Street peddling and the increasing number of women peddlers in Iran are among the most obvious indications that the plan to empower women heads of households has been a hollow promise.
The women’s empowerment plan is among the promises made by the Directorate of Women and Family Affairs, but it has never improved the situation of deprived women.
“More than 200,000 women lost their jobs last year, and some of them were added to the population of women peddlers” (The state-run Jam-e Jam Website- April 10, 2021).
Women peddlers face tremendous suffering during COVID-19
In the past year, the Coronavirus has deprived many women of employment opportunities and forced them to stay home. The proportion of women’s economic participation also decreased significantly during this time. Due to the lack of transparency in the ruling regime in Iran, there are no statistics on women who make a living from peddling. But some government officials acknowledge the increasing number of women peddlers.
In the face of the rising numbers of women peddlers, the authorities’ solutions have only served to aggravate the situation of peddlers. Reinstating the ban on peddling not only fails to address the issue, but it also increases the suffering of women peddlers.
Women peddlers in Iran’s southern provinces
In some areas, such as the northwestern, northeastern, and central provinces, there are fewer instances of peddling among women. The southern provinces, however, have shown another face of peddling. In provinces such as Khuzestan and Hormozgan, many women are forced to peddle in the markets due to the economic conditions.
The rampant spread of the Coronavirus has caused the markets in red-zone cities to close. As a result, foot traffic is reduced, prices have increased while purchasing has decreased, and women’s employment and business opportunities have declined.
The following are examples of the living conditions of women peddlers, who are all the only breadwinners in their families. (The state-run Hamshahri website- April 14, 2021)
Naseri is a 29-year-old woman from Ahvaz and the mother of two. She has been trying to make a living to support her 10-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter by handselling for the past few years. The hardships in the wake of the Coronavirus have made it difficult for her to pay the $129 rent of her family’s dilapidated house. They must skip lunch or dinner for days. Naseri used to sell tablecloths but switched to napkins because the price of tablecloths increased. Selling napkins does not earn enough to cover her living expenses. “I go selling with my 10-year-old son,” Naseri said. “Sometimes a few napkins fall from his hand to the ground, and then people are afraid to buy them.”
This woman head of household goes to the garbage dump with her son at night to collect and sell plastics and cardboard boxes. Her husband is in prison. She has not received any institutional support during all these years.
Sharifa is a peddler in Ahvaz market. She has a difficult life. She has two sons. Her husband had been a construction worker until he suffered a work accident and became disabled. Now Sharifa is the head of her family. She sells broad beans, okra, and other vegetables (Persian fresh herbs platter). These are items that people rarely buy from peddlers due to the spread of the Coronavirus.
Zahra comes to the old Ahvaz bazaar every day from Hamidiyeh villages. She sells okra, Ziziphus spina-christi, unripe dates, dates, cucumber, and other fresh seasonal vegetables. She lost her husband in an accident 2 years ago, and recently lost her job as a laborer. Now, to earn a living to cover her three sons and one daughter, she plants crops on her small plot of land and sells them in the market.
Zubeida is from the northern cities of Khuzestan. She migrated to the northern city of Gorgan, where she earns a living by selling wild rue, pumice stones, loofahs, and hygienic items. Zubeida caught the Coronavirus while peddling in the streets. She was unable to work for more than a month during her recovery. Despite her situation, she had no support to provide for her family.