Iran’s decision to forbid women from studying dozens of subjects including nuclear physics and oil engineering threatens to wipe out one of the last vestiges of gender equality in the country, Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi said today.

The Islamic Republic’s Ministry of Science, Research and Technology has barred women in 36 universities from 77 fields of study, according to state-run media including the Mehr news agency. Female students learned of the curbs when they received their registration letters in recent weeks.

The new rules “demonstrate that the Iranian authorities cannot tolerate women’s presence in the public arena,” Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi wrote in an open letter to the United Nations dated Aug. 17. “They are trying to push women back to the private sphere of their homes so they may abandon their opposition and legitimate demands.”

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