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Sunday, 7 January, 2001, 15:36 GMT
Iran overturns women's study ban
Iranian schoolgirls
These schoolgirls could get new chances for later study
The Iranian parliament, the Majlis, has passed a bill which will enable unmarried women to apply for scholarships to study overseas.

The state news agency IRNA said the bill was contentious because of the conflicting views of reformist members of parliament and conservatives, who regard the measure as a potential blow to Islam and the dignity of women.

President Khatami
The Guardian's Council has thwarted President Khatami before
Although the bill has now been passed by parliament, it has still to be ratified by the 12-member Guardians' Council.

Under the constitution, the council, which is made up of conservative clergy and lawyers, is responsible for ensuring that parliament's decisions do not contradict the laws of Islam.

Correspondents say it has used these powers in the past to thwart attempts by reformist President Mohammad Khatami to liberalise the country.

And a UN human rights report last year criticised the council for its "capricious conduct".

Significant progress

Iran banned unmarried women from obtaining state scholarships for studying abroad in 1985.

women election candidates
Women have played a central role in the reform movement
But correspondents say women in Iran have gained more equality in recent years, although there are still many unresolved issues.

Earlier this year, Islamic religious leaders lifted a ban on women leading other women in the Friday prayer.

This change in law and practice was seen as a major victory for the women's movement in Iran, where the clergy has traditionally been one of the main bastions of male privilege.

Women have played a central role in the reform movement which helped bring President Khatami to power in 1997, and whose representatives now dominate the Iranian parliament.

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14 Dec 00 | Middle East
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10 Oct 00 | Middle East
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Country profile: Iran
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