The government of Iran's discriminatory gender laws across the social, judicial, and economic spectrum have been under a spotlight in recent years, thanks to the peaceful, grassroots efforts by Iranian women's rights activists who are working to overturn them. Those activists have educated their countrymen and the world at large about how Iranian laws treat women like second class citizens and promote discrimination against them.
Yet one area in which Iranian women seemed to have thwarted any societal or legal discrimination has been in university attendance: until recently, between 60 to 65 percent of all university students in Iran were women.
Now, however, that has changed, according to the head of Iran's Research and Planning Organization of Higher Studies. Massoud Hadian Dehkordi says there are currently 3,790,859 university students in the country, of which 50.5 percent are men and about 49.5 percent are women.
This announcement follows an Iranian government proposal to implement quotas limiting the admission of female students to many university programs, particularly in science and technology, and capping them at 50 percent. Iranian women's rights activist Shadi Sadr told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that the government's effort to impose quotas has been successful. "A limit is being imposed on the number of women who want to study in fields that are considered manly or the government believes that is more [important] for men to study these courses than women," she said.
Recently, the World Economic Forum published its annual Global Gender Gap Report in which it assesses the size and scope of gender inequality in the areas of economic participation, education, political empowerment and health in 134 countries. Iran ranked near the bottom of the index of nations: number 123 out of 134. And that was with the old numbers for university attendance by Iranian women compared with men. The report also noted that Iran is one of only three countries -- Saudi Arabia and Mali are the others -- which has little or no legislation punishing acts of violence against women.
Iran's dynamic and talented women deserve better. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says, "Discrimination against women is a violation of human rights, and equality for women is not only a matter of justice – it is a political, economic and strategic imperative. The world cannot make progress if women are denied the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential."