Women’s universal problems and economic issues are closely intertwined; their impact on each other goes beyond what you can see.
Women’s right to education, access to healthcare services, decent income and livelihood as well as problems some wrestle with such as domestic violence are mostly to blame on their economic woes. In fact, women are the primary victims of economic violence, the Persian monthly Zanan-e Emrooz reported.
Economic violence experienced by women include limited access to funds and credit; controlled access to healthcare, employment, education; exclusion from financial decision making; and discriminatory traditional laws.
At work, women might receive unequal remuneration for work done equal in value by their male counterpart, they might be overworked and underpaid, in many cases without having any contractual agreement in the first place.
That might explain why, according to vice president for women and family affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, economic issues and employment constitute more than 70% of Iranian women’s demands recorded in the website of her department. Ironically, there is no difference between urban or rural areas in this respect.
World Economic Forum’s 2016 annual report on “Global Gender Gap” ranks Iran 139th among 144 countries, suggesting that only five other countries are worse when it comes to gender equality.
Although the country has fully closed its gender gap in primary and secondary education, it regresses on wage equality, labor force participation rates, professional and technical workers as well as the tertiary enrolment gender gap.
Economist Zahra Karimi said the gap in women’s educational status and their economic participation is a serious problem not only in Iran, but also in the whole Middle East and North Africa.
“In most of these countries, women have made significant achievements in education and honed their skills, but their status in workplaces has barely improved and that’s because the economy of these countries is reliant on oil revenues,” she said.
“Extraction and export of oil does not create many jobs and women are usually not the first to be recruited to fill the seats in this slack labor market.”
Karimi noted that it is only natural that scarcity of job opportunities for women would escalate poverty and dissatisfaction, particularly among educated women.
Feminization of Poverty
Referring to the new concept of “feminization of poverty”—a phenomenon where women form disproportionate percentages of the world’s poor—Karimi said, women and children are mostly hit by poverty as they generally don’t have access to their own earnings.
“Imagine a poor family where the mother and children weave carpets. The father of the house sells the carpet. Here, the woman does not have access to her earnings. Numerous studies have shown men enjoy better nutrition and health, as they control household income. However, when women are in control of household’s resources, all members have better nutrition and health,” she said.
In recent years, women have entered the informal economic sector by doing poorly-paid jobs like peddling. This is a clear indication that a need has prompted women to find a source of income for themselves.
The economist believes that economic woes emerged in the fiscal 2008-9 and made Iranians feel the pinch of higher costs of living and left no way for women but to take on low-paying jobs in order to survive.
“Yet, financial need is only a part of this trend. Educated women do not want to stay at home so they have to opt for low-paying jobs in the current labor market. Economic entities are smart enough to take advantage of women’s desperation,” she said.
“There are high-end shopping malls that pay peanuts to saleswomen. The low level of demand for human capital has dented the bargaining position of Iranian educated women.”
In addition, there is still this mindset among certain Iranian policymakers that women’s work is unnecessary. A change in the economy cannot break the glass ceiling in Iran’s predominantly male job market alone.
A fundamental improvement in the state of women requires a sea-change in the mindset that regards men as family breadwinners and looks down at what women do.
According to official statistics, women who are breadwinners constitute 12% of the total number of households in Iran. A good number of families would slip under poverty line in the absence of women’s income. And there are women who are practically the sole breadwinners of their families but due to certain reasons, including their husbands’ addiction or absence, the fact is not reflected in official statistics.
The society will have to pay the cost of women failing to meet their economic needs through decent economic activities. The problem won’t go away by just removing women from labor market.
Informal jobs are mostly found in the services sector of private-run companies rather than industries. In fact, the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare keeps factories under stricter supervision about insurance programs and payment of minimum wage rather than small services companies.
“Owners of industries are more willing to employ men for the permanent positions available at their factories. Therefore, what remains are temporary, insecure jobs with low salaries in the services sector,” Karimi said.
On what economic sectors might create jobs for women, Karimi said based on statistics, there is no future for women in agriculture as the whole sector is moving toward mechanization.
On the other hand, the industrial sector, as mentioned above, is inclined toward employing men. Therefore, the services sector is more likely to create jobs for women and currently, over 50% of women are active in this sector.
On whether unemployment rate would increase in rural areas, if the agriculture sector fails to create new jobs, Karimi said unemployment rate among rural women is very low but this does not imply that they are actually employed or not eager to work.
Most of them are labeled as housewife in censuses.
The Statistical Center of Iran defines unemployment as a person who does not have a paying job in the week leading to census. Therefore, most of the women living in rural areas are “hidden unemployed”, meaning they are not counted in the unemployment figures.
Iran’s unemployment rate in the last fiscal year (March 2016-17) stood at 12.4%, registering a 1.4% rise compared with the year before.
SCI considered last year’s labor force participation rate—the proportion of the population of ages 10 years and above that is economically active as either employed or looking for work—at 39.4% or 25.79 million people, registering a 1.2% rise compared with last year.
Men’s and women’s economic participation rates were put at 64.1% and 14.9% respectively. The rate was 38.9% for urban areas and 41% for rural areas. Part-time employees constitute 10.3% of the country’s employed population.