With the start of the new Iranian academic year, a raft of restrictions on courses open to Baha’i female students has been introduced, raising questions about the rights of women to education in Iran – and the long-term impact such exclusions might have. A number of young women of Baha’i faith have been deprived of admission to university in various Iran cities despite passing the university entrance exam. The excuse cited by officials has been “deficient records”, an excuse used by the Evaluation Organization (Sanjesh) to prevent Baha’iis from entering higher education.
Some of these young women have been identified as: Paniz Johari, Pegah Johari, Roxana Karamzadeh, Taranom Haghighi, Parnia Misaghi, Bahareh Rahmani, Zohreh Fazli, Sama Safari, Pegah Sirousian, Afrouz Zabihi, Ava Sadeghian, Mahna Moslemi, Ghazal.
Many reports indicate that far fewer girls than boys are completing – or even going into – education. In addition to national legislation, the state has moved forward with other initiatives that restrict women’s ability to participate in public life. Most notably, the state has promoted gender-based university admissions policies that are highly discriminatory to women.
Ironically, the Islamic Republic has long pointed to the expansion of women’s education as one of its crowning achievements. Yet the success of female education in Iran, especially the expansion of women’s university attendance, triggered a reactionary backlash that came to fruition under the (previous) hardline administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Conservative government officials and clerics came to view female education as a threat to traditional Islamic values, particularly regarding commitment to the family and willingness to marry and bear children. They linked university-level education and the professional opportunities it created to an increasing divorce rate and plummeting fertility rate. Restricting women’s access to areas of study in higher education thus became a policy priority.