Iranian women peddlers work in the tunnel of death and humiliation to make a living
Handselling in Iran is a job that involves people of different ages and levels of education, and many men turn to this line of work because of poverty and unemployment. However, at the big markets, in the suburbs, or even in subway stations, women heads of household get the most attention.
A woman peddler must manage the house and the children. In addition, after dealing with the social and cultural issues associated with domestic work, especially in the prevailing patriarchal culture, she must be careful to not take the place of the men peddlers.
Women peddlers are forced to work in crowded places, thereby accepting the risk of being infected with the Coronavirus. One of the most dangerous places is the Tehran metro, where the increasing number of women peddlers has become a crisis.
Why do women turn to peddling?
Currently, there are at least 4 million women heads of household in Iran. According to the latest regime-published statistics, 82% of them are unemployed and live below the poverty line. These women have to manage their families despite all the severe patriarchal restrictions.
The regime’s welfare organization has set stringent conditions for women seeking services. For example, if the women are employed, their salary must be 40% less than the basic salary determined by the Ministry of Labor. If their salary exceeds this threshold, the women are considered capable and ineligible for welfare services. Nevertheless, the women covered by welfare also receive meager services that do not meet the basic necessities of life for themselves, let alone their children. Many of the women turn to peddling to make ends meet.
In an interview with the state-run ILNA news agency, some women expressed their reasons for peddling in simple language. A woman who sells scarves in the subway station says, “I have to work in this high-risk subway station several hours a day; I have no other way to make a living. I am the head of the household and have two student children. My rent is more than one million Tomans. What should I do?!”
A 60-year-old woman says, “My husband is sick and lying at home. I have to work. Half of my income goes to renting the house! On the outskirts of Karaj, I rent for more than one million tomans a month. Can I afford to be unemployed?!” She weaves bath mitts at night and sells them on the subway during the day. She adds, “I’m afraid of the Coronavirus, I’m very afraid, but I have no choice; prices have gone up, and I have to be on the subway more than before.”
Women peddlers in Tehran: statistics
The Iranian regime lacks transparency on the issue of peddlers, just as it does with other social and human rights issues. There are no statistics on the actual number of women peddlers.
In September 2020, Seyed Ali Mafakherian, CEO of the Tehran Organization and Jobs Company, stated that there were 10,000 peddlers in Tehran (The state-run ILNA News Agency – November 8, 2020).
Hassan Khalilabadi, a member of the Tehran City Council, announced an increase in peddling in the capital due to the Coronavirus and the resultant unemployment. “Because of the Coronavirus, many people in the capital have lost their jobs and can make a living only through peddling,” he said.
According to government statistics, the Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in nearly 1.5 million jobs lost and an increase in unemployment. In March 2020 alone, 145,000 women lost their jobs. The population of working women has dropped by 750,000 in the past year (The state-run ILNA News Agency – April 11, 2020; the state-run Borna news agency – November 10, 2020).
Who is responsible?
Officials from the clerical regime know that to solve any social problem in Iran, they must stop looting and stealing, even temporarily. Rather than confront the issue, however, they simply blame each other.
Ministry of Health officials hold the municipality responsible for organizing women peddlers. But the municipality and its officials blame other institutions, even though they brutally attack these destitute women.
Farnoush Nobakht, CEO of Tehran and Suburbs Metro Operating Company, admits, “Most stations are at the disposal of contractors. It would be impossible to provide free vending space to peddlers because we have a deal with contractors and we have taken money from them” (The state-run Borna news agency – June 15, 2020).
“Either the municipality or subway officials should take action,” said Sima Sadat Lari, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health, about the work of women peddlers in the closed subway environment.
“In the past, there have been many discussions about subway vendors and how to organize them, but this is not in the hands of the Ministry of Health,” she added (The state-run ILNA news agency – November 7, 2020).
Zahra Nejad Bahram, a member of the Tehran City Council presidium, says, “Organizing peddlers has nothing to do with the municipality but is within the purview of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare.”
She added, “I called Parviz Fattah, the head of the Mostaz’afan Foundation (for the oppressed), and even sent a message, but I have not yet received a response.”
“I also sent messages to some of his colleagues, but I have not yet been able to get the foundation to participate,” she added (The state-run ROKNA news agency – November 9, 2020).
During the nine months since the Coronavirus outbreak, government officials have repeatedly advised people not to enter the subway. But no official has thought about the poor people who must come to the subway. The government not only does not support the poor; its policies actually increase the number of poor people every day (The state-run ILNA news agency – November 8, 2020).
How are women peddlers treated?
The state-run ILNA news agency acknowledges that destitute peddlers are harassed. It is a fact that the number of peddlers, especially women, has increased dramatically with the spread of the Coronavirus, and women on the subway are being met with violence.
“Officers take us off the trains or do not allow us to work at the stations. They just say, ‘go, get away from here!’ In general, the agents do not treat us well,” says one of the women peddlers about the security forces’ violence.
Farnoush Nobakht says, “I have given the necessary warnings for this and the monitoring center provides reports … At the entrance of the stations, if we notice the women peddlers, their presence will be prevented.” She urged travelers not to buy goods from destitute vendors, adding, “We will deal with the presence of vendors” (The state-run BORNA News Agency – June 15, 2020).
What is a fundamental solution?
Zahra Karimi Moghari, an economist and professor at Mazandaran University, believes that the only way to solve the issue of women peddlers on the subway is to create decent job opportunities and provide women with a secure livelihood.
“Elimination approaches that are based only on removing these people from the face of the city do not work at all,” she emphasized (The state-run ILNA News Agency – November 7, 2020).
Obviously, one does not need to be an expert to come up with such a solution. However, does this solution apply to a dictatorial regime? Obviously, the current regime, which has based its power on women’s oppression and is known worldwide for systemic corruption, does not have the will to provide decent job opportunities and secure livelihoods.
Setting aside the issues of 40 years of the mullahs’ crime, repression, and misogyny, nine months have elapsed since the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis. Despite the pandemic situation, regime officials have failed to set forth a principled plan to protect women peddlers and other Iranians from the Coronavirus. On the contrary, what is glaringly apparent is that the regime continues to exploit this global crisis to suppress and prolong its religious and despised dictatorship.