Low-income female peddlers still need to make a living – whether on the street or in the subway system. With the spread of coronavirus, there are fewer pedestrians. As a result, female peddlers have no choice but to sell their goods to customers on the subway.
One peddler, Zahra, lugs a bag of unsold shawls as she gets off at the last station on the line. Zahra has two daughters, both of whom are students.
Zahra comes to Tehran from the town of Andisheh every day to work. Her husband used to work in construction but suffered a spinal injury when he fell off a scaffolding. As a construction worker, he had no insurance. His employer refused to support him. Now, he has been paralyzed for more than 10 years.
Today, Zahra alone is responsible for two girls and a man at home. In Zahra’s household, staying home for just two days means the family starves for a week.
Zahra explains her situation in the context of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran: “These days, since the word about this new virus has gone out, the agents are getting more and more involved in our cases. They say, ‘Pick up your things and leave!’ But they do not say where we should go or what we should do to earn a few days’ worth of expenses for a family. How do we pay our rent? How do we get the money to pay our kids’ college tuition?”
Female peddlers in this situation suffer from both the pain of poverty and the fear of endangering their family’s health.
Zahra’s voice shakes with fear. She is terrified that her family will contract the deadly coronavirus. “By God, I am so afraid, even more so for my husband, who is physically weak and has a thousand different ailments. He would get it first. I have to take risks every day. But the day I get sick is the day the whole family breaks up!” (The state-run ILNA news agency – February 27, 2020)
There are many female peddlers; they are women of different ages. They walk into subway stations with different fears about security, health, and daily earnings. They need to make a living to support their families and thus have no choice but to risk falling ill. They would not work in the streets – or the subways – if they had a choice!
Unfortunately, there are no reliable statistics on the number of female peddlers in the Tehran subway system. Thus far, government and administrative agencies have completely disregarded these disadvantaged women, who are often heads of household.
One solution would be for the municipal government to dedicate an area from which female peddlers could sell their goods in safety and with health precautions – at least until the coronavirus crisis has been resolved. However, the government has only acted with violence and harassment, often confiscating the female peddlers’ goods.
As long as unemployment and poverty exist, and as long as women heads of household lack adequate support, the female peddlers will have to continue their work. The undeniable poverty and deprivation among women, particularly female peddlers, is due in large part to the mullahs’ misogynistic policies.