Around the world, Shirin Ebadi is the face of Iran's tragic retreat from equality for women. Awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her legal and advocacy work in human rights, Ms Ebadi, Iran's first female judge, is also known for Iran Awakening, her 2007 memoir of how she lost her post as the 1979 revolution led to major constrictions of women's rights.
No wonder, then, that Ms Ebadi has spoken out forcefully against Iran's shocking new restrictions on higher education for women. Thirty-six universities have banned women from 77 fields of study: engineering, nuclear studies, pure chemistry, accounting, translation, English, maths, forestry, computer science … the list goes on. "Some fields are not very suitable for women's nature," a top education official, Abolfazl Hasani, told an Iranian news agency.
How ridiculous, and how sad. By this medieval measure Iran not only shoots its own economy in the foot but also betrays and repudiates a key element of a long, sophisticated cultural tradition.
In an open letter to UN officials last week, Ms Ebadi said these rules "demonstrate that the Iranian authorities cannot tolerate women's presence in the public arena". Why? Perhaps because Iranian women consistently outperform men in academic achievement.