Huge rise in segregation, and bias against women students

More than 600 degree programmes in 60 universities in Iran are now segregated by gender, in what is being seen as a major expansion of the government’s efforts to separate male and female students.

Iranian rights groups last week released the report of a study by StudentNews using data collected by students on universities and courses that will teach men and women in separate classes from the coming academic year. The study found there had not only been an increase in gender separation but also in gender discrimination.

Discrimination is particularly noticeable, because the report noted that women make up 60% of those passing the university entrance examination this year.

Women are now much less likely to gain admission to a course of their choice, and more likely to be channelled into other courses or other, less prestigious universities, students said.

The study lists all universities and courses that are now segregated. But it also notes that there are clear moves in some universities to direct women away from prestigious science and engineering programmes. A number of institutions have closed to women all areas of study related to the oil industry.

Some universities are restricting women to theology and Arabic literature courses only, as the number of humanities courses has been curtailed due to so-called ‘Western influence’.

Although the StudentNews figures could not be independently verified, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported on 6 August that around 36 universities in Iran have this year closed 77 fields of study to women.

“These new developments were not announced by the university brochures that have been distributed previously,” Mehr said.

But the student study showed that the number of universities affected by segregation was even higher than reported and has gone up from a total of 40 universities last year, as monitored by its previous report issued a year ago.

Officially, it was announced in August 2011 that 20 universities and 40 departments would begin accepting either male or female students, despite reported opposition from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to increased segregation because he believed it would prove highly unpopular.

Now, one in every six students is in a male-only or female-only university course, with an average of more than 17% of university courses separated, the student study found.

According to some news reports, even politicians have protested against the “complete removal of women in some disciplines”.

Ardebil Mohaghegh University has closed its doors to women in 24 areas of study, while at Lorestan University 18 areas of study are now barred to women, according to Mehr.

At Tehran University this year, the departments of engineering, natural resources and forestry, mathematics and mining engineering only accept male applicants.

Where women-only subjects are stipulated in the sciences they are, for example, chemistry and plant biology at Lorestan. Subjects such as geomorphology, climate science and accounting will be restricted to men at that university.

At the University of Mazandaran in Babolsar, tourism courses are men-only. At the University of Bushehr on the Persian Gulf, only courses in library and information science will accept women, while mathematics and engineering degrees have become men-only.

“In a major trend, women are allowed to chose subjects like software engineering, information technology, library and information science,” said the StudentNews report.

Some universities that do not segregate students were observed to actively discriminate against women to keep the numbers low in co-educational courses.

For example, at Razi University in Kermanshah, in fields such as veterinary science, agronomy, agricultural engineering, forestry and natural resources, only 34 women were accepted compared to 100 men.

Other areas where the male-female ratio was described as ‘unfair’ included engineering degrees at Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran.

Elsewhere, in areas such as in the humanities, men and women are being taught in separate classes, or as in the case of the University of Zabol, men and women studying Arabic or Persian literature, geography and urban or rural planning, take classes in alternate semesters at the same institution.