Peddling is not an official job. Female peddlers in Tehran’s metro face daily psychological, sexual, and physical harassment and violence due to the regime’s misogynistic policies. These women do not receive any organizational support and cannot switch jobs as easily as men can.
In recent years, the number of women engaged in peddling at Tehran’s metro has increased. These women prefer to peddle on the subway rather than the streets due to the continuing economic crisis, the rising cost of living, and intense pressure from municipal officials. The solutions that authorities have adopted to reduce peddling have only exacerbated peddlers’ deteriorating conditions, such as banning peddling at different times of the day. These policies affect women’s livelihoods and add to their suffering.
The status of female peddlers in Tehran’s metro
Female peddlers in Tehran’s metro struggle every day just to earn very small amounts of money. They work from the early morning to late at night at this indoor location to try to cover the skyrocketing cost of living.
Peddlers come from all walks of life – from students to the educated class to contracted teachers. Most of these women suffer from depression because, working indoors, they are deprived of sunlight and spend long hours in a soulless environment. Most of their income was halved during the Coronavirus pandemic. To add to their troubles, most of Tehran’s metro peddlers have contracted the Coronavirus.
These women do not have a final destination like subway passengers. They stand at the platform with their heavy carts and bags until the next train comes. Then they board and try to sell their goods. They spend their earnings on rent. These women hide their wares under their chadors to avoid being caught by municipal officials.
Municipal officials harass female peddlers in Tehran’s metro
One of the most serious problems for women peddlers in Tehran’s subway is sexual harassment in the workplace by municipal officials. The security situation in the subways is dire and remaining underground represents the choice between bad and worse as municipal officials on the streets are more likely to harass them. Thus, female peddlers in Tehran’s metro only work in the women’s subway carriages.
Women from the age of 17 to much older have recounted similar stories.
A 35-year-old woman with three children is forced to work as a peddler. She is an accounting graduate but needs to work to supplement her husband’s income due to the high cost of living. She suffers from neck osteoarthritis because she has to carry her loads continuously from place to place. The peddler said that when municipal officials confiscate her goods, they make lewd suggestions as to how she can get them to release her goods.
A 17-year-old schoolgirl who started peddling to help out her family was forced to change her workplace because of sexual harassment by a subway station officer.
A 22-year-old female student sells cloth masks on the subway. She reports that when municipal officials find out she is a peddler they proposition her because they know she needs the money.
All of these women have one thing in common: if it were not for the high cost of living and other economic problems, they would never have come to work in dark, cramped corridors during the Coronavirus. But they have to do whatever they can to make a living.
A 40-year-old woman has a bachelor’s degree in literature. She has been peddling handicrafts on the subway for 7 years. She used to be a contract teacher but was forced to resort to peddling because of the cost of living. She reported on the harassment she experienced, adding that “government authorities,” in addition to the municipal officials, obstruct their work. Offering to resolve their problems, a government authority registered the peddlers’ names. However, all they did was steal her goods, inflicting even greater misery and loss.
Another woman is 29 years old and the mother of a young child. She has been peddling on the subway for 3 years. She used to work for a company but was fired when her employer realized she was pregnant. This peddler says, “No laws protect us. It’s like we don’t exist. All the authorities do is ban our work. They take our goods, and we have to jump through bureaucratic hoops just to get them back.”
A 44-year-old woman who has been peddling for 15 years comes to Tehran from around Karaj early in the morning. She works on the subway until nightfall. She has lived through two Coronavirus outbreaks. She says, “When peddling, you’re not a person. When you are a woman, the misfortune doubles. The government doesn’t help at all, and it just makes things worse. After years of peddling on the street, I chose the subway. The more you are available to the officers, the greater the harassment. A friend of mine who was very beautiful was not safe from the municipal authorities. She was married and had children, but they didn’t care.” She added, with great pain in her voice, “It’s bad enough to be a poor woman with no support. On top of that, it seems everyone wants a piece of your body…”
Young children with peddler mothers
Haniyeh is a young woman with a 3-year-old child. She used to buy clothes from Tehran’s bazaar and bring them to the subway to sell. Haniyeh is concerned about her young child’s health, especially given the Coronavirus pandemic. She does not have anyone to take care of her child during her work hours, leaving her unable to look for another job.
Massoumeh, 23, is in the same situation. She sells knives, baskets, filters, dried herbs, lighters, and other similar goods. Her 6-year-old daughter plays nearby. Massoumeh’s husband left her 3 years ago, leaving her with no choice but to peddle. She cannot afford to rent a shop. “During the Coronavirus, they (the municipal agents) take our goods more often,” she said.