Women, Universities, and Revolution in Iran
In the wake of the 2009 popular uprising in Iran, the Islamic Republic encountered a reality that it had worked for 32 years to eliminate – a reality which is in its nature contradictory to the Islamic regime and political Islam’s most dominant principal: Women as emancipated and equal members of the society.
The Islamic regime was sworn in as a misogynistic regime, based on the Quran and Islamic Shari’a law with a mission to crush, once and forever, Iranian women’s emancipation movement. Women’s emancipation was that single demand of the 1979 revolution that had decisive effects on the other major demands of that revolution – the most prominent of all being “working people’s governance” – and no other counterrevolutionary entity was as ideologically and politically well-equipped to declare an all-out war on the women of Iran as was the Islamic counterrevolution. The Islamic regime did succeed in crushing 1979’s revolutionary movement. But during the past 33 years, neither the barbaric misogyny of the constitution nor “sarollah patrols” and commando raids to enforce Islamic hijab, nor lashings, overcrowded women’s prisons, nor executions or stoning have deterred the women of Iran from struggling for equality.
The 2009 uprising was indeed a manifestation of the revival of the women’s emancipation movement. As a natural consequence of 33 years of savage attack on women’s basic human rights and their dignity, as a result of violent gender apartheid, as a result of daily humiliations, and as a result of the crushing antagonism between Islamic Shari’a and millennia of social progress, women were both the engine and leading force of the 2009 uprising. Since the brutal suppression of the 2009 revolution in Iran – dubbed “the Women’s Revolution” – the regime has radicalized its anti-woman policies, and has turned its focus to universities, which have for more than a half a century been seen as a hotbed of political dissent.
For several years leading up to 2009, women had comprised more than 60 percent of university students. This did not fit within the strategic plans the regime of Shari’a had for Iranian women. Women’s advances in sciences and industrial production contradict misogynist dogma – woman’s inferiority to man. Although this was not the only arena in which Iranian women have forced Islamic misogyny to a practical retreat, women’s engagement at universities generated a dynamic effect that paved the way for women’s advance in all walks of life in Iran, and created an immediate alteration of the status of women in a extremely male-dominated society. Not only is such a state of affairs un-Islamic and against the rule of Allah, but it constitutes an immediate danger to the continued existence of political Islam and the Islamic regime.
“Islamicization” of Universities: Gender Apartheid and Exclusion
After the 2009 uprising, the regime’s leader Ayatollah Khamenei declared universities to be a breeding ground for subversive behaviour, and called for a greater focus on Islamic principles – “Islamicization” of universities. By 2010, the regime announced that women’s enrolment in university had been brought down to 50 percent by capping admissions for women. (1)
Gender apartheid in universities has also expanded significantly: more than 600 degree programs in 60 universities are now segregated by gender. (2, 3) “Islamicization” of universities aims at strict control of students not only by dividing people into sexual categories, but by dividing universities themselves into two parts, making students’ political activities more difficult than before.
In the regime’s most recent step towards excluding women from higher education, 36 universities have closed 77 fields of study to women, including engineering, accounting, education, counselling, the restoration of monuments, and chemistry, with the highest number of subjects closed to women being in the field of engineering. Several universities have closed almost all areas of study in the oil industry to women. (4, 5)
All of these humiliating and discriminatory measures to limit the further advance of Iranian women – with their long term direct social and economic effects on women, and their indirect but no less catastrophic effects on the entirety of the population – are implemented side by side with the perverse Shari’a-based constitution, and decades of systematic, anti-woman Islamic propaganda and agitation.
And all of this occurs with the unmitigated support of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UNESCO’s purpose is to “contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms” (6); UNESCO cites “gender equality” as one of its two major priorities, above all others.
UNESCO’s Role in Legitimizing Gender Apartheid and Repression in Iran
While the Islamic Republic was in the midst of its crackdown on women in the sciences at Iranian universities, UNESCO legitimized the regime’s purge of women from scientific fields of study by holding a regional workshop in Tehran’s Science and Technology Park, which included a scientific tour to different technology incubators in Tehran. This was a propaganda win for the regime – underwritten by UNESCO. (7) But it was not an isolated incident. UNESCO also provides trainings for so-called “journalists” in Iran (8, 9) – employees of the state-run media responsible for such reprehensible and criminal propaganda as televised forced confessions by political prisoners, including perhaps most famously that of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the woman who was to be stoned to death for adultery, a testament to the regime’s fundamental, brutal, and systematic repression of women.
UNESCO has not condemned nor criticized the Islamic Republic regime’s purge of women from universities, particularly in fields related to science and technology. UNESCO has said nothing about the exclusion of men from nursing schools in Iran. (10) This is a shameful travesty for an organization that claims to put gender equality at the very top of its list of priorities.
It is a known fact, grounded in of 33 years of enormously painful experience by the Iranian people, that the legitimacy endowed by the UN’s International Labour Organisation on the Islamic regime in the form of continued membership has only protected the regime from international criticism and the political consequences of suppressing Iranian workers. The fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran, a barbaric regime that buries women in the ground and stones them to death, sits on the board of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, provides an essential service to the regime by legitimizing and hence perpetuating Islamic misogyny against women in Iran and worldwide. The fact that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime provides funding to the government of Islamic Republic of Iran – the biggest drug trafficker in the country – to circumvent drug trafficking only legitimizes and underwrites the regime’s execution of hundreds of prisoners in the name of stopping drug trafficking. UNESCO’s tacit support of the regime’s enforced gender apartheid and expulsion of women from 77 different fields of study is no different.
There is no doubt in our minds that the Iranian people, women and men, students, and teachers this time too will stand their ground and fight this most recent Islamic perversity. We believe that the movement against sexual apartheid and limiting women’s access to education has already started and is in process of organizing itself. We will be ready to do our utmost in support of Iranian women’s unconditional right to education.
Women should have free and unrestricted access to all areas of study in the university. It is women’s human right to study in the field of their choosing, and not be excluded from certain subjects on the basis of their sex. University applicants should not be excluded from admission to university on the basis of sex. We demand that the regime’s membership in UNESCO, and all UNESCO funding and programming in the Islamic Republic of Iran, be immediately suspended until all policies of gender apartheid and gender-based exclusion from various fields of study at university have been reversed.
(1) VOA, 1 November 2010: More Discrimination In Iran
(2) University World News, 7 August 2012: Huge rise in segregation, and bias against women students
(3) RFE/RL, 1 February 2011: More Gender Segregation At Iranian Universities
(4) Radio Zamaneh, 6 August 2012: Women excluded from vast areas of study
(5) Association for Women in Development, 16 August 2012: Iran Obstructs Women’s Access To Education, Moves Closer To Segregating University Classes And Bars Women’s Entry To Certain Majors
(6) The UNESCO Constitution. Available online: http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=15244&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
(7) Workshop on Future of Science and Technology Park: UNESCO Tehran Organized a Regional Workshop to Discuss the Future of Science and Technology Park http://portal.unesco.org/geography/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13652&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
(8) Third Workshop on UNESCO at IRNA http://portal.unesco.org/geography/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13651&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
(9) UNESCO Concluded Series of Workshops with IRIB and ABU http://portal.unesco.org/geography/en/ev.php-URL_ID=14426&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
(10) Iranian universities close nursing to male applicants http://www.payvand.com/news/12/aug/1137.html
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