For rural women of Iran life means suffering and working as a slave.
October 15 marks the International Day of Rural Women. The designation seeks to provide support for rural women’s sustainable access to food resources, in the effort to fight poverty.
The UN’s 2020 theme for the International Day of Rural Women is “building rural women’s resilience in the wake of COVID-19.” But the rural women of Iran cannot celebrate this day as they are suffering the most just to survive. Their conditions have always been like this even before the deadly pandemic.
Early marriages, exclusion from school, domestic violence, lack of knowledge of their legal and social rights, lack of access to sanitation, hygiene, and water are among dozens of challenges the rural women of Iran face. These problems prevent the progress of rural women in Iran and subdue their creativity.
The culture of male-domination promoted by the clerical regime is reinforced in villages by a patriarchal management culture. Both of which forbid women’s social participation.
The rural social structure dictates that a “good” woman must tolerate all the hardships. She must work hard and serve everyone in the family. She must protect the family despite her own physical and psychological decline.
This culture coupled with poverty and hundreds of other problems imposed on the nation by a tyrannical regime, have created an inconceivable situation for the rural women of Iran and the Iranian village girls.
Rural girls and lack of access to education
Most rural and nomad girls in Iran do not have the opportunity to study beyond the fifth grade. They receive the five years of their education either in rundown buildings or in tents or sheds.
Some of the major obstacles to the education of rural girls are: Living in remote and impassable locations; nomad life and constant movement from one place to the other; lacking the essentials for school; natural dangers such as being attacked by wild animals; fear of being harassed by strangers when they have to travel long distances through impassable roads; etc.
Farahnaz Mina’ipour, the Education Ministry’s advisor in women’s affairs, shamelessly says: “They do have elementary schools in rural areas. But since high schools need to have several teachers just for one level to teach various lessons, there is not such a possibility to provide these services to the students living in villages. In other words, it is not considered economical for the ministry!” (The state-run salamatnews.ir, October 6, 2019)
So, the Education Ministry’s solution for rural girls is to leave them out of schools. Instead, they propose to build large educational complexes in a central location which operate day and night. They also promise to try and create a central system which would bus the students to these complexes.
After acknowledging that they do not care about the education of rural girls, the officials expect people to trust them and believe their “central school system.” Then again, they blame the families and the culture for this deprivation.
“We face this cultural problem in many rural areas where families do not allow their daughters to travel to another village continue their education or go to the round-the-clock schools. Therefore, the girls must drop out of school,” Mina’ipour added.
However, a women’s rights activist explains in this regard: “The quality of education has dwindled in the rural areas since the mid-1990s. Children and adolescents are not even able to read and write or do a simple math problem. In addition to shortage of teachers, rural children, especially girls, face other problems, as well. For example, the bridge which connected (this) village to the city of Mollasani (in Khuzestan) has been damaged. So, little girls must ride boats to go to school on the other side of the river. Now, some of them have already left school fearing winter rains and being drowned in the river.” (The state-run Hamshahrionline.ir, October 6, 2019)
The Governor of Karun, Massoumeh Khanfari, admits that the construction of concentrated educational centers for every few villages is also an idea which is far from being implemented. During her remarks, she also revealed that not only villages, but also some towns do not have any high schools, either. Khanfari says, “Take the town of Kut Abdollah as an example. The populated Islamabad region in this town has shortage of educational spaces and does not have any high school for girls. Due to shortage of schools in Kut Abdollah, students in this region have to go to Ahvaz to continue their education.” (The state-run ILNA news agency, September 26, 2019)
The regime’s inaction during the pandemic also dealt another blow to the education of rural girls.
Parichehr Soltani is the secretary of the working group on rural women in nomad tribes and deprived regions, in the presidential Directorate for Women and Family Affairs. She says nomad students were hurt most after the outbreak of the pandemic because they live in impassable areas which do not have access to the internet. They do not have cellphones, and they cannot have access to online classes. Of course, they already did not go to school four months a year, because they had to migrate.” (The state-run ROKNA news agency, October 6, 2020)
Early marriages and frequent deliveries
Early marriage is a very common practice in Iranian villages. In some cases, poor families force their daughters to quit school to get married.
This misogynistic tradition coupled with lack of health education lead to motherhood of girls in very young age.
The girls become pregnant and give birth to their children one after the other. They sometimes give birth to as many as 12 children and become physically worn-out in young age. This coupled with poverty and difficult living conditions in the village, turns life into an inferno for young rural women of Iran.
The Iranian regime conceals the truth regarding early marriage of young rural girls to follow up its own misogynistic agenda.
The latest data registered in the annual books of the National Statistics Center of Iran are related to 2016. According to this report, 37,430 Iranian girls were only 10 at the time of their marriage in 2016. This report indicates that 20,308 of these girls from rural areas.
Sara Bagheri, a lawyer, explains: “It would have been not bad if officials visited small towns and villages to find out how prevalent child marriages are in these areas.”
“I have personally talked to women who had got married at age 12 and had four children when they were 20. They wed their sons and daughters too early. This vicious cycle repeats itself from (the generation of) mothers to (the generation of) daughters. In some regions, children are sold. This is particularly so for girls who are wedded to men as old as their grandfathers in return for a sum of money. One of these girls was 13. She cried and said, ‘I like to study but I have no choice but to get married.’” (The state-run Etemadonline.ir, December 30, 2019)
Massoumeh Aghapour Alishahi is a member of the mullahs’ parliament. She points out to deprived villages in Sufiyan district (in E. Azerbaijan Province) where girls frequently get pregnant at age 13 or 14.
According to Alishahi, there are mothers as young as 20 in Sufiyan who have four or five children. Most women in this region die at age 40 to 45. This is because they get married at very young age and have frequent pregnancies. (The official website of the Directorate on Women and Family Affairs, July 20, 2019)
Living like slaves
The rural women of Iran bear the brunt of responsibilities of life. They do the lion’s share of the agricultural business and economy of the village without being paid. At the same time, they must do all the housework and serve the family.
Their unpaid work includes caring for the livestock, bringing wood, bringing water, mending the tent, weaving carpet, milking the cow and making yogurt, baking bread, cleaning the house, cooking, washing the clothes of everyone in the family, etc.
Doing all this is a very difficult life and working like a slave.
Many of the rural women of Iran begin their work before sunrise and sleep after everyone else is gone to bed.
Rural girls dropping out of school forget their many talents and limit themselves to what they learn from their mothers. They are under 10 years of age when they start attending to their fathers and brothers. They learn how to raise children, how to cook, wash clothes, milk the cow, and bring water and wood. They learn how to make animal products and do handcraft.
Notwithstanding the shortage of educational resources in rural areas, the prevalent culture of male-domination advocated and promoted by the regime reinforces the traditional village culture and adds to the pains and deprivations of girls and rural women of Iran.
Pointing to some of the common examples of hardships of rural women of Iran, Parichehr Soltani asserted: “Rural and nomad women do not have warm water in their wash basins. They hardly have any access to bath. They wash their clothes with cold water in a stream or river.” (The state-run ROKNA news agency, October 6, 2020)
The various unpaid jobs of the rural women of Iran
The rural women of Iran have an important role in the economy. Based on available evidence and data, rural and nomad women in Iran do more than 70% of livestock activities, some 40% of farming and gardening, and 80% of traditional farm products. But in most cases, there is no mention of them, and all the credit goes to men. (The state-run Hamdeli.ir, October 6, 2020)
The deprived rural women of Iran do not know any of their human rights. They are victims of some of the worst forms of domestic violence in villages where there is stronger male-domination.
Despite their indispensable role in rural economy, the empowerment of rural and nomad women remains as a marginalized issue. They are not paid for the work they do.
Rouhani’s government declared in 2018 that they have a project to facilitate jobs for rural women. However, some 2,300 Micro Credit Funds for Rural Women were not covered by such facilities, an advisor in the Ministry of Agricultural Crusade said.
The general director of the office of nomad and rural women’s affairs in the Ministry of Agricultural Crusade said rural women needed to deposit bail to receive bank loans. This is a major obstacle since banks do not accept village (rural) estates as a deposit.
Another example of the oppression of rural women of Iran under the mullahs’ male-dominated culture is that their products are usurped by state-backed brokers.
The rural women of Iran face many obstacles in doing their work. They have no education about modern markets. They lack effective financial skills and have limited access to technological training. They are not aware of the need to adapt their professional skills to the dominant style of consumers’ life. They face political and economic restrictions in accessing world markets. At the same time, the domestic economy is unstable, and the prices are high. Brokers take advantage of all these deficiencies. They pay very little for products which are the outcome of long hours of hard work by nomad women. Then, they sell the products for prices several-fold higher. (The state-run IMNA news agency – November 12, 2019)
“No action has been taken with regards to the handicraft of nomad women. There is no plan for the handicraft of nomad women, either. For example, the value of every kilogram of the fibers nomad women spin is between 60 to 70 thousand Tomans. But since they have no access to the markets, they must sell this and other products to brokers at one-third of its real value. Brokers exploit the rural and nomad women.” (The state-run ROKNA news agency, October 6, 2020)
The situation has become even more difficult for the rural women of Iran after the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Fatemeh Esmailipour, executive director of the Micro Credit Funds for Rural Women, says: “Most rural women do husbandry, grow medicinal plants, do handicraft, etc. They have totally lost their jobs after the outbreak of the coronavirus.”
Esmailipour further explained that since the livelihood of rural people depends on dairy products, they have no customers to purchase their products since the daily markets and stores have closed down due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.” (The state-run BORNA news agency, June 16, 2020)
Another segment of rural women of Iran have no assets to run their own business. So, they work as daily rate workers.
In the northern Golestan Province, for example, women work in different agricultural sectors where they grapple with more serious problems.
Qassem Soukhtesara’ii, head of the Agricultural Trade Organization of Golestan, says: “On the average, female farmers receive wages that are 60% of the wages of men.”
“Farmers cannot pay less to men because they do not accept (to work for less). But for various reasons, women agree to work for lesser wages.” (The state-run Eghtesad.ir, November 1, 2019)
Carrying water physically wears out rural women
Rural women and women who live in the slums face a range of the various forms of violence and harms. One such harm is the physical damage done to women and children because of carrying water.
Since most Iranian villages do not have piped water, women and girls are responsible for providing water for their families. They carry water in heavy receptacles, and sometimes, over long distances. This inflicts various physical and psychological damages on women.
Parichehr Soltani says the women of Bakhtiari Tribes must carry 70-kilogram water bags on their backs and walk several kilometers to provide water. (The state-run ROKNA news agency, October 6, 2020)
The same problem is prevalent in the deprived province of Sistan and Baluchestan, in southeastern Iran. Rural women and girls of Sistan and Baluchestan suffer from various illnesses due to serious shortage of water. Women and girls in these villages must travel a long distance several times a day to bring water for their families. Such long walks while carrying heavy water containers in the hot summer weather or cold winters have caused them different illnesses. Waist discus, fracture of spine discs, back ache and miscarriages are among rural women’s health complications.
In many regions in this province, rural women have no other option but to procure their necessary water from an unsanitary ditch called, “hootag.” These natural ditches collect the rainwater. The water in the hootag is used for drinking, washing, and bathing. Even animals drink from the same water. Sometimes, fetching water from a hootag ends up drowning one or more children and women. Occasionally, they fall prey to local crocodiles also living in hootags. Some 20 children have lost their lives in recent years while bringing or drinking water from hootags. (The official IRNA news agency, July 23, 2019)
None of the villages in Sistan and Baluchestan Province have piped water. 80% of citizens in the capital, Zahedan, experience water cut offs. Extreme water shortage has compelled many rural inhabitants to leave their home villages. They have moved to Mashhad, Kerman, Golestan, Yazd and Mazandaran to continue their life.
Water shortage is also an acute problem in the southwestern province of Khuzestan.
“Some700 villages in Khuzestan Province have problem in providing water and distributing it (among their inhabitants),” said Sadeq Haghighipour, executive director of water and sewage in Khuzestan, adding, “We have repeatedly raised this issue, but the government has ignored it.” (The official IRNA news agency, June 13, 2019)
Mojtaba Yousefi, member of the mullahs’ parliament from Ahvaz, also recently revealed that the inhabitants of 800 villages in Khuzestan do not have access to potable water despite their proximity to five major dams and seven rivers. (The state-run Fars news agency, August 10, 2020)
In the absence of potable water and frequent water cut offs, rural women in Khuzestan face numerous hygienic and personal health problems. This situation also causes serious problems for them in taking care of their children. These women must walk long distances to obtain water. They must wait long hours in line to obtain a jerry can of potable water for their families.
Rural women in Iran face serious health and nutritional conditions
The difficult living conditions of rural women of Iran cause various harms to their health.
Mojgan Soltani heads the women’s athletic group in the Department of Youths and Sports in Ardabil, northwestern Iran. She spoke about common incidents of abnormal injuries to the neck, shoulder, spine, hips, knees, and legs among rural women in this province. She says rural women suffer most from abnormal conditions in the waist and knees. (The state-run Hamshahrionline.ir, December 18, 2019)
Parichehr Soltani also says: “Nomad women have to help themselves because their places of residence are very far from medical centers. Pregnant women hardly have nutritious food to eat or access to medical resources… In the past a woman gave birth once every three years. These days, they give birth every year. Rural and nomad women and girls suffer from malnutrition. They do not annual checkups. So, if they have cancer, it expands in their body before it is diagnosed.” (The state-run ROKNA news agency, October 6, 2020)
Soltani went on to reveal that the government had not authorized any budget for the annual sonography of pregnant women and to control common cancers among rural and nomad women.
In another place, she said: “These women badly need dental services. Rural women and nomads have bad teeth due to frequent pregnancies and malnutrition. But dental services are very expensive, and they do not afford to pay the expenses. Rural and nomad women are deprived of the minimum resources for sports.” (The state-run ROKNA news agency, October 6, 2020)
These problems are a hundred-fold more in provinces like Sistan and Baluchestan and Khuzestan. Due to 20-year drought and dusty weather in these regions, citizens in Sistan and Baluchestan suffer from respiratory illnesses such as tuberculosis and shortness of breath. (The state-run ROKNA news agency, July 4, 2018)
The most deprived women in Iran
Unfortunately, this study could only touch a very small portion of the problems and obstacles the rural women of Iran face.
The study did not cover important issues such as the tragic conditions of victims of floods and earthquakes of the past months and years. It also did not address the absence of some of the most essential infrastructures for rural life. The disastrous effects of polluting factories on the ecosystem and environment, and the accumulation of waste in proximity of inhabited villages, destruction of residential units by corrupt so-called charity foundations, unscientific construction of dams and buildings by the IRGC in farming areas and villages, as well as the rural women’s issues during the COVID-19 pandemic are some of the issues that have not been addressed.
Nevertheless, this brief review of the most common problems of rural women of Iran helps draw a picture of their painful life.
Under the rule of a misogynous regime where women are considered second rate citizens, one could conceive what happens to these most deprived women who do not have any considerable access to the press or social media.
So, speaking of women’s rights, human rights, human development, environmental protection, etc. are just a meaningless luxury without moving to isolate and remove the clerical regime dominating Iran.