Iranian Women: A visible Presence in Universities, a Notable Absence in Labor Market


Tuesday 20 February 2007

Shahrzad News: According to official figures, 65% of students at Iranian universities are female, compared with just 37% in 1979.

To explore this increase, Golnaz Malek (age 23) of Shahrzad News interviewed three Iranian female students just after they had taken the university entrance exam called Konkour (from French word, Concours), and also asked about their motivations for seeking a university education. Every year, 1.5 million high school graduates take the Konkour with the hope of getting admitted to the state owned universities, which offer the best quality education.

Golnaz asked the three students about what would happen if they did not pass the Konkour. The first student, Sahel said, “This is the first time that I took the Konkour. I want to study Architecture. If I do not pass this year, I will try it again next year.” Sahel said her motivation to go to the university is to be independent.

Shabnam also took the Konkour for the first time. She wants to study Mechanics Engineering. Why? Shabnam wants to study this because it is typically male profession.

The third student, Sahar, said she chooses to study Management because she doesn’t want anyone to boss her around. She believes that women need to learn about Management. Financial independence is Sahar’s main motivation to study.

Although the number of female university students has almost doubled in the last three decades, their participation in labor market has become more restricted. Women comprise just 12-14 % of the work force in Iran and earn less then their male colleagues. New government regulations have added additional barriers to their participation. Specifically, in March 2006, the cabinet of President Ahmadi-Nejad announced new regulations that reduced the working hours for women in order to “enable them to devote themselves to motherhood.” In Iran, men are officially recognized as the head of the household. According the Islamic laws in Iran, women cannot work without their husbands’ permission.

So this is the overall picture: More women are likely to pass through the entrance door of universities, while the labor market sends more women out the exit door.


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