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Wednesday, September 8, 1999 Published at 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK

World: Middle East

Iranian women get image boost

Iran's women have had a clearly-defined image since the Revolution

By Regional Analyst Pam O'Toole

The Iranian Ministry of Education says it is going to revise the way in which women are portrayed in primary school text books.

Education Minister Hussein Mozafar has said that texts for primary school pupils would be changed during the coming year, while those for older students would be revised over the next few years.

Mr Mozafar said he regretted the "lack of enough knowledge about women's capabilities" and vowed they would have a "thoroughly changed" image in classroom texts.

New image

The announcement is being regarded in Iran as an attempt by the government to respond to rising demands from women for greater rights and a change in the way they're portrayed in the official Islamic media.

Iran's women played an important part in the election of the reformist President Mohammad Khatami two years ago and since then have been striving for a more active role in public life.

Iranian women are well educated; in recent years more girls than boys have passed university entrance exams. In theory, at least, they can enter most professions, although some women complain of a so-called glass ceiling which makes it harder to reach the top positions.

More women than ever before have been elected to parliament and to local councils set up earlier this year. These representatives are becoming increasing vociferous about womens' rights.

But despite such advances, women are still usually portrayed in Iranian text books and films as the mothers, sisters or daughters of central male characters, or obeying the orders of male superiors at work.

Insufficient knowledge

Mr Mozafar has admitted there are too few senior women officials in his department, putting this down to what he described as insufficient knowledge about womens' capabilities.

Womens' activists will be hoping that a revision of the way women are represented in school text books could go some way to remedying this.

But Mr Mozafar has not specified what kind of changes he has in mind. And President Khatami's reformist government will be aware that any attempts to introduce a major change in the way women are portrayed could meet with strong resistance from Iran's conservative faction.

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