Female peddling is not typical in Iranian culture. However, the Mullahs’ misogynistic rule and the regime’s plundering of the country’s wealth has forced women to take on non-traditional jobs. Moreover, the spread of poverty and the regime’s enforcement of legal barriers to women’s employment has driven a spike in the number of female peddlers.
“There are no accurate statistics on the number of peddlers, and specifically female peddlers, in Iran. Based on the observations, it can be said that the trend toward this false job has increased. More than ever, women have become peddlers on the subway, in buses, and on sidewalks” (The state-run ILNA news agency – May 19, 2020).
Reasons for increased peddling
The main reasons for the upward trend in peddling as a primary or secondary job are the unemployment crisis, and the fact that even employed people are not compensated enough to make ends meet.
In recent years, the rise in divorce rates has driven up the ever-increasing number of women heads of household. In the latest statistics provided by Masoumeh Ebtekar, there are an estimated 3.6 million women heads of household.
In Tehran alone, 191,000 families are cared for by women (The state-run ISNA news agency – January 23, 2020, and June 24, 2020). Meanwhile, in the Fall of 2019, women’s economic participation was only 17.5 percent, and only one-fifth of Iran’s employees are women (The state-run ILNA news agency – March 25, 2020).
Describing the women who are forced to work informally, the state-run ILNA news agency writes, “There are restrictions in the official sphere, or women are subject to certain restrictions, in order to find a job.”
According to Mahnaz Ghadirzadeh, a government expert on labor relations, “Unofficial jobs are not registered in the system at the Ministry of Labor or Social Security systems. We know that a person’s official employment is required to pay premiums, taxes, and so on. On the other hand, a hired person must receive minimum wage. In recent years, we have seen employers say they will pay less than minimum wage when they want to hire a woman. Barriers to women’s employment are driving up the number of women working in informal jobs. The number of women peddlers has risen, and in some cases, we have seen an increase in the number of women working at home. There are many women who produce homemade goods, but the people selling their goods are their husbands” (The state-run ILNA news agency – March 25, 2020).
“The problem of working women who are not officially registered is only the tip of the iceberg. The work of many women remains hidden, and often the money they earn goes into the pockets of others, mostly their husbands,” she added (The state-run ILNA news agency – May 19, 2020).
What do female peddlers say?
Female peddlers have described some of the barriers in the labor market that led them to become peddlers.
One of them, who has now become a well-known salesperson in Tehran Subway, announced, “I am a head of household and have been working for many years, but I started peddling about three years ago. I used to knit and sell my knitwear to shopkeepers, but their dealings with me were so useless that I decided to sell my products in the subway station myself. Gradually, I concluded that it was better to quit knitting. Now I take my goods from the market and big shops and sell them in the station.”
About women becoming peddlers, she says, “I am a peddler year-round, but there are those who do it on a seasonal or holiday basis, such as Eid (Iranian New Year). Not all of them are heads of household like I am. Some have husbands and some are unmarried. Society does not look favorably on this work, but what can we do? There are no jobs and you have to make ends meet.”
Female peddlers increasing in number despite the COVID-19 pandemic
Iranian women are so badly in need of an income that peddlers are forced to risk contracting the virus and working in dirty, crowded spaces.
In this regard, several video clips have been published on social media. One shows a female peddler in a market in the southern Iranian city of Zabol. Due to lack of income, she has been forced to peddle to earn a living.
Official experts in Iran have been talking in the media for years about organizing peddlers but the Iranian regime continues to waste public funds even as citizens become even more economically distressed in the current economic crisis.
The regime spends about $700 million a year on terrorist activities. Inside Iran, the budget of the State Security Force (SSF) has increased from 11,521 billion Tomans in 2019 to 17,444 billion Tomans in 2020. The SSF spends its budget on repressing women, suppressing protests, and arresting and intimidating citizens.
Municipal agents attack peddlers under the pretext of organizing them. They brutally beat the peddlers and confiscate their limited assets.
A video clip published online shows that on May 1, 2020, officers from Kermanshah Municipality brutally attacked an elderly female peddler on Kamalvand Street and destroyed her belongings.
The increase in the number of female peddlers is only one aspect of the current corrupt system in power in Iran. Organizing peddlers can only be conceivable with the overthrow of clerical rule.