By Amir Havasi
Iran’s education ministry said Tuesday the new cover of a schoolbook which removed girls from an illustration would be modified next year, following widespread criticism on social media.
After the ministry distributed textbooks for the new school year on September 5, parents saw the cover of the third-grade mathematics book had changed.
Two girls had been removed, leaving only three boys under a tree made up of numbers and mathematical signs.
A wave of criticism online prompted a rare apology from the education minister.
“A tasteless act was done in removing the image of girls, therefore we apologize for this and will correct it,” Mohsen Haji-Mirzayi said Sunday, state news agency IRNA reported.
On Tuesday, the ministry told AFP the books would be changed.
“The textbooks have already been printed and distributed, so the cover will not change until the next year,” its public relations office said, without giving further details.
Both public and private schools in Iran are required to use the ministry’s textbooks.
The removal of the girls’ images sparked uproar among Iranians on social media, with some denouncing the move as a form of gender discrimination.
Some pointed out that Iranian-born Maryam Mirzakhani was the first woman to win the coveted Fields Medal, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for mathematics.
A professor at Stanford University in California, Mirzakhani died in 2017 in the US at the age of 40, after a battle with cancer.
“The most prestigious mathematics figure of Iran’s recent decade was a woman named Maryam Mirzakhani, and then you remove girls from a mathematics textbook cover?” one person wrote on Twitter.
“Hey, Mr. IRI (an acronym for the Islamic republic), print this photo and paste it on the cover,” another tweeted, attaching a photo of Mirzakhani along with the hashtag #gender_equality.
Some parents also posted pictures of covers on which their children had painted the girls back.
Illustrator Nasim Bahary, who had designed the original cover seven years ago, called the change “unbelievable”.
She said Friday on Instagram that at the time she had been told to change elements such as a girl sitting on a tree branch or a boy positioned in a way “that looks like he wants to hug a girl”.
Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, said last week on Twitter that “the people’s considerations are correct, girls cannot be ignored.”
But she also noted that other changed covers—including a science schoolbook featuring only three girls—showed there was no intent to discriminate.
A statement by the ministerial body in charge of textbooks said the change was because the original illustration was “too crowded with too many mathematical concepts.”
But the reformist Shargh daily on Saturday slammed the ministry for its overall textbook material and design.
Citing data by the ministry’s previous caretaker Javad Hosseini, it said “70 percent of names and designs in schoolbooks are masculine”, adding that women are significantly underrepresented in school learning materials.
Bourse & Bazaar is proud to publish reportage on Iran from AFP’s award-winning teams in Tehran and worldwide.