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Anger In Iran After Images Of Girls Removed From Cover Of Math Textbook


Many Iranians have been angered by the removal of the images of several girls from the cover of a math textbook. Authorities said the cover was “overcrowded" and erased the girls, though three boys still appear on the new edition of the textbook (image on left).

There's outrage among Iranians over the removal of the images of girls from the cover of a third-grade math textbook in what critics say highlights gender discrimination and the sexist attitude of the country's officials.*

The Education Ministry said the original cover showing two girls and three boys playing under a tree was "overcrowded" and that those who reviewed the book from "an artistic, aesthetic, and psychological perspective" had proposed to make it "less crowded." The ministry added that the girls are included inside the textbook as well as on the cover of other math textbooks.

But the decision has infuriated both women and men who have taken to social media to protest what they see as the removal of women and point out that the first and so far only woman to receive the Fields Medal, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in mathematics, was from Iran.

The late Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani (file photo)
The late Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani (file photo)

Stanford University Professor Maryam Mirzakhani received the Fields Medal, the most prestigious international mathematical prize, in 2014.

She died three years later at age 40 after a long battle with cancer that caused an outpouring of grief among Iranians, including the country's leaders, who said her passing had caused "great sorrow."

Many posted Mirzakhani's photos on social media while others photoshopped or glued her photos on the cover of the math textbooks using the hashtag, in Persian, #womencannotbeeliminated.

"An Iranian woman named Maryam Mirzakhani was the century's most prominent figure in mathematics. Now you have erased photos of girls from third-grade math textbooks?" user Mahsa Nasrollahi wrote on Twitter.

Politician Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, one of the leaders of the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover, said in a post on Instagram that "the policy of elimination [of women] and gender segregation has reached the bottom line."

"My daughter: paste the photo of Mirzakhani on the cover of the book and be proud that you're a girl," Asgharzadeh added.

Iran's vice president for women and family affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, posted the cover of the third-grade math textbook next to the all-girl cover of a third-grade science textbook and said the two should be seen together. She added that Education Minister Mohsen Haji Mirzaee had included "gender justice" on his agenda.

Ebtekar admitted that people's "sensitivity" on the issue was appropriate.

"Girls cannot be ignored," she added on Twitter.

To many critics, the erasure of the three little girls from the textbook highlighted more than four decades of state-imposed discrimination against women, including discriminatory laws that give women less rights in areas such as child custody and divorce and force them to cover their hair and body in public.

"Enough injustice has been done to our girls and women, you cannot ignore half of the society with these games," cartoonist Mahdi Ahmadian wrote on Twitter while posting a cartoon in which the two girls removed from the textbook were being dragged away by two men, one of which was carrying a sickle, an apparent reference to the gruesome June murder of a 14-year-old girl by her father that renewed a debate about the need for legal protection for children and women against abuse and violence.

The father, who beheaded his daughter because he disapproved of her boyfriend, had consulted a lawyer before committing the act to make sure he wouldn't face the death penalty.

*STORY UPDATE: The outrage over the girls removed from the cover of the math textbooks prompted an apology from Iranian Education Minister Mohsen Haji Mirzaee on September 13; he promised to resolve the issue.

“There was some [bad judgment] regarding the removal of the images of girls from the third-grade math textbooks; therefore, we apologize for it and we will correct it,” he was quoted as saying in Iranian media.

He added that schoolgirls in Iran have been provided with “good learning opportunities” and that the effects of this are visible, citing an example of many girls competing in math and science Olympiads in Iran.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.