Science Groups Slam Iran's Move to Bar Women from 77 Undergraduate Fields

Condemnation request. Scientists are asking U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, shown here at a 31 August press conference wrapping up his visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran, to “condemn” the regime’s restrictions on female undergraduates.

United Nations

An international network of scholars wants the United Nations to "condemn" the Iranian government’s decision to restrict women from enrolling in 77 fields of undergraduate study, including many scientific and technical fields.

"To impose, in the 21st century, such restrictions on the higher education of Iranian women … is appalling," the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies says in a statement released today.

Iranian officials announced the restrictions just before U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Iran last week, the statement notes. While in Iran, Ban attended a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), 120 nations that consider themselves independent of any major geopolitical power bloc. It’s not clear whether the U.N. chief or NAM members "used their positions to condemn such intolerance and bias" at the meeting, the statement notes. "If they did not—perhaps out of courtesy to their host—they should do so now, in behalf of women around the world and for the credibility of their movement."

Martin Nesirky, a U.N. spokesperson, told ScienceInsider that "the secretary-general spoke very clearly and publicly during his visit to Tehran about the need for greater access for women in Iran to a broader range of professions and fields of study." He noted that during a speech to the Iranian Foreign Ministry's School of International Relations, Ban said: "Here in Iran, poverty and maternal mortality are down—that’s good. Literacy for girls is up. Women now make up more than half of all university [students] in Iran—that's again fantastic. This welcome trend must continue with women entering an ever-broader range of professions and fields of study. We'll discuss this matter through an exchange of views, but there are many areas that we have to do more when it comes to women." (There is video of the speech on YouTube.)

The human rights network, whose members include Nobel laureates and members of national scientific academies around the world, also asked Iran’s government "to rethink this ill-advised policy for the sake of the future development of its country and the well-being of all of its people." Women make up 65% of Iran’s university students, the group says, and about 70% of the nation's science graduates. "The harmful consequences of this ‘alignment’ against women for the future of Iran are incalculable," the statement says, "as are its effects on the reputation of the Iranian government in the eyes of the world."