An aspect of the feminization of poverty is reflected in the situation of single women heads of households. During the pandemic, they form one of the poorest segments of society.
The Coronavirus has made life more difficult for single women heads of households and exposes them to multiple risks. These women have fallen deeper into poverty than they were before the Covid-19 outbreak.
Women who normally experience high anxiety, as well as financial and psychological problems, are now in a dire economic situation due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Among their chief concerns is that they may find themselves out of a job.
Among the manifestations of the feminization of poverty is this segment of today’s society in Iran. Women do not have savings to support themselves during difficult times such as these.
Many of these women, especially in remote areas, are severely impoverished due to the loss of their only source of income and the lack of government support. The majority of them live in sub-standard conditions because they work in uninsured and low-income jobs. The total lack of social security or necessary economic support leads to many social harms.
Women working in underground businesses and workshops have been fired or laid off. Those who had home-based businesses are also facing a slump in orders. These women have to risk their health to ensure their survival and that of their families. These women go to high-risk areas for work just to be able to return at night with enough to live on. In addition to the cost of daily necessities, they must also make enough money to pay rent.
Maryam Sadat Mirmalek Thani, Director-General of the Office of Support and Empowerment of the Labor Ministry, commented on the increase in the number of single women heads of households over the past decade, saying, “This is a social issue.”
“In 2018, 33.4% of women heads of households in urban areas became the poorest,” she added (The state-run ISNA news agency – October 11, 2020).
Single women heads of households are among the most vulnerable
Single women heads of households are among the most vulnerable segments of society. They face more obstacles to growth and development than men. They have less access to resources and facilities. They have to struggle more to earn a living, compared to men in labor and service jobs with lower incomes. These women heads of households are not insured, and Iranian labor laws do not apply to them.
The women work more hours during the day, but their wages and salaries do not correspond to the current economic and living conditions. These women have to work both outside and inside the home (The state-run ISNA news agency – September 9, 2020).
Single women heads of households are often among the lowest-income members of society. The family structure causes a phenomenon known as the “poverty trap,” whereby the children must leave school early to look for work or to manage the family’s daily chores while the mother works outside the home. The mother’s long absences from the home, as well as institutionalized poverty, have irreversible effects on the children. This cycle of deprivation and the lack of government support creates a poverty trap for women heads of households and their children (The state-run Javan newspaper – September 30, 2020).
Published statistics on single women heads of household
According to state sources, the number of women heads of households is estimated at 4 million (The state-run Sobh-e Iran newspaper – September 16, 2020).
Previously, Tayyebeh Siavoshi, a former member of the regime’s parliament, had earlier announced that the number stands around 5 million (The state-run ICANA News Agency, August 7, 2017).
The number of single women heads of households in Iran has increased by 58% over the past 10 years, compared to male-headed households. The number of women heads of households increases by 6% annually (The state-run Jahan-e Sanat newspaper – September 21, 2020).
Among women heads of households, 82% are unemployed and live below the poverty line. Only a small number of these women are covered by the Welfare Organization and receive the small amount of 70,000 Tomans per month (The state-run IRNA news agency – November 22, 2015).
The age of women heads of households has dropped to 14 years and has become a major societal problem. Forced marriages, marriage among girls under 18, and – tragically – underage divorces are the main reasons for this issue in Iranian society. The Statistics Center of Iran reported that approximately 5.1 million widowed or divorced women (The state-run Jahan-e Sanat newspaper – September 21, 2020).
Snapshot of the life of single women heads of households
“Zahra has a little girl who must attend the third grade of primary school this year. Due to the Coronavirus and fear of getting infected, Zahra has stayed at home for a few months and struggles to earn 1 million or 1.5 million Tomans a month. From this amount, she rents a house for 800,000 Tomans. She no longer has the money to protect her daughter from the Coronavirus. Zahra expressed the suffering she sees because of government leaders: “They themselves live in (Tehran’s uptown districts of) Velenjak and Pasdaran and Zafaraniyeh and their children go to the best private schools in the country but they do not think that we should send our children to crowded and high-risk schools in Islamshahr! If my only child gets infected with the Coronavirus, who will be responsible?” (The state-run Baharnews.ir – July 27, 2020)
Children in women-headed households do not have access to Iran’s SHAD virtual educational platform, and mothers cannot afford the disinfectant masks and gels needed at in-person schools.
“Asiyeh is a woman head of household with two young children who wait for her to come home with good wages. Before the Coronavirus outbreak, she worked in a garment factory in a basement in Shahriar, a low-income neighborhood. Asiyeh lost her job when the factory closed down due to the Coronavirus. She has no insurance. Three years ago, her employer told her that if she wanted insurance, the company would deduct the cost from her salary. She was forced to give up insurance because otherwise, she could not make ends meet. Asiyeh now sells masks on the streets to support her two children, a 7-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son. They still do not know that their mother has been dismissed from her job.”
“Now everyone is losing their job,” said another mother, who works as a housekeeper. “If I am lucky, I may be able to clean houses two or three times a month. The rest of the time, I am unemployed and without income. I have a 3-year-old daughter. My husband died. He was a taxi driver and had no insurance.”
A middle-aged woman sells apricots. Last year, she worked in a sock factory. “We lost our jobs because of Chinese socks,” she said. “We lost our jobs because the country was importing socks from China,” she said of her life and how the factory went bankrupt. “I am the mother of three children. My eldest daughter is 14 years old. The relief committee provides us with grants, but the grants are not enough for 5 days’ worth of food with the current cost of living. We have to fight everything here: the prices, the Coronavirus, the municipal officials, the poverty and family problems and a thousand other pains and problems.”
“I know a few women who collect garbage in the afternoon heat. They can’t collect garbage in the middle of the night, so they use the afternoon solitude,” she continued.
“In the trash, they look for plastic items or anything else that can be turned into money” (The state-run Baharnews.ir – July 27, 2020).
Another young woman takes care of her immediate family as well as her brother. She said, “Within a year, I had lost my parents and my husband. I have a child. I can barely walk. At the age of 32, I earn living by cleaning vegetables. Every organization I go to says, “Because you are young, we cannot offer much support. Go find a job!” But because I am a woman, there are a lot of places where I cannot work. Now I am in despair, given the situation created by the Coronavirus” (The state-run Salamatnews.com, October 13, 2020).
The increase in the number of single women heads of households in Iran has reached shocking proportions. The situation, which can lead to wide-ranging problems, should be an alarm bell for society.