Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi issued a letter to the United Nations Women Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, last Friday calling for an investigation into women's rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Prompted by recent bans on women's education, the letter outlines an increasingly deteriorating situation for women's rights and women's rights defenders in Iran.
Earlier this week, 36 Iranian universities announced that women will be barred from certain fields of study in the upcoming academic year. 77 programs – from English language and literature to political science to engineering – are now open only to men. Many universities have also replaced the “Women's Studies” program with “Women's Rights in Islam.” Under the new laws, it is expected that women's enrollment will drop below 50%.
Ebadi also calls attention to Iran's recent decision to outlaw birth control programs limiting women's control over unwanted pregnancies. The government has also been engaged in an ongoing campaign to punish and incarcerate women human rights activists. An Iran native, Ebadi states that “the Iranian government is trying to stifle any opposition voice regarding gender discrimination” and weaken the Iranian feminist movement.
Also copied on the letter is the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay; UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women; and the UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Education.
17 August 2012
The honourable president of the UN Women,
The feminist movement is one of the strongest civil rights movements in Iran and it has witnessed a significant growth in the past two decades. The movement, which opposes discriminatory policies and laws, considers democratization of the government as the key to overcoming the problems. To achieve its goal, the women's movement has been seeking alliances with other civil rights movements, such as students, workers, etc, in the past few years. This has, in fact, contributed to its strength and established it as an influential force in various strata of society.
The government has tried to fight this movement in different ways. Adopting different plans, laws and policies, the government is seeking to bar women's access to education and active presence in society; it is pushing them back to into the house in the hope that they abandon their demands and leave the government alone to pursue its wrong policies.
In addition to the discriminatory laws imposed on Iranian women since the beginning of the 1979 Revolution, (as reflected in previous reports), for the coming academic year 36 universities have closed 77 academic fields to women. For instance, Arak University has barred women from enrolling in the following courses: English language and literature, education, computer science, chemical engineering, industrial engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, agricultural engineering and pure chemistry. Isfahan University has also prevented women from attending the following courses: political science, accountancy, business management, governmental management, industry management, electrical engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, railway engineering, and English language translation. Therefore, the number of female students who have constituted more that 65% of university students for some time, will drop to less than 50%.
The gender segregation policy, which is enforced in some universities alongside fundamental changes that have been introduced in the contents of the course on “Women's Studies,” including the changing of its name to “Women's Rights in Islam”, suggest the imposition of a patriarchal culture that aims to strengthen the role of women at home and within the family unit in order to undermine their important function in society.
Another major government policy, which indirectly resulted in women staying at home, has been to stop the birth control program. While the Iranian government fails to meet the basic needs of the current population, such as health, education and housing, Iranian officials have said that the population should double in size. Moreover, there is a shortage of kindergartens and nurseries in the country, and those that exist are inadequately equipped. More interestingly, according to a recent government announcement, clergymen are preferred over other candidates as proprietors of kindergartens and nurseries.
The Iranian government is trying to stifle any opposition voice regarding gender discrimination. For instance, one could highlight the arrest and punishment of dozens of women's rights activists, some of whom have received heavy prison terms; Mahboobeh Karami, Bahareh Hedayat, Nargess Mohamamdi, Nasrin Sotudeh, Haniyeh Farshid Shotorban are currently serving their prison terms.
Last year, security forces illegally shut down the “Sedighe Dolat Abadi” Library, the only independent, non-governmental library in the filed of Women's studies.
Some recent policies of the Iranian government have been mentioned to demonstrate that the Iranian authorities cannot tolerate women's presence in the public arena. Therefore, they are trying to push women back to the private sphere of their homes so that they may abandon their opposition and legitimate demands.
In the view of the above-mentioned facts, I urge you to consider this letter when examining the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
With best regards,
Human Rights Advocate and 2003 Nobel peace prize Laureate
cc: Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, honourable UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Iran, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, honourable UN Secretary General; Madam Navanethem Pillay, honourable United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; honourable UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women; it's causes and consequences, UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Education