President Hassan Rohani has ordered the postponement of state recruitment exams for Iranians seeking government jobs, saying that gender quotas must be fixed and based on "justice."
Rohani's order on July 31 followed Iranian media reports alleging that some of the 13 state bodies participating in the exam, which had been scheduled for September 6, have quotas that discriminate against women.
Rohani ordered Iran's Management and Planning Organization to cancel quotas that are based on "unjust discrimination," the official government website said. It said he demanded quick action to ensure that gender quotas are based on justice and merit and are in line with his plans and promises.
Rohani has criticized the "culture of sexual discrimination" in Iran and promised to give women more rights and equal opportunities.
His vice president for women's affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, said earlier this year that some of the gender quotas in place were discriminatory and did not conform with Rohani's promises.
Molaverdi was quoted in April by Iranian media as saying that she had corresponded with Rohani and other relevant authorities in hopes of amending the quotas.
The daily Vaghaye Etefaghieh reported last week that out of the roughly 3,000 jobs advertised in the exam, only 30 percent were designated for women.
It said that "961 job opportunities belong exclusively to men, meaning that 30 percent of the jobs -- only 16 titles -- are for women," adding that the situation had improved since last year, when 2,284 of the 2,800 job opportunities were for men only.
With zero job offers available for women, Iran's Islamic Propaganda Organization has the most discriminatory recruitment practice. The organization says that "wearing clerical garb" is mandatory for all applicants.
Out of the 271 jobs advertised by the country's Prisons Organization, 31 would go exclusively to men while 13 were set aside for women, with the rest potentially open to both genders.
In addition to the unequal quotas, the BBC reported that the majority of management-level positions were set aside for men, while women were offered lower posts.
While an estimated 60 percent of university entrants are female, women make up less than 20 percent of Iran's workforce.
Iranian government officials have expressed concern about high unemployment among women, which unofficial figures put at about 40 percent.
In March 2015, a group of women's rights activists blasted the gender quotas as "overt discrimination against women" and blamed high female unemployment on state policies they said aim "to eliminate women from society."
The World Economic Forum's 2015 Gender Gap Index ranked Iran 141st out of 145 surveyed countries, meaning that it found only four countries to be more discriminatory toward women.