If you can't beat 'em, ban 'em
Quota for men in the field of medicine
By Maryam Ghadessi
March 24, 2004
At a recent seminar on women employment in Tehran,
the Deputy Labor Minister
for Planning and Policy, Sadeq Bakhtiari, reported that the level
participation in the labor force in Iran stands at 11.5 percent
whole economy and 10.2 percent in larger cities. Furthermore,
informed the participants that women's unemployment rate in Iran
stands at 21.2
percent, which is twice the country's unemployment rate of 11.8
The causes of women's unemployment in Iran are numerous,
complex, and as
elsewhere often hidden. Here the factors that are responsible
disparity in the area of employment between the sexes are not
going to be
discussed, but rather a measure recently imposed by the authorities,
will have negative repercussions for future of women's employment.
Faced with such disparity, a responsible government
would take measures to
alleviate the inequity in opportunities. Instead the officials
in Iran have
decided to do just the opposite. That is undermining women's
own effort to
improve the appalling picture of women's participation in the
The measure in point imposes a quota for men in the field of
The measure should be seen as the official response
to a recent trend in the
outcome of nationwide university entrance examinations. More
specifically, in recent years the percentage of female students
universities, in majority of fields, has surpassed that of male
Female student enrollment in recent years has reached 60 to 65
This trend has been perceived as alarming in Iran's patriarchal
In response officials have been discussing restricting
available to women in the nationwide university entrance examination.
Finally this year a quota, which restricted the number of qualified
the field of medicine to 50 percent, went into effect. As a result,
bright young women who otherwise qualified to study
were barred from doing so because of their gender.
The issue of disqualification of women in the field
of medicine was not
approved by parliament prior to its imposition. Encountering
from the public, the organization in charge of administering
entrance examination revealed that it had followed the order
of the Ministry
of Health. The agency involved furthermore revealed that
different ministries have the authority to determine the quantity
the composition of the student pool.
The Ministry of Health has defended the
decision to install a quota
for men. In particular, the Minister of Health, Dr. Mahmood Pezeshkian,
steadfastly defended the decision that his ministry had made.
this discriminatory act, Dr. Pezeshkian, has argued that since
in Iran a
woman is obligated by law to reside where her husband chooses
to live and
not the other way around, then by allowing women to become doctors
at a high
percentage rate, the authorities are in effect depriving people
areas from receiving medical care.
More simply put, the justification
is that because husbands of female doctors would not (or perhaps
opinion of the official should not) follow their wives into
areas, when a high percentage of doctors are comprised of women,
in the remote areas suffer.
The justification presented, instead of providing
support for this discriminatory act as the official had intended,
discrimination against women gets built into a system then any
discrimination can readily be justified within that system.
After the measure was imposed, some women MPs pressed
the parliament to
review the issue. However, the opponents of the measure in the
face serious challenges. To be upturned the measure has to be
considered within the current parliament where reformist are in
reformist majority is to make way for conservatives at the end
mandate on May 28.
Therefore the first challenge that the opponents
measure face is that the outgoing parliament has a limited
time left and,
perhaps from the point of view of some lawmakers, has more
to tackle on its agenda. Second, even if parliament decides
the matter and vote against the measure, it still would have
the challenge of the conservative Guardian Council. Therefore,
whole, the possibility of the measure being overturned regrettably
Maryam Ghadessi is a Lecturer at
San Francisco State University.
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