Iran’s women workers, victims of institutionalized discrimination
The International Workers Day is the day to defend justice, equality and human rights for workers and women workers on whose toil and efforts, the society’s welfare and happiness depend.
In Iran, however, workers’ rights have been violated altogether since the clerical regime seized power in 1979.
The mullahs’ regime has left no windows for defending the rights of workers so much that today, workers’ wages and monthly salaries are not paid for months and even over a year.
Workers have to get loans and pay interest, sell their organs and sometimes set themselves alight out of despair.
In light of such torturous conditions for all workers, one can conceive of the grave situation of women workers in Iran, since women are systematically discriminated against in the law, in employment and job market, and in every other realm of life.
The grim working conditions of women workers do not comply with any international norms or standards, let alone the more advanced ILO conventions and protocols or the UN Women’s Economic Empowerment in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Iranian regime, which is a member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), has not adopted any of the CSW recommendations to improve women’s economic empowerment, and is moving in the opposite direction.
Instead of “eliminating structural barriers and discriminatory laws” and “creating equal economic opportunities,” the regime sanctions more discrimination against women and its legislations marginalize women even further.
The mullahs’ Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reveals the misogynist vision of the regime by stating that women “physically and emotionally have been created by God for a special role in life” and “the issue of women’s employment is not among the main issues.”
As a consequence of such visions and laws, Iranian women who need to make ends meet for their family are forced to accept just any job with a small salary. They get hired by small workshops to work under unsafe conditions without insurance coverage, bonuses, or job security.
Some experts have best described the harsh conditions of women workers as “slavery.”
Most women heads of household are workers
Systematic discrimination against women in employment and the Iranian job market, forces extremely oppressive conditions on women who have to support their families. Most of women heads of household are hired as workers with meager incomes, and yet, there benefits and bonuses are slashed from their wages.
Speaking about the New Year’s budget and the Sixth Development Program, Zahra Sa’ii, spokeswoman for the parliamentary social committee, revealed that child benefits had been deducted from the payrolls of women heads of household in Autumn 2017.
The decision was implemented abruptly and the amount that had been previously paid to these women were withdrawn at once from their accounts. (The state-run salamatnews.com – March 28, 2018)
Parvaneh Salahshouri, head of the so-called women’s faction in the mullahs’ parliament, had previously asserted that the new budget bill contributed to poverty rather than eliminating it. She said more than 30 per cent of the credit for insurance coverage of housewives with three or more children had been cut. (The state-run ISNA news agency – December 18, 2017)
There are 3.5 million women heads of household in Iran, most of whom do not have any form of employment due to numerous obstacles for women’s education and employment. Only 180,000 of women heads of household are covered by the Welfare Organization and receive a monthly financial aid of 70,000 toumans (or $18 which is less than 10 per cent of the minimum wage). Women heads of household thus resort to unconventional means, including sale of their body parts, to earn for their families’ needs.
Women workers, the first victims of economic bankruptcy in Iran
With the bankruptcy of many production units and factories, women are among the very first to be laid off in every crisis. So, they have no job security whatsoever.
According to the Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Welfare Abolhassan Firouzabadi, 100,000 women are being dismissed every year. )The official IRNA news agency, September 6, 2015(
More and more employers have been firing married women and hiring single women in their stead because the former cannot work for them during their maternal leave. Fatemeh Sadeghi, a university professor, has revealed in 2015 that, “Every year during the past 10 years, 74,000 women have been fired from their jobs after going on maternal leave.” (The state-run Fars news agency – June 16, 2015)
The Iranian regime recently took a further step of sanctioning dismissal of women during their maternity leave.
The state-run Tasnim news agency wrote on September 15, 2017, “The General Board of Directors of the Administrative Court of Justice rescinded a directive by the general director of the Labor Ministry which had banned laying off working mothers for two years while they nurse their children. The Administrative Court of Justice pronounced the directive as unlawful and outside the jurisdiction of the body that had adopted it.”
Workers without contracts or insurance coverage
Institutionalized discrimination in employment has hindered young women’s advancement. Educated women with higher education are forced to engage in menial jobs with low wages due to lack of job opportunities and a patriarchal job market.
Sussan Bastani, deputy for strategic studies in Rouhani’s presidential directorate for Women and Family Affairs, told the state-run ISNA news agency, on February 13, 2016, that despite graduation of 2million girls from Iranian universities over the past 20 years, comprising over 60 percent of college graduates, the unemployment rate among women has increased.
The state-run press write that “educated women are known as workers who work with wages lower than the legal minimum wage, without insurance or official contracts.”
The state-run Shahrvand newspaper, on June 28, 2017, recounted the stories of educated women who had to work in jobs that are in no way related to their field of study or level of education. These women receive only 150,000-300,000 toumans a month ($46-92) while the minimum wage in Iran is 1 million toumans ($237) and the poverty line stands at about 4 million toumans ($474).
Many educated women who cannot overcome the obstacles of employment, have to resort to peddling in the streets which is generally not considered a decent job but has become common among women. While Rouhani boasts of peddling as a job created for women by the government, female peddlers are routinely brutalized by municipality agents and their small items get confiscated or damaged.
Women workers sell body parts to make ends meet
Unemployment is rampant among women. From the 27 million women in Iran over the age of 10, only three million are employed and over 24 million Iranian women are not present in the workforce. (The state-run Mehr news agency, June 8, 2016)
At the end of the day, women are compelled to resort to unconventional ways such as sale of body parts, panhandling, sale of their infants, etc. to make ends meet.
An official in Kermanshah admitted: “Often we witness women heads of household taking desperate measures and resorting to unconventional methods to provide the needs of their families including selling their kidneys!” (The state-run Mehr news agency, October 8, 2015)
Rouhani’s deputy for women’s affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi said, “Today, we witness sale of unborn infants in their mothers’ uterus and before they are born. We do not know the exact numbers but their numbers are large enough to make news.” (The state-run ILNA news agency, June 22, 2016)
Increasingly, women’s voices are gaining power and their demands grow louder as they protest against the regime’s destructive policies. They have had a key role in at least 200 protests over the past year. Furthermore, they actively participated at the forefront of Iran protests in December and January calling everyone to join in and continue the uprising.