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I am an Iranian visiting fellow at the Cancer Prevention Studies Branch, National Cancer Institute.
Your report entitled "Roundtable Examines Middle Eastern Research Opportunities for Women," published in your Apr. 13 issue, was very informative and fascinating. Having read this story, however, one might conclude that the main obstacle for women to conduct research in Iran is a male-dominant culture that prohibits women from pursuing higher education. This might have been true 25 years ago, when Drs. Sabzevari and Semnani left Iran, but it is not true any more. The status of women's education and research opportunities in Iran has changed dramatically during the past 25 years. For example, in the educational year 2003-2004, 60 percent of all the students accepted into Iranian universities were females and only 40 percent were males. There are also quotas for women in medical specialty exams, and with an equal exam grade, females have a much better chance of being accepted into a medical residency program. It is currently unlikely for Iranian women to achieve high political positions and there are definitely some legal biases against women. But when it comes to science, at least now, women's opportunities for doing research are no less than those of men.
In my view, the main obstacle to conducting cutting-edge research by female (and male) Iranian researchers is limited access to world-class training programs and sophisticated research facilities. NIH can definitely play a role in solving these problems by granting more fellowships to female Iranian researchers.
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