Female students in Iran have been barred from more than 70 university degree courses, according to a recent report by The Telgraph.
The move follows years in which Iranian women students have outperformed men, a trend at odds with the traditional male-dominated outlook of the country's religious leaders. Women outnumbered men by three to two in passing this year's university entrance exam, The Telegraph reported.
Writing to Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary general, and Navi Pillay, the high commissioner for human rights, Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian Nobel Laureate and human rights lawyer exiled in the UK, said the real agenda was to reduce the proportion of female students to below 50% — from around 65% at present —thereby weakening the Iranian feminist movement in its campaign against discriminatory Islamic laws.
"It is part of the recent policy of the Islamic Republic, which tries to return women to the private domain inside the home as it cannot tolerate their passionate presence in the public arena," says the letter, which was also sent to Ahmad Shaheed, the UN's special rapporteur for human rights in Iran. "The aim is that women will give up their opposition and demands for their own rights."
This latest development in Iran's policies just strengthens the US view of the state as a regressive Islamist nation. Crtitics further this view slamming Iran's recent take on women's education as a sign that the country is not willing to offer equal civil rights to women.
Iran has been in the news for the wrong reasons for a long time now. In addition to the criticism it has been facing on the civil rights front, it has also been subject to sanctions by the United States because of its uranium enrichment programme.
The US believes Iran's Islamist policies make it regressive and a recent announcement that the latter would host the upcoming summit of the Non Aligned Movement has had the US up in arms.
"Iran is going to try to manipulate this (NAM) summit and the attendees to advance its own agenda and to obscure the fact that it is failing to live up to multiple obligations that it has to the UN Security Council, the IAEA and other international bodies," the State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland told reporters at a press conference recently.
Iran has the highest ratio of female to male undergraduates in the world, according to UNESCO. Female students have become prominent in traditionally male-dominated courses like applied physics and some engineering disciplines.