Women of Iran: A Retreat or Progress?

A news story ran in the middle of August regarding a peculiar mode of sexual discrimination act which took place in Iran. The report claimed that Iran banned women from taking admission into specific university courses. For an improved discernment, let me tell you that approximately thirty-six universities all over Iran have announced as much as 77 B.A and B.Sc courses in the coming academic year to be ‘single gender’ courses wherein exclusively the men of the country can apply. This move has resulted in an uproar because it is seen as a means to curb the women’s right to education. This decision seemed absurd because as a matter of fact, according to a UNESCO report, Iran has the highest ratio of female is to male undergraduates in the world. Over the years the women have been outperforming the men in the university exams and therefore the decision makers call this an act to create a gender balance in the educated elite of the country. Some Iranian clerics also believe that the rising educational standards amongst the women might result in social side-effects which are already prevalent keeping in mind the declining birth and marriage rates. Shirin Ebadi, a human rights campaigner and also a Nobel laureate demanded a United Nation’s Investigation in this particular case. Ebadi says that the move has been taken to hold back female freedom and to confine the women to the household. The step has been highly criticized all over the world but writer Alex Shams asserts that the news coverage has not been appropriate and has been aimed at harming the image of the Iranian government. He reported that this decision was taken by some independently managed institutions; however it has not received the government’s approval. Furthermore, the regime stated that 90% of the courses are still open to both the sexes.

Doesn’t this bring back those moments of contemplation and the need for a revolution which would make women the masters of their own lives? Yes, this again concerns the status of women in the Middle East. I do not tend to ignore the fact that in almost every country, no matter how developed it is, women do not enjoy the same prominence as a man does. For now, I will restrict myself to the domain of Iran.


The country definitely has made progress in its area of women development and feminism since the past few years. The fact that Iran’s women chess players captured the 9th position in the 2012 World Chess Olympiad, in itself is a sign of advancement. I remember the stories from the novel- ‘Not Without My Daughter’, written by Betty Mehmoody about her experiences in Iran around the year 1984; and I can unquestionably see a transformation today. The book described how pitiable it was to be a woman in an Islamic country because of the restrictions and precincts. It did have an impact on me, like all these accounts have. I do not mind being called a feminist because I do not believe that being born as a girl entitles you to be treated differently or shoddily.

Let me move ahead and direct you to the story of Arezou Hakimimoghaddam, an Iranian woman participant in the London Olympics, 2012. Arezou hails from Tehran and had been training in women’s only pools from the last six years to be a swimmer. It was her dream to represent her country as a swimmer in the Olympics. Alas, her desire could not materialize because she was not allowed to compete internationally owing to the ban on wearing swim-suits. Arezou turned to Kayaking wherein she wore a hijab and a full body wetsuit. I do not wish to point a finger on anybody’s religious beliefs and customs. What really makes me anxious is the narrow-mindedness which thwarts a woman from dreaming. The number of educated women in Iran far outnumbers the men; yet the employment prospects for women are minimal. This entire portrayal on the lives of Iranian women makes me recall another episode which took place in 2010, when Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Seddiqi, an Iranian cleric blamed the indecent attire of women to be the explanation behind the recurrent earthquakes in the country. He asserted that the women did not dress appropriately and led the young men off track, speeding up infidelity in the society; eventually disappointing God. And this led to the quakes. Now, how would you respond to such an allegation?

Fortunately, the Iranian women’s rights movement is the most vibrant social movement in Iran. The revolution aims at rescuing women from several unnecessary atrocities that they have been facing all this while. In July 2010, a woman charged of adultery was punished to be stoned to death. This resulted in an International campaign to prevent her from being stoned. A news report stated that under Iran’s stringent version of Islamic laws, sex before marriage is liable to be punished by 100 lashes whereas if the offender is married, he/she is sentenced to death by stoning. ‘A Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women’ started in Iran in 2008 but it could not assure the safety of all the sentenced women. Another attempt towards the improvisation of women status in Iran was the instigation of the ‘One Million Signatures Campaign’ in 2006 which aimed at ending the legal discrimination against women by amassing a total of one million signatures from citizens who supported the program. Also, women are being trained as lethal warriors, as the news story about ‘women ninja fighters’ declared. Efforts are being made to strengthen women and to gear them up to defend their homeland if the need arises.


According to an essay by Fareed Zakaria in which he compared the standing of women in Iran to those in Saudi Arabia, it became apparent that Iran is far ahead in its approach and development but the battle has not yet subdued. After reading numerous reports and editorials, I came to one conclusion. The origin of all these women-centric problems in these countries is the idea of treating women and men separately; compelling the women to be in a veil which in many instances averts them from moving forward. I read about a set of laws which came up in 1979 in Iran which put a ban on all the male gynaecologists. The practitioners suffered for sure, but who really had to bear the brunt were the Women. In those days, women education was not even developed well enough in the nation to produce women doctors. Eventually, things changed and are still changing. The women are in this fight together. They do not intend to stop; they are zealous, they are strong and day by day they are stepping towards victory. They ought to have a respectable, blissful and independent life. Are you with them?

References: Huffington Post, Telegraph, Haaretz, thelongestwayhome.com, Hamsayeh, BBC News, Wikipedia, Nieman.Harvard, The Guardian, Global Public Square- CNN, Iran Human Rights etc.

4 responses to “Women of Iran: A Retreat or Progress?

  1. And after reading this and many articles that cover such realities all i could do is….think of how bad is the condition of women in such countries….:|:| i wish i could help them in some way….but at the same time i also feel lucky to be a part of country like india that has
    no such gender biased laws though v hav caste based laws…:p:p

  2. I agree with your opinion; however India is not behind in the gender bias issues. We are fortunate that we belong to well-off families but the prejudice still exists, everywhere; though it is not as stringent and heart-wrenching. That makes us lucky. I wish I could do something for these women. Knowing all of it and being able to do nothing is one of worst feelings I have had. Thanks for reading ! It means a lot.

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