In between the good-news and not so good-news of 2012 in Iran, there has been the story of Iranian female students’ achievement of an approximate 60 per cent or more success rate at university entry exams and accordingly gaining entry to various universities. Despite all these successes, the achievements of female students are seldom recognised in Iran as they face a myriad of different limitations. These various limitations and hurdles placed in the way of girls or women in Iran, as far as academic success is concerned, undoubtedly emanate from the archaic aspiration of the regime to keep the women of Iran housebound and prevent them from social participation. Although, considering the regime’s self-interests and desire to portray itself as a progressive one, President Ahmadinejad has, on a number of occasions, opposed calls for further restriction on women. The president’s sincerity in this matter can be gauged from the fact that he has repeatedly criticised the municipality forces for their treatment of women but, hitherto, never his own science minister for introducing a parliamentary bill which would usher in gender segregation at universities.
During the previous academic year, the president did place a request in writing to his science minister describing the gender segregation plan as “shallow” and “unwise.” The president’s instructions went unheeded. Thus, one must ask, how is it that a president who has an appetite for replacing his ministers remained silent when his directives were not observed. Could this lack of resolve and inaction on the president’s behalf be due to the fact that he is favour-bound to his Science Minister Mr. Kamran Daneshjoo? After all, Daneshjoo was one of the main politicians who President Ahmadinejad reach presidency.
Reviewing the political inclination of the president clearly demonstrates that even if he is in a quid-pro-quo situation vis-à-vis another politician, he has no qualms in disposing of them. Then, why not his science minister? It is likely that the president’s tolerance in this matter may have two significant reasons. Firstly, it is possible that quite contrary to his political posturing the president favours such a proposal; genders segregation at universities. Secondly, it is also probable that the president – who many perceive as appointed rather than elected – has no choice but to go along with the edicts of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his band of adhering to Governmental Ayatollahs. If the latter is the case, it is yet another indication that Iran is being governed by governmental clerics who have no appreciation of the modern world or any comprehension of its sociological developments. These being the same clerics who permit themselves to interfere in all spheres of government: from political to economical to social. The very clerics who deem themselves experts in all disciplines and contrary to the successes and achievements of women want them to be housebound rather than full participants in society.
There is no difference between the two schemes – the ‘Gender Segregation at Universities’ and the so called ‘Attire and Honour of Women’ – being proposed; which the president timidly and in a savvy populist move has opposed. Both these programs are an insult to the intelligence of Iranian Women and both are designed to have women be at the behest of men. In my humble opinion the deployment of these directives are clear indications of contravention of Human Rights in Iran. It is obvious that the spirit of such archaic initiatives arises from a predominant presumption that women are dangerous creatures who are the source of temptation and moral deviation for men and as such must be restricted. It goes without saying these sentiments relating to women are clearly contrary to the very essence of human rights and as such, a violation of them.
An argument forwarded by the advocates of the plan to implement ‘Gender Segregation at Universities’ is that already segregated universities, which are a part of a pilot program, have higher grade strata than non-segregated ones. They, however, do not explain the reason why non-segregated universities in Iran, rather than segregated ones, are amongst the internationally accredited universities. The advocates of this program have also failed to explain how it is that academically superior students who were suppose to emerge from these segregated universities have yet to transpire. Even if the lack of this fruition is excused by the fact that the program is still in its early years and it’s success – as the proponents of the program claim – will be apparent in the next two years, there is no guarantee that the next government which comes into power (bearing in mind that Presidential elections are soon to be held in Iran) will continue to implement this scheme. Moreover, stating that this program will come to fruition within the next two years does not necessarily make it so. Furthermore, when one considers world renowned universities – the top spot going to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) this year rather than Cambridge – none of them are gender segregated. One of the universities that has, from its inception, been a segregated university in Iran, has been the Al-Zahra University; how does it academically rank in comparison to other Iranian Universities. How many scientist, thinkers and philosophers have emerged from this university? How many of its graduates have advanced to governmental or other high positions? Finally, what is the clear academic difference between the students of the said university in comparison to other universities, that the proponents of this program desire this university to be a model for the rest?
It is an obvious and glaring fact that such social experiments have no fruition for the Iranian people, but it has, alas, become the habit of this regime to create various conundrums for the people as a way of declaring its existence. The undemocratic essence of this Regime continuously forces the men who govern it to impose their illogical and even inhuman designs onto the people. Moreover, are all the clerics who emerge from Theological Centres of Qom, Mashhad or others– which are, of course, segregated – without any moral embellishments? The current governing elite whose hands are drenched in the blood of innocent Iranians, are they not the product of these very same theological centres?
The implementation of such wily initiatives has no other real effect but to harass and be of nuisance to the young and moreover insult their common sense. The need for these costly disruptions however, arises completely from other quarters. It emerges from the fact that these half-baked programs help to distract public attention when Iran is facing other serious challenges and also assist to keep the cleric echelon of society satisfied; both being indispensable for the survival of the Regime. By such deeds, it seems at times, as though the Regime has decided to take an axe to the very root of Islam in an Islamic Society. The derivative of such foolhardy endeavours can only be to further distance the people from their religious roots and alienate them from Islam. What is the use of such schemes when the Iranian Government is embroiled in financial improprieties and its Supreme Leader instructs the criminal case of the people involved in the embezzlements to be postponed to a more “appropriate” time? What purpose does such initiatives serve when, the financial assets of the country is being squandered, factories are being successively closed and the parent of the very students who would have to attend these segregated universities have either been made redundant or have not had their salaries paid for many months, and hence can afford neither the tuition fees of their children nor their family’s living costs.
Have governmental clerics, who insist upon insulting the intelligence of the Iranian people, thought of the eventual and dire consequences of such poverty? Have they, in their Theological Centres, assessed the prostitution statistics? Once considering these previously mentioned facts, one can clearly determine that a Segregated Islamic University is akin to an isolated island, leading to nowhere and achieving nothing. Those clerics who seem to have relinquished the life of the hereafter for the life of this world and continuously fan the flames of such malign schemes, seem not to fear the “flames of hell” of which they so vividly and continuously speak. Perhaps they would do well to fear the flames of the people’s rage; the same populace whose lives they have transformed into living-hell and the same people who are daily embroiled in a new flame created by this Regime.
The President’s Science Minister is still adamant in implementing this program regardless of the opposition demonstrated by the majority of students. In my view, this in itself is an indication and proof of dictatorial rule. Despite all the iniquitous, harsh and unkind condition imposed upon them by the Iranian Regime, the Women of Iran have demonstrated their resilience by overcoming the various hurdles placed in their path and have managed to maintain a considerable presence in public life and their latest achievement of having attained an entry exam pass rate of 60 percent is yet another indication of this. Their presence in various Iranian sociological spheres of life is a thorn in the eye of those who, with an array of frivolous excuses, desire to expel them from social forums and have no regards for their Human Rights. Iranian women and girls are not the only group being discriminated against in today’s Iranian Society. All Iranians are being discriminated against in one form or another by the Islamic Republic and everyone is treated as second class citizen; less the cronies, cohorts, subordinates and adherents of the Regime. The solution to this wide ranging problem is not reform – as some would have it – but dismantlement of the Regime as whole. Hopefully, from the ashes of this Regime would arise the pillar of a new democratic one that deems everyone equal regardless of their gender. A regime that would be a source of pride for all Iranians across the world.
Behrooz Behbudi (PhD) is the Founder of the Council for a Democratic Iran