Iran Ministry’s Removal of Girls’ Images from Textbook Cover Sparks Public Outrage

Kayhan London./

By Kayhan Life Staff

A decision by Iran’s Ministry of Education to remove images of girls from the cover of the third-grade mathematics textbook for the 2020-21 school year has triggered a public outcry. People have taken to social media to express their disbelief and outrage at the action.

Some view the action as yet another violation of women’s rights by the Islamic Republic authorities. Many social media users have posted images of school textbooks from the Pahlavi era to contrast the progressive educational programs of the late Shah’s governing system, which promoted citizens’ rights irrespective of their gender, with the oppressive methods of the Islamic Republic.

Nasim Bahari, the artist who illustrated the cover for the third-grade mathematics textbook, posted pictures of the original design on her Instagram page. It showed two girls and three boys playing under a tree, and the revised version with the images of the girls taken out.

The accompanying text said: “I believe I designed the third-grade math textbook in 2013. A friend of mine sent me these pictures. I am not sure how accurate they are. If you have a child in the third grade, please check the math textbook and let me know. I would appreciate it. I cannot believe they would remove the images of the girls from the textbooks so easily.”

“In the original design, they did not want a girl climbing a tree. They also said that one boy was moving towards a girl and asked me to change the illustration. I made all those changes before publication. So there is no justification for altering a design that had been previously approved,” she added.

The Ministry of Education’s Organization for Educational Research and Planning (OERP) released a statement, saying that revising the third-grade math textbook’s cover was a design issue.

“The cover of the third-grade mathematics textbook has been revised. The original image was too crowded,” the statement said. “The changes were made following recommendations by psychologists and art and design experts. Some people have concluded that deleting the two girls’ images from the cover illustration was a deliberate measure. However, there are many images of girls in this and all other math textbooks.”

“There is no deliberate effort to eliminate images of girls from textbooks,” the statement added.

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Meanwhile, Education Minister Mohsen Haji Mirzaei apologized for the textbook’s revised cover design, saying it showed “poor taste.”

In comments reported by the Tasnim News Agency, Mr. Haji Mirzaei said: “Deleting the images of the girls from the cover of the third-grade math textbooks showed poor taste in design. We apologize for that and will correct this mistake. We call on everyone to focus on all the excellent work the ministry has done to provide girls with educational opportunities.”

“More than half of the country’s [elementary and high school] students are girls,” Haji Mirzaei noted. “The gender discrimination that existed in the past has been eradicated. No girl in any part of this country is deprived of education.”

Minister Mirzaei’s apology has not stopped people on social media from venting their anger and frustration at the systematic discrimination against girls and women in Iran.

“Forty-one years after Islamist revolution that overturned equality, the regime is still canceling out Iranian girls and women,” Iran Revival @Iranfarshgard tweeted in English on Sept. 10. “This year, girls have been erased from the cover of a third-grade math textbook.”

Another social media user, @RaghNegin, posted images of the covers of math textbooks for the first grade in 1959, second grade in 1959, third grade in 1958, fourth grade in 1960, and third-grade social science books in 1972, all published during the Pahlavi era. They showed young girls and boys studying and playing together.

In a video posted by mohammadrezza.brd with a hashtag (#woman cannot be erased), people are urged to replace the third-grade math textbook’s revised cover with a picture of the late Maryam Mirzakhani (1977-2017), an Iranian mathematician and a professor of mathematics at Stanford University. Ms. Mirzakhani was the recipient of the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics, in 2014. She died of breast cancer in 2017.

Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs, Masumeh Ebtekar, posted a photograph of the revised cover of the third-grade math textbook next to a picture of the cover of the experimental sciences textbook for the same grade which showed three girls studying together.

The accompanying tweet said: “Although we must view the math and the experimental sciences textbooks together, the honorable Minister Haji Mirzaei is amending several problems with school textbooks, including gender inequality.”

“People are rightfully concerned. We cannot ignore girls,” Ms. Ebtekar added.

This article was translated and adapted from Persian by Fardine Hamidi.

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