Iranian publishers remove images of girls from math textbook, parents add them back

Left, the 2020 edition of the math textbook where girls have been removed. Right, the 2019 of textbook before girls were removed.
Left, the 2020 edition of the math textbook where girls have been removed. Right, the 2019 of textbook before girls were removed.

The new school year in Iran is set to start on September 22 in spite of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But as parents prepared their third graders to return to school, they discovered something curious about the official math textbook for that grade. While the cover of the previous edition of the textbook featured both girls and boys playing together under a tree, the girls were missing from the 2020 cover. Many were angry at the modification and quickly took to social media to suggest their own covers.

When the news about the newly designed all-male cover hit social media on September 9, it sparked widespread outrage. Between 57 percent to 60 percent of all students in Iran are girls or women. And the first and only woman to win the Fields Medal, which is like the Nobel prize for mathematics, was an Iranian mathematician named Maryam Mirzakhani.

The Iranian artist who initially designed the cover for the math textbook posted a message on Instagram explaining that she was shocked by this modification, which was done without her permission. Many people see this move by the ministry of education as the government’s latest attack on women.

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Frustrated by the cover, some parents took action and designed new ones. Several printed out a photo of mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani and stuck it on the front of the textbook.

Others used cartoon stickers to add girls back onto the cover.

Some actually painted girls back into the spots where they had been removed from the image.

"My son and I brought girls back [on the cover] and I encourage you to do the same,” wrote this social media user in a post on Telegram.

"And here is a solution: you cannot erase the girls", posted this user on Telegram.

Quite a few Iranian artists also created their own versions of the cover and posted them online so that parents could download them and paste them on their children’s textbooks instead of the actual cover.

The response to the new cover was so intense that the Iranian ministry of education felt the need to explain. On September 10, they said that the modification occurred when “psychological and aesthetic” experts deemed that the cover was “too busy”, which prompted them to reduce the number of children depicted.

Article written by Ershad Alijani