Recent controversy has risen over the Iranian government’s alleged decision in August to ban women from applying to 77 majors in 30 different universities due to the current decrease of childbirths and marriages. According to The Iran Primer, the actual ban of women from certain degree programs such as engineering, accounting, education, counseling and chemistry was an exclusive decision made by the universities, not the Iranian government.
However, Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently said in a tweet that women should be active in society by observing Islamic limits. Such majors banned involved close interactions between men and women in a university setting. This is just one of the possible reasons as to why the ban occurred.
The Iranian government has been silent on the issue so far, but one of the main issues that has been connected to the ban by Iranian officials is the rapid decline in childbirth and marriage rates in Iran. Iranian women who seek higher education tend to delay marriage and having children. According to the DailyBeast.com, women account for over 60 percent of university students in Iran.
While it may seem shocking that the government would care so much about the demographics of a country, it has been an important aspect of politics in many countries throughout history.
“Defense is important in considering the size of a country’s population and taxation,” Chair and Professor of History and Political Science Dr. Daniel Palm said. “Governments are very aware of the fact that human beings are a resource.”
Countries with large populations have been historically known to pay very close attention to demographics such as China and Russia. China currently has a law that only allows families to have one child in order to help their over-populated country.
“What is necessary to sustain a country is not always morally acceptable,” senior history and political science double major Sean Berwald said.
While the ban might be a political move to increase the population of Iran, it might have detrimental social side effects. Education within a country provides knowledge within the population, which gives ordinary citizens more power.
According to a PBS frontline interview with leading feminist Zillah Eisenstein by Golbarg Bashi, women in Iran have become much more vocal within the government and communities throughout the region. Iranian women played a vital part in the organization of the 2009 protest after the re-election of Iran’s president.
The universities banned women from such majors and degree programs related to petroleum and oil, which can be directly related to political issues with the United States. The United States does not have too much influence on Iran regarding the ban.
“It is unlikely that the United States can actually do anything about it because of the current economic embargo on Iran,” Palm said.
The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Iran, and we have for a long time tried economic sanctions to influence its policies., according to Palm.
Many students around campus see this ban from more of a feminist perspective. The ban is another way for the Iranian government to decide a woman’s place in society.
“The government could very well be preventing women from modernizing,” senior history major Ewomazino Shaffner said.
As Iran continues to modernize, more women are seeking higher education and careers similar to western society.
“Education liberalizes thought and empowers financial independence. Both of these pose a threat to authoritarian regimes,” Professor of Global Studies and Sociology Dr. Richard Slimbach said.
According to Slimbach, the Iranian government may feel that women need to be reminded of their place in society, which according to the regime and orthodox Islam, is being a dutiful wife and raising a family.
If more women in Iran choose to continue to seek higher education, and delay marriage and child-bearing, more restrictions are likely to be imposed, according to Slimbach.
Even with this ban, women will still continue to seek higher education, as Iran becomes a more developed nation. The United States can only urge activists within the region to protest against the ban.
It must also be remembered how far Iran has come in just 10 years. Women are continuing to gain more freedom within the region even with the strict Islamic laws. As Americans we feel blessed to have the freedom to pursue higher education, irrespective of gender.