Iran has banned females from studying 77 subjects in the Islamic Republic's 36 state universities, a move that has prompted the most prominent Iranian human rights campaigner to call for a United Nations investigation.
The Telegraphreports that the move to ban female students may be a reaction to a trend in which women outnumber men in Iranian university entrance exams by three to two.
According to UNESCO, Iran currently has the highest ratio of female to male undergraduates in the world. Iranian women have become prominent in traditionally male-dominated studies such as applied physics and some engineering fields. This educational trend begins early; according to NationMaster, Iran has the world's highest girl to boy ratio at the primary education level as well.
Courses that will now be off-limits to female students in the upcoming academic year include English literature, English translation, hotel management, archaeology, nuclear physics, computer science, electrical engineering, industrial engineering and business management. The nation's Oil Industry University will ban women altogether.
Rooz 1709 reports that fields in accounting, education, historic building restoration, pure chemistry, urban development, management and mining engineering are also male-only.
The Islamic clerics who rule the authoritarian nation of 75 million are reportedly concerned that the increasing number of university-educated women could pose a threat to social stability as they may demand greater rights in what is one of the most restrictive countries in the world for them. Declining marriage and birth rates are also feared.
Shirin Ebadi, the most prominent Iranian human rights activist and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, wrote to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to express her alarm over Iran's latest act of gender discrimination. Ebadi, who lives in exile in London, wrote that the Islamic regime's to reduce the number of female university students to under 50 percent from the current level of 65 percent. This, Ebadi writes, would weaken the Iranian feminist movement which could prove a thorn in the regime's side by advocating for greater gender equality.
"It is part of the recent policy of the Islamic Republic, which tries to tries to return women to the private domain inside the home as it cannot tolerate their passionate presence in the public arena," Ebadi wrote. "The aim is that women will give up their opposition and their demands for their own rights."
But Kamran Daneshjoo, Iran's science and higher education minister, dismissed criticism of the move to ban female students, claiming that women are still able to study 90 percent of available degrees. Gender discrimination, Daneshjoo said, was necessary to achieve "balance."