that’s not the case in Iran. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

By Iraj Gorgin

Who’s afraid of girls? The Iranian government, it seems. Recent years have seen a dramatic rise in the number of Iranian girls enrolling in universities and other institutions of higher education. While many governments would see this as a blessing worth boasting about, that’s not the case in Iran.

In a report to the administration of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s Research Center of the Majles (parliament) recently called the trend of more girls going to universities “alarming” and urged the government to stop it.

‘Worrisome’ Trend

The research center documented what it called a worrisome rise in the number of females to enroll in universities and other centers of higher education. The report said that over the last two decades there’s been a 23-percent increase in the number of girls taking university entrance exams, with the number of girls who passed the tests nearly doubling — to 65 percent — over the same period.

The influential research center — which has decision-making powers in both parliament as well as in government agencies — also warned that the rise in female students could eventually lead to “social disparity and economic and cultural imbalances between men and women.”

But others see society as the problem, not women’s desire to seek higher education.

“If such concern [about more women going to universities”> is being expressed, then it’s because our society is not ready to accept that a woman could be more educated than a man,” said Elahe Hejazi, a university professor in Tehran. She told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that the report reflects both traditional gender discrimination as well as despair among young males about their prospects in life. She calls it a “cultural problem.”

“Our culture is preserved in its traditional form, but the more important problem in our society is that boys have no motivation for continuing their education,” she said.

Detrimental Or Good?

The report says the rise in female students has created other concerns, such as “securing university dorms and maintaining their [girls”> physical security in confronting possible social perils.” Another problem, according to the report, is economic, “such as the possibility that expenses will be underused for specialized skills, as well as a change in the gender of the workforce.”

The center’s report also warns about a detrimental affect on families and urges officials to swiftly find a solution to the “disproportion between the number of men and women” in Iran’s universities.

Shahla Shafigh, an Iranian-born women’s rights activist in Paris, told Radio Farda that she believes the opposition to female students is ideological.

“With the door of opportunity closed to most young girls, with all the control their families and others exert over them, young women are mostly going after knowledge and science to gain freedom and human dignity,” Shafigh said. “And this is a good thing to happen in a country.”

But what steps the government might take in regards to the situation is unclear.

Last year, after reports that the government might limit female enrollment in entrance exams, women’s rights activists in Iran expressed concern. The government later denied that there had ever been any such plans.

But there are signs the government intends to act on the gender issue, including recent media reports suggesting there could be a change in textbooks based on “gender differentiation.”

Last week Zohre Tabibzadeh Nouri, who runs the government’s office of Women’s Participation, told reporters in Tehran that “gender discrimination” will be implemented in certain sectors of the workforce. She added that the government must help women attain the kind of education and expertise suitable for them.

(Fereidoun Zarnegar of Radio Farda contributed to this report.)

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