During the 1979 Revolution in Iran and the bloody eight-year Iran-Iraq War, women were banned from studying certain fields and many female faculty lost their jobs. Yet, young Iran-born Fariba Solati aspired to be an academic and with the inspiration given by her junior-high teachers, she didn’t let anyone stop her.
“Many of them told us girls to go to school and work hard and try to make it. [They said] it’s going to be tough, but try to make it … They inspired me to work hard and never give up,” Solati said, with a keen smile in her sharp, coral-red blazer.
Now, she inspires others as a professor in the Economics department at St. Thomas University. Solati teaches macroeconomics, political economy, perspectives of under development and economics of gender.
In order to attend university in Iran, along with 800,000 others in her year, Solati had to write a national entrance exam. Solati’s marks earned her a place in the top 0.01 per cent.
“Yet, I was told repeatedly during my undergraduate studies that my true place was at home cooking and learning how to be a mother and that I had occupied a male student’s seat at the university, because those seats truly belong to boys,” said Solati.
But she continued to work hard to prove she was just as capable as any man. After studying business at the undergraduate level in Iran, she moved to Canada with her family and made her dream of becoming an academic come true.
When both her children were old enough to go to school, Solati got a PhD in economics, political studies and anthropology from the University of Manitoba and started teaching there in 2010. She is now living in Fredericton with her first book coming out in March.
Her book, Women, Work and Patriarchy in the Middle East and North Africa, is about how society’s definition of work affects women in the Middle East and North Africa, where women’s participation in the labour force is the lowest in the world.
Through her book, Solati hopes to give a voice to the voiceless and make “the invisible work of women visible.”
Most economic textbooks are written by men and exclude female perspectives from mainstream economics.
“Economics is taught as if women don’t matter. I think it’s important that we have gender-aware economists,” said Solati.
As a feminist economist, she has been told that she isn’t a “real economist.”
“In a conversation, I was told ‘This is a feminist perspective,’ and I said, ‘Oh, what’s wrong with that?’ and they said, ‘Feminist economics is not real economics and you’re not a real economist,’” she said, recollecting a conversation she had. “It’s not everybody and they don’t say it to your face, but it’s the attitude of some economists.”
Despite such occasions, Solati continues her hard work in the field she loves. After a long and tiring day of teaching, most nights she stays at her office until 8 p.m. to work.
“Even though I’m totally exhausted every morning, I’m excited that I’m going to teach, that I’m going to be asked challenging questions,” said Solati, who said she now finds inspiration in her students.
She encourages others to pursue what they love too, despite discrimination and societal constraints.
“As girls excel in socially defined masculine fields, they gradually change society’s attitude about their abilities and capabilities … If you look around campus, you see that economics is no longer a purely masculine field,” said Solati.
“Don’t let society decide what you should or should not study.”