Iran has barred female students from 77 BA and BS degrees in 36 universities. The ban, a clear violation of equal rights for women, has prompted a demand by Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi for a UN human rights investigation.
In the past decade, Iranian female students have consistently outperformed their male counterparts and outnumbered men by three to two ratio in passing this year’s all-important university entrance exam (‘Concours’).
Under the new policy, women undergraduates will be excluded from majors in English literature, English translation, hotel management, archaeology, nuclear physics, computer science, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, and business management at some of the country’s most prestigious universities. The Oil Industry University, which has several campuses across the country, says it will no longer accept female students at all.
Writing to Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary general, Navi Pillay, the high commissioner for human rights, and Ahmad Shaheed, the UN's special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Shirin Ebadi 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.
Iran has highest ratio of female to male undergraduates in the world, according to UNESCO. Female students have become prominent in traditionally male-dominated majors like applied sciences and some engineering disciplines.
The science and higher education minister, Kamran Daneshjoo, dismissed the controversy, saying that 90% of degrees remain open to both sexes and that single-gender courses were needed to create "balance." (Telegraph, 20 August)