The inequality of women in Iran has been underscored once more by a bizarre, recent move by Iran’s Health Ministry. The dearth of medical practitioners in rural areas has long been a noted problem in Iran, but now the Health Ministry has declared its remedy: reducing the number of female medics.
The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, recently declared on his personal website that gender equality was "one of the biggest mistakes of the Western thought". With this kind of message from Iran’s leaders, it is hard not to see the Health Ministry’s announcement as part of a wider policy to restrict women’s access to employment. The declared reason for Ministry’s policy is that there are now too many female medics compared to men, and women are less likely to be willing to serve in rural areas than men. However, this logic is completely flawed. Even when men made some 70- 75 percent of medical students, there was a shortage of physicians in remote regions. Poor living conditions and a dearth of scientific and professional opportunities are among the reasons that doctors -- both female and male -- say they are unwilling to practice in those areas.
To put a limit on the number of female medical students will not solve the problem, but rather risks alienating women from the profession and creating a shortage of medics across the country. Ironically the Health Ministry’s announcement came just two days after Women’s Day when President Rouhani called for equal opportunities for men and women, despite Khamenei’s pronouncements. The mixed messages coming from Iran indicates there is still a long way to go before women are properly valued and have equal opportunities across the board in Iran.