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Iranian universities shut female students out of dozens of fields

August 20, 2012 | 10:22 pm

Iranian universities are shutting female students out of dozens of fields this year, saying there aren’t enough jobs available for them after they graduate, according to Iranian media.

Three dozen universities across the country are not allowing women to study in 77 different majors, according to the Shafaf news website and Mehr News. The barred majors, which differ from school to school, reportedly include several fields in engineering, history and English.

“Some fields are not very suitable for women’s nature, such as agricultural machinery or mining, partly because of the hard work involved in them,” science ministry official Seyed Abolfazl Hassani told Rooz Online. “Past experience shows that women do not become professionally active in these fields after they are admitted to these subjects and even after they graduate.”

Iranian officials said a shortage of female dormitories also necessitated the restrictions, Shafaf reported, the first time such limits have been imposed. Education officials also stopped men from going into nursing this year, a decision lamented by the national nursing association.

The decision to stop women from studying certain fields is believed to be driven by a combination of factors, including women getting better marks than men on university exams, male students complaining that female scholars don’t have to worry about being breadwinners, and the difficulty in keeping male and female students segregated in classes.

In a letter to the United Nations agency for gender equality, Iranian Nobel laureate and attorney Shirin Ebadi charged that the government was trying to squelch the women's movement.

"It is pushing them back into the house in the hope that they abandon their demands and leave the government alone to pursue its wrong policies," Ebadi wrote.

Women enroll in Iranian universities at higher rates than men, which puts the country at odds with the rest of the region, according a UNESCO study two years ago. They make up nearly 70% of Iranian graduates in science, more than half in social science, business and law, and more than a quarter in engineering, manufacturing and construction, the United Nations agency found.

Though the numbers have been blamed on men being more interested in making money, the trend appears to start early, with Iranian boys twice as likely as girls to drop out of primary school.

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-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

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