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shifting the discrimination to the other side is not the solution...

My personal story regarding education is unusual yet has many common faces: I had access to education at all different levels as a very young woman. My parents, especially my father, were very enthusiastic about my education and my father’s motto was to provide for me for the rest of his life so I can continue my education as long as I want.

However, there was a sub-line to his motto: I can continue my education as long as I want, "in the field that he would approve of!"
And that’s the story of me and many other young women in my community, and it is not just at the family level but also the society which is also reflected in our laws and constitution. The community in which I grow up is a clear example of patriarchal society: the norms are based around the values that are associated to and defined by men and masculinity. The gender roles are internalized through the education that is available at primary and secondary level . The professional roles are also divided accordingly: men are the constructors and women are the maintainers. As an example, men are encouraged to be doctors whereas women are streamed to become nurses!

Therefore, I believe the biggest challenge is the existing internalized norms and values within the community for the young women to access education that they want.
There has been tremendous effort by the women’s right activists to overcome these barriers; since about 10 years ago the number of women participating in the entrance exam of the universities has been more than half of the total number of participants. Although this shows a great improvement on the status of women, I personally see problems with this imbalance: before we had uneducated women and now we will have uneducated men! Shifting the discrimination and imbalance does not necessarily solve the problem. The government applied the rule of 50-50 meaning that there should be a balance in the universities; this rule would have been acceptable if it was applied in all other areas of participation: at the job market, at the parliament, at the governmental positions and so on. Nevertheless, the 50-50 rule was only applied to gradually eliminate the participation of women in the higher education institutes. Since 2009 there have been clear cut downs in the number of fields and faculties that women can participate. The ministry of Foreign Affairs of United States has recently published an article about assess to education in Iran.

There have been several campaigns and petitions against this discrimination; there have been also attempts from diaspora to overcome these barriers by offering the education that Iranian Youth has been denied access to by providing online courses and education. One of these platforms is called Iran Academia (, an institute for social sciences and humanities. Here you can watch a promotional video of their work.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
Learn more »


Somaye Dehban's picture

a footnote!

I am aware that in this article I am generalizing the situation; for instance, there is a huge difference between education in the cities and in the rural areas. I grow up in a relatively big city yet the norms and values that I am referring to are applicable to both urban and rural areas.

bhavna's picture

The professional roles are

The professional roles are also divided accordingly: men are the constructors and women are the maintainers. As an example, men are encouraged to be doctors whereas women are streamed to become nurses!
Very well said!
Keep writing and sharing!

Stacey Rozen's picture

Well said

So true, Somaye. There's such a fine line between empowering women and men equally. There's been much talk of a similar situation in SA - I read an article that noted: as women have been empowered, men have felt lessened and the stats on rape have soared - a way for men to feel power. I often think that the word 'engage' should replace the word 'empower' maybe that would help.


mjose3's picture

I understand how difficult it

I understand how difficult it must be to fight for what you want especially when the person you have to fight against is your family member. But do not let that stop you from pursuing what you really want to do. Our family loves and no matter what will come around at the end.


Sarah Whitten-Grigsby's picture

Thank You

Thank you, Somaye,

For this strong, clear, informative Week 3 assignment. Your writing is excellent and enlightening with regards to the plight of young women --and now men, too -- in your country.

Your voice is strong, your intelligence evident and your offering of ongoing solutions via link is supportive and helpful to all those who wish to read further and learn more.

So, thank you, and I wish you the best!

With Respect,

- Sarah

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby

Monica09's picture

Same situation in Bangladesh

Dear Somaye,

Greetings from Bangladesh!

The points you raised in your article are relevant in Bangladesh too. While my father never supported my mother's education or encouraged her to have her own identity, he has been supportive of my education, but only financially and also with certain conditions attached, such as the one you mentioned - studying in a field that he chose. Also, as I have mentioned in my articles, certain roles, such as teaching, cooking, sewing, and nursing, are kept aside for women. In short, the society has placed subtle imaginary limits on a woman's interests and capacities. I am glad you talked about changing this scenario without making it worse by discriminating upon men.

Keep writing!

Best wishes,

Abby A's picture



I appreciate your discussion and thoughts on discrimination towards women and girl's education in Iran. You bring up two important arms of discrimination-social and institutional. Socially, it sounds as though women only get support for education based on what are seen as traditional or acceptable roles for women. I can imagine that to be very difficult, a double standard coming from your father. How have you dealt with that or how do women deal with that?
In your discussion of institutional discrimination-the government and university policies that limit women's enrollment and selected fields at the university, I want to disagree that it is discrimination in the opposite direction. As you say, those policies do not exist outside of the university, men hold many more jobs, higher paying jobs and have greater social mobility. Women are still limited in pay and selection therefore women continue to be discriminated against. Discrimination comes from a place of power and power imbalance, and it seems women are still in a powerless place in Iran. In this way, I do not think that men are being discriminated against.

Additionally, I so love your inclusion of solutions that are already gaining ground in Iran. It shows that people are aware and that movement is happening.

Thanks so much for sharing!
Abby A

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