International Women’s DayOn March 8, 2023, thousands of people around the world, especially women, gathered to recognize International Women’s Day. Considering the ongoing global struggle for women’s rights, many of 2023’s marches focused on the Middle East, specifically, Iran and Afghanistan. 

Though first officially recognized by the United Nations in 1977, International Women’s Day emerged decades before, out of labor movements that took shape across North America and Europe around the turn of the 20th century. The movement has gained increased momentum over the years with the help of the U.N., which now offers four global conferences that center on supporting women’s rights and strengthening women’s political and economic presence.

The Current State of Women’s Rights in the Middle East

In recent months, Iran has seen growing protests for women’s rights. One of the main causes of recent public outrage in Iran is a string of poisonings of thousands of school-aged girls since November 2022. Though none of the poisonings have resulted in fatalities and Iran’s Interior Ministry has reported arrests in relation to the incidents, UNESCO has called for stronger action to protect the country’s girls and young women and ensure “their right to safe education.”

Interestingly, although Iran’s clerical leaders force women to cover their hair and dress conservatively in public, historically, the country’s religious groups have shown no clear objection to the education of girls and women, unlike in Afghanistan.

Between 2001 and 2018, there was a great increase in the number of women and girls enrolled in some form of education in Afghanistan. However, since the September 2021 postponement of the return to school for all Afghan girls over the age of 12, 1.1 million females have been indefinitely denied access to formal education. UNESCO reports that 80%, or 2.5 million, Afghan women and girls are currently out of school as a result of the postponement, compounding the some 30% of Afghan girls who have never entered the education system at all. According to Roza Otunbayeva, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, “Afghanistan under the Taliban remains the most repressive country in the world regarding women’s rights, and it has been distressing to witness their methodical, deliberate, and systematic efforts to push Afghan women and girls out of the public sphere.”

Looking Ahead for Women

As recent developments show, a lot more must be done to support girls’ and women’s rights in Iran and Afghanistan. Still, there are signs of progress and hope. For instance, in Afghanistan, numerous female-led local NGOs have persisted in working to help repressed women and children across the country despite a recent Taliban decree prohibiting Afghan women from working for NGOs. Their efforts have coincided with those of the Women’s Foreign Policy Group and the Center for Human Rights in Iran, which, in 2022, “published hundreds of articles on human rights issues and press releases on urgent developments, all in both English and Persian, directly distributed to over 4,000 government, UN, NGO and media leaders worldwide.”

As these nonprofits work to secure equality and rights for the women of the Middle East — and women everywhere — the global unity demonstrated on International Women’s Day has inspired growing awareness of the need to address the injustices that women around the world face every day.

Stella Tirone
Photo: Flickr


Women’s Rights in Iran and Afghanistan
Women’s rights in Iran and Afghanistan are in severe danger. According to the National Library of Medicine, women’s empowerment has a direct correlation to food security, poverty rates and the elimination of hunger. Studies have proven that when women have access to education and are empowered to make their own decisions, there is a subsequent decline in “income poverty and multidimensional poverty.” The shared misogyny in Iran and Afghanistan, then, further propagates the countries’ high poverty rates–Iran with a rural poverty rate of 32%, and Afghanistan with a total poverty rate of 49.4%.

Women’s Challenges in Iran

The death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman arrested in Iran for “not covering her hair modestly enough,” and died in police custody just three days later, sparked outrage among women across the country. Amini’s arrest served as a reminder to all Iranian women of the in-place regime that “by law, treats women as second-class citizens.”

As Human Rights Watch reported, once a girl has hit puberty, they must wear the hijab. Additionally, any protest of the hijab can result in a fine or detention, which often includes beatings, harassment or sentencing to a term in prison. This denial of choice in clothing is just one way of controlling Iranian women, influencing their view of choice in all other aspects of life.

Thus, the retaliation Amini’s death sparked was not only in response to her death, but the risk Iranian women face in making choices as seemingly simple as how to wear a hijab.

This dangerous Iranian regime has not only “created many dangerous social crises,” according to Iran Focus, but has left more than 3 million women unemployed as heads of households, extending poverty to an additional 7 million children.

Gender discrimination in Iran is actively contributing to increasing poverty levels, with women who are the sole providers in their families struggling to meet ends for themselves and their families. Here are two organizations fighting for women’s rights in Iran, thereby fighting poverty.

The Iranian American Women Foundation (IAWF)

Founded in 2012, the Iranian American Women Foundation (IAWF) is an organization that aims to inspire, empower and connect Iranian women across the globe. Since Mahsa Amini’s death, AWF has actively raised awareness for and supported the Iranian Women’s Rights Movement. Some ways it does this include:
  • Working with Major Companies and/or Buildings: The organization, in collaboration with various companies and schools, has hosted conferences across the U.S., opening dialogue on the women’s rights crisis in Iran.
  • Facilitating Vigils: On September 29, 2022, IAWF held a vigil in West Hollywood Park for Mahsa Amini and other Iranian women who have risked their safety fighting for women’s rights.
  • Buying Advertisements/Billboards: The foundation has raised funds to cover major billboards raising awareness for the ongoing fight for women’s rights in Iran, locations include: Times Square, NYC, Miami, FL, San Jose, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA.
  • Visiting Schools: On October 11, 2022, the organization honored the International Day of the Girl by hosting Iranian American speakers at Marlborough School to speak about female empowerment. Speakers presented speeches and held conversations with students about the education crisis for women around the globe and specifically in Iran, encouraging students to be “agents of change.”
All of these efforts raise awareness for the crises Iranian women face every day. With every conversation hosted, and every billboard read, IAWF raises awareness for and helps fight poverty rates that gender inequality in Iran propagates.

United for Iran

United for Iran, founded in 2009, is a nonprofit organization that advocates human rights in Iran by supporting progressive civil liberties and empowering citizens through technology. By organizing campaigns, supporting civil movements and providing Iranians access to new technologies, United for Iran equips citizens with the necessary resources and skills to fight oppression head-on.

In its IranIncubator 1.0 and IranIncubator 2.0 projects, United for Iran connected app developers and software engineers to “civil society leaders” to collaborate on apps to better the lives of vulnerable social groups (i.e. women, immigrants, LGBTQI communities, activists, etc.). By assessing community needs, app developers and leaders brainstorm and develop apps to serve Iran’s most vulnerable.

Additionally, back in 2015, the organization led a campaign to free Bahreh Hedayat, a women’s rights activist, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for peaceful protests against gender discrimination and violence towards women. In its campaign, U4I acquired 130,000 petitioners for Hedayat’s release.

Women’s Challenges in Afghanistan

On Dec. 21, 2022–a mere two months after Amini’s tragic death–Taliban officials barred females in Afghanistan from pursuing all educational opportunities, closed universities to women, fired professors and sent home elementary school girls. Alongside barring education, the Taliban published a set of rules for Afghani women to follow, including:
  • Adult women are not to visit mosques or religious seminaries.
  • A “male guardian” must accompany any woman when they travel more than 48 miles or attend appointments and errands (entering government buildings, doctor checkups, taking a taxi, etc.).
  • Women cannot pursue jobs, except medicinal careers.
  • Women cannot visit public parks.

Amini’s death sparked retaliation in Iran against the commonplace violence women endure, and in retaliation, security forces have killed 201 protestors. Similarly, the Talbian’s latest education ban inspired protests in Herat, where female protestors faced water cannons for their retaliation.

About 71.5% of adult females in Afghanistan face “severe food insecurity”– versus 61.2% of adult men. With the new bans on women pursuing education and careers, this statistic is likely to worsen.

Afghani women who no longer have the option to work and are the heads of households have no choice but to starve and households relying on both parents’ incomes will be highly vulnerable to poverty and food scarcity. Here are two organizations fighting for women’s rights and against poverty in Afghanistan.

Women for Afghan Women (WAW)

Women for Afghan Women (WAW), founded in 2001, is a civil-society organization– and the largest women’s organization in Afghanistan– that promotes women’s rights in Afghanistan. By working with victims of domestic violence, WAW aims to empower women to “pursue their individual potential,” and fight for places in scenes prohibited to Afghani women (i.e. political scenes).

Over the past 22 years, WAW has distributed food and sanitary necessities to women and girls in Afghanistan, operating 34 centers to provide women’s protection services, child support and family guidance.

By August 2022, WAW’s efforts supported 94,863 Afghani individuals, 11,454 families and 1,355 survivors of gender-based violence, equipping families, Afghani women and girls with immediate and long-term relief services and support.

Women’s Regional Network (WRN)

The Women’s Regional Network (WRN), founded in 2010, aims to provide a voice to the voiceless women subject to violence and misogyny in South Asia. In Iran, the network connects women to “peace advocates,” who offer a safe, supportive and empowering learning environment for participants to gain access to knowledge on political discourse and policy development.

WRN hosts community conversations with Afghani women regarding any emergent needs, conflicts and policy discourse. By offering safe spaces for women to speak freely, learn about policy impact and brainstorm solutions, WRN equips Afghani women with hope for and actionable plans for a more equitable future.

While news headlines regarding women’s rights in Iran and Afghanistan may be tough to read, it is an important reminder that the fight for equality and civil rights around the world is not nearly at a close. Every day women’s rights in Iran and Afghanistan are at risk, raising the vulnerability of women and children to severe poverty. Consider donating to or reading more about these four organizations fighting for women’s rights in Iran and Afghanistan to help.

– Micaella Balderrama
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in IranChild poverty in Iran runs rampant among young residents. In 2020, 50% of Iran’s population lived under the poverty line. The effects of poverty on children are dire and 9 million Iranian families currently struggle amid poverty, but organizations are stepping in to assist.

Contributors to Child Poverty in Iran

Families cannot earn enough money because of gender discrimination, unemployment and other factors. Only men can work well-paying jobs because of the large pay gap. In 2021, the Global Gender Report stated that women earn 19% of the wages a man earns for the same job.

With the significant differences in pay between men and women, women are often unable to help support their families. Additionally, the unemployment rate among men and women is very high. According to the World Bank, the unemployment rate for women was 16.1% and for men was 7.8%.

Along with the unemployment rate and gender discrimination, the cost of basic needs is high, so the majority of families’ wages go toward securing this. In Iran, high inflation rates directly impact the cost of food and groceries, making it difficult to afford basic essentials. In 2019, 33% of underprivileged communities’ income was allocated for food.

Poverty forces many children to make money for their families, but their wages are unlivable. Garbage collecting, run by the municipality contractors, is one of the main jobs children work to earn a living. In 2020, however, children made only 6% of the profits of garbage collectors. Of the children in the workforce, 60% are their families’ only source of income. Working to support their families has an impact on a child’s education. In 2017, “37% of Iranian students drop out before getting their diplomas.”

Impact on Iranian Children

The vast number of contributors to child poverty in Iran has destroyed the quality of life for children.

Food is all too often a scarcity among these children. They are unable to eat the minimum caloric intake, and numbers have only increased since the pandemic. According to the Global Hunger Index, in 2020, one out of three children were undernourished which can leave to a multitude of health complications, including children’s growth stunting.

Child marriage and trafficking are common in Iranian society. For little money, families sell their children, mostly girls, into marriage. In the summer of 2020, according to the Statistic Center of Iran, 9,058 girls were married before the age of 15. In some cases, child spouses run away from home or attempt suicide because of their treatment during their marriage.

Hope for the Future

The government and other organizations are working to stop child poverty in Iran. In 2020, the Guardian Council, the body in charge of approving legislation passed by the Parliament, approved a Child and Adolescent Protection Bill. The bill was later passed, inflicting penalties on people who prevent children from attending school or putting children in unsafe environments With this law, children in Iran are protected from various circumstances that could potentially be a danger to them and instead, can go to school to get an education

Organizations like Relief International work globally to dissolve poverty. Relief International was established in 1958 with its work in Iran beginning in 1990 after a large-scale earthquake in the country. Currently, Relief International works primarily to aid Afghan refugees in Iran while also mobilizing resources if a countrywide emergency occurs.

Recently, in 2021, because of Relief International, 22,000 people were taught hygienic practices, 3,500 families received cash support and thousands more received health care, education and other services. This is just one of the many organizations and institutions working to end poverty in Iran by providing support to those who reside there.

According to UNICEF, as of 2020, the mortality rate for Iranian children under 5 is 12.9%. Iranian children face increased risks of death due to a lack of food and basic needs. However, the Iranian government and other organizations are working to put an end to poverty.

– Janae O’Connell
Photo: Flickr

The Past and Present of Women’s Rights in Iran
The state of women’s rights in Iran has fluctuated throughout the past century. From the early to late 20th century, there was steady progress for gender equality. However, in 1979, during the Iranian Revolution, women’s rights in Iran took a drastic step back. Currently, activists are trying to restore fundamental rights for women within Iran.

History Before the Revolution

In the 1920s, women’s rights in Iran began to make significant progress toward gender equality. Education was more accessible to girls when it became free for both girls and boys. In addition, Iran’s first university allowed the enrollment of women. By the mid-1900s, the suffrage movement made significant headway, especially politically. Women’s organizations underwent implementation and the Iranian Women Party began in 1942. Despite the large opposition and obstacles, women’s organizations and the Women’s Party lobbied for improvements in women’s rights.

It was also helpful that the Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi) had a twin sister, Ashraf Pahlavi. She worked in the High Council of Women’s Organizations of Iran. At the beginning of 1963, the Shah proposed a reform program “primarily aimed at land reform” but also incorporating “a provision for extending suffrage to women.”

He allowed women to vote on the referendum, which passed. This monumental moment eventually led to Iranian women gaining the right to vote. A handful of laws passed around this decade, including raising the minimum age of marriage from 13 to 18, the ability to request for a divorce, gaining the ability to fight for child custody and other marriage and child custody rights under the Family Protection Law.

By the late 1970s, several women served in Iran’s parliament and hundreds took up positions in local councils. Iranian women were also a considerable part of the workforce. However, in 1979, Iran’s revolution led to a regression of women’s rights in Iran that is present to this day.

After the Revolution

The change in political structure in Iran also changed women’s rights in the country. Rollbacks in family law rights occurred. Iran enforced strict laws and punishment regarding Islamic dress codes. Itan reduced the legal marriage age to just 9 years old and women had to leave several government positions. Women “held on to the right to vote and run for parliament,” however, officials ignored their voices.

Even with severely stricter laws, activists still persevered and fought for women’s rights in Iran throughout the years. Because of this activism, more women attended schools, there was a slight increase in women in office and the minimum age of marriage increased to 13 years old. However, even though women gained some rights, they continue to suffer misogyny and discrimination under Iranian law.

Men continue to have significant legal authority over women. The government disregards violence and sexual assault against women. Women experience punishment for standing up for themselves and, in some cases, they even experience execution. Despite women making up more than half of the student body at universities, they only make up 15.2% of the Iranian workforce. From these facts, it is clear that there is a dire need to improve women’s rights in Iran.

The Atena Women Life Quality Improvement Institute

The risk of facing punishment does not deter activists from fighting for gender equality within the country. One NGO that has made a significant impact on women in Iran is the Atena Women Life Quality Improvement Institute. It began in 2006 unofficially, however, after years of work and recognition, in 2013, it officially underwent registry under the State Welfare Organization of Iran. The organization empowers women in several different ways, including supporting them in different fields of work and increasing public awareness for women’s rights. The organization’s impact is widespread, currently supporting more than 200 families with its services and even helping domestic violence victims through education and support. One of Atena’s current projects includes an entrepreneurship initiative that focuses on helping Iranian women earn an income through entrepreneurship. Atena is one of the many impactful NGOs that empower women in Iran.

While activists can face severe punishment in Iran, the fight for women’s rights is essential and advocates stand strong in their commitment to advance women’s rights.

– Karuna Lakhiani
Photo: Flickr

opiate addiction in IranIn 2021, Iran is a nation beset by three converging circumstances that threaten to push it and its society to their very breaking points. With the ravenous sanctions and continued threat of COVID-19, poverty and opiate addiction in Iran, it will take nothing less than the world’s best efforts and cooperation to improve matters. At the same time, these efforts will potentially rebuild trust with the country as well.

A Three-Headed Monster in the Era of COVID-19

Poverty, sanctions, and opiate addiction in Iran are thriving with and, in some instances, because of each other. In an interview The Borgen Project held with a spokesperson for the Iranian Embassy to the U.N., they commented that “COVID-19 has spread over all provinces of Iran, leading to about 90,000 death toll so far. It has also been under the most devastating sanctions imposed by the U.S. Therefore, it’s extremely difficult to cope with different challenges, particularly economic ones, posed by both the pandemic and sanctions.”

Further, in regards to how the opioid crisis interacts with those aforementioned issues, this individual told The Borgen Project that “when sanctions have put our economy in trouble, and when we need to address, inter alia, economic problems associated with containing the pandemic, we do not have enough financial resources to fight the drug dealers as hard as before.”

Many of the statistics and information available from outside of Iran seems to confirm this. While sanctions cut off Iran from the international aid community and maximum pressure campaigns only further sour relations and trust between Tehran and the United States, internal resources become even more scarce. Unfortunately, these resources have never been more necessary for Iran in its fight against poverty, pandemic, domestic addiction, drug production and trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan.

Opiate Addiction in Iran

According to award-winning author Maziyar Ghiabi, Iran could very well be considered to have “one of the world’s highest rates of drug addiction.” With an estimated two to seven percent of the nation’s population falling into this category, further support can be found for this conclusion in the statistical evidence recorded by many professionals over the years. According to one such 2014 study, about two million people could be considered daily drug users. This amounted to nearly three percent of the entire population. While not all of those two million suffer addiction to opiates in one form or another, eight out of every ten individuals questioned use opium and six out of every ten people potentially use heroin. Since then, usage has only increased, with Iranians using opium three times the global average in 2020.

When one combines this destructive hardship with the COVID-19 pandemic, one would likely be left with the impression that Iran is enduring a supreme domestic crisis. After adding the burdens of sanctions and extreme poverty, the conclusion that Iran needs international empathy, assistance and reconciliation is simply inescapable.

Iranian Poverty

Poverty is a pervasive and increasingly debilitating force in Iran. The aforementioned factors have coalesced to put real, tremendous strain on its government, society and people. According to internal studies, as well as individuals like Faramarz Tofighi, head of the wages committee of the Islamic Labour Council, “More than 60% of Iranians live in relative poverty because the workers’ wages are enough for about a third of their costs of living. Half of those who live below the poverty line struggle with extreme poverty.” That first percentage works out to close to 60 million Iranians, a truly sickening number. Between 2011 and 2019, poverty in Iran nearly doubled.

Fighting for Iran

Relief International is a global non-profit that focuses on aiding the poor in Iran, both citizens and refugees. Particularly at risk are the estimated three million Afghan refugees who crossed the eastern border over the last four decades. By providing cash assistance and rehabilitated facilities for education and economic training, Relief International does its part towards making a better Iran in the midst of historical traumas and issues inflicting the country. The United States Institute of Peace, alongside the Woodrow Wilson Center, has also offered greater insight and knowledge into Iran and its relationship with the United States.

The U.N. also helps where and how it can. It previously sent help in the form of materials and experts to assist Iran during this time of crisis. The millions of dollars pledged by the likes of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the EU as a collective has also helped in the fight, despite the greater EU and Iran’s squabble over sanctions.

While the United States has the most and best resources to act positively towards Iran, relations between both nations remain estranged and full of mutual distrust. For the United States to play its best global role, it may have to work on reconciling itself with Iran through mutual understanding and empathy for the nation’s people.

A Call to Action

Iran has a rich, sprawling history, going back thousands of years and spanning entire eras of human existence. With just over 85 million souls within its borders, its people are as richly diverse as its environment is. The beautiful capital city of Tehran has seen Shahs, Presidents, Ayatollahs and Prime Ministers throughout its centuries; yet, it has also seen war, trauma, hard times and true hardships. Not least of these hardships are the issues of poverty, COVID-19 sanctions and opiate addiction in Iran. Overcoming these issues will take the cooperation of not only global non-profits, European nations and international collectives, but also the United States.

– Trent R. Nelson
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in IranAs the virus rapidly spread across countries, COVID-19 turned the whole world upside down. This inevitably brought many changes to people’s lives, from social interactions and daily activities to health concerns and working habits. The pandemic also heavily affected Iran. According to the Middle East Institute, the unemployment rate rose from 20% to 35% just a few months after the outbreak, providing some insight into the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iran.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Iran

The Iranian government has implemented several COVID-19 restrictions. According to Medical Press, the latest policies included the closure of non-essential shops, government buildings and banks. In addition, Iran implemented travel bans and the closure of some businesses to slow down the spread of the virus.

The pandemic has exacerbated Iran’s economic crisis and saturated its health system, with daily cases reaching a record of 39,600 as of August 8, 2021. With thousands of deaths and a declining economy due to government restrictions, many people experienced anxiety, stress, depression and other mental health issues. As the Mental Health Foundation states, “Poverty increases the risk of mental health problems and can be both a causal factor and a consequence of mental” illness.

Government restrictions, along with the other effects of the pandemic in the country, inevitably had an impact on people’s well-being. An International Journal of Mental Health Systems study showed that, during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Iranian population faced a significant mental health problem. In fact, about 15.1% and 20.1% of the general Iranian population, respectively males and females, experienced significant anxiety and depressive symptoms.

The numbers that emerged from the study show evident mental health impacts affecting a large portion of the population. However, the country might find some hope thanks to the Iranian government’s response.

Iran’s Response Plan

In this context, the Department for Mental Health and Substance Abuse of the Ministry of Health and Medical Education of the Islamic Republic of Iran established a plan to provide essential services for mental health, such as consultation support. The Ministry first implemented an assessment to determine the needs of Iran’s population regarding mental health and what the mental health system would need in the case of finances and infrastructure.

The identification of the population’s needs following the assessment resulted in the creation of training programs for mental care staff to best support the population. It also led to the implementation of several measures that prioritized the issues emerging from the collected data. Three weeks after the first outbreak of the pandemic, the Ministry of Health and Medical Education created a helpline across the national territory so that Iranians could have access to the essential services that mental health professionals provide. In the first nine months, the helpline received an average of 5,130 calls daily.

In addition, the government launched programs focusing on the well-being and mental state of COVID-19 survivors, such as psychological counseling sessions to support citizens facing mental repercussions after contracting the virus and people enduring significant losses due to the pandemic.

Mental Health Services in Iran and Digitalization

The pandemic inevitably led to great transformations, which include accelerating digitalization throughout the world. In Iran, mental health services reflected this change as these services adapted to meet social distancing policies. These services are, in fact, remote as well. In collaboration with the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, the government developed a virtual platform that guarantees easier access to psychological support and mental health care. The government established the platform along with the helpline, in order to support those in need of deeper psychiatric mental care and people with significant anxiety and depression issues.

To recover from the COVID-19 crisis, mental health interventions are important. As a World Health Organization (WHO) report states, “Previous experiences from other crises have confirmed that timely mental health intervention is critical for medical staff caring for patients, in this case, those affected by COVID-19.” Mental health issues can, in fact, significantly affect the confidence and skills of medical staff. In addition to the physical impacts of COVID-19, the mental conditions fueled by poverty in Iran require addressing to ensure the well-being of Iranian citizens across the country.

The implementation of a series of policies focusing on mental health in Iran reflects a positive move toward an efficient and steady recovery from the pandemic’s social and economic crisis. Through continued work, measures could reduce the overall impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iran.

– Arianna Pappone
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Iran
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iran is severe. The pandemic accelerated the decline of Iran’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the rise of unemployment. Despite the economic crisis, Tehran’s massive natural resources allow the country to effectively recover economically if the newly elected Ebrahim Raisi is willing to end the country’s decades-long hostility with the United States.

The US Sanctions and Economic Crisis Before COVID-19

Before analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iran, one needs to understand the context in which the pandemic took place. In May 2018, under President Trump, the U.S. withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As a result of the U.S. withdrawal, a “maximum pressure” campaign that consisted of unilateral sanctions against the Middle Eastern country replaced the Obama-era Iran foreign policy.

The sanctions contributed significantly to the downfall of Iran’s economy. The country’s GDP went down by 11% and average living standards have reduced by 13%. The “maximum pressure” campaign also caused an inflation shock. The sanctions cut oil exports, which reduced the supply of foreign exchange and resulted in hyperinflation. For example, the sanctions were one of the main reasons for prices rising by 41% in 2019.

How COVID-19 Worsened Iran’s Economic Crisis

The pandemic has further accelerated the crisis of the already declining Iranian economy. The mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak resulted in Iran being one of the worst impacted countries in the world, with almost 94,603 deaths and more than four million overall cases. Considering how widespread the highly transmissible Delta variant is and the fact that only about 4% of the country’s 83 million citizens are fully vaccinated, the future seems even more pessimistic.

Observing the health effects of the pandemic, it is not surprising how severely COVID-19 damaged Iran’s economy. In 2020, an estimated three to four million Iranians were at risk of losing their jobs, with the potential of increasing the actual (not official) unemployment rate from 20% to more than 35%. The country’s GDP shrunk by 5% in 2020 and inflation nearly doubled from February 2020 to February 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a decline in GDP and an increase in public spending led the government to take extensive debt and sell its assets on the stock market. As a result, the fiscal deficit-to-GDP ratio more than doubled.

The Lives of Impoverished Iranians During the Pandemic

COVID-19 forced working-class, low-income Iranians to choose between their health and earning a basic income necessary for physical survival. In previous decades, the combination of charity work and welfare ministry, which provided financial assistance to economically vulnerable families, managed to maintain poverty below the 10% threshold. However, sanctions and the pandemic have put the survival of millions of Iranians, particularly informal and daily workers, at risk.

Around six million Iranians (a quarter of the overall workforce) work in the informal economy and earn daily wages. They often have no fixed salaries, minimal or no savings and little insurance from the social protection programs. Although these workers face a greater risk of infection, their financial situation does not allow them to stop working. Due to the fragile economic reality of Iranian people, particularly low-income citizens, the government cannot afford strict quarantine measures because these restrictions can push an additional 20% of Iranians into extreme poverty.

Moreover, according to a World Bank report, consumer price inflation stood at 30.6% from April to November 2020 and reached 46.4% in November 2020. The hyperinflation caused drastic price increases in food and housing, which disproportionally harmed working-class families.

The Way Out of the Economic Crisis

Various international and local nongovernmental organizations work tirelessly to alleviate poverty in Iran. One of the most significant NGOs that provides financial and educational resources for Iran’s vulnerable is Relief International. The organization has been particularly active since the outbreak of COVID-19. Relief International has provided multi-purpose cash assistance for 26,000 families who lost their income due to the pandemic.

Although the work of Relief International and other NGOs is significant for mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iran, NGOs have limited resources. Therefore, the Iranian government should play a greater role in the process of poverty reduction. For easing the short-term economic impact, the government should provide direct income assistance to its vulnerable citizens. More importantly, for a meaningful, long-term change, the Reisi administration should end the four-decade-long animosity with the U.S. and agree to the new nuclear deal. The precedent of the 2015 JCPOA agreement shows that lifting sanctions will reverse the negative economic impact of COVID-19.

– Aleksandre Jgarkava
Photo: Flickr

Resilience During COVID-19 in IranJust south of the Iranian capital Tehran lies the metropolitan city of Qom. In late February, citizens in Qom became ill with COVID-19. Within weeks of the global spread, Iran became one of the first global hotspots outside East Asia, alongside Italy. The socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic created a dual crisis that threatened to exacerbate COVID-19’s impact on Iran. In 2018, the Trump Administration announced its intent to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal, following the successful negotiation of the agreement by the prior Obama White House. The unilateral U.S. withdrawal led to the reimposition of sanctions on Iran, crushing the economy and sending unemployment skyrocketing. In 2018 and 2019, the Iranian economy experienced annual contractions of more than 6%.

Against this backdrop, ordinary citizens took to the streets demanding sweeping change to the government in the biggest protests since the founding of modern Iran. The government responded with force. Hundreds of protestors were killed and the entire nation underwent a total internet blackout that lasted days.

With the country already wobbling from economic and political pressure, the pandemic hit at the worst possible time. As a result, many expected COVID-19’s impact on Iran to be outsized. Instead, the nation showed a shocking level of resilience that befuddled experts.

Economic Rebound

At first, COVID-19’s impact on Iran appeared to be nothing more than an accelerant to the generally negative undercurrents impacting the economy. A widely cited report by the Iranian Parliament Research Center foresaw a dramatic increase in poverty in 2020. By the end of the year, 57 million Iranians were expected to be below the poverty line. Moreover, as major economies across the world experienced sharp contractions, IMF analysts saw a similar fate in store for Iran. According to predictions, the Iranian economy would shed 5% of its size in 2020.

However, the opposite occurred. The Iranian economy actually expanded for the first time in years. Despite the crippling blow of U.S. sanctions and a global economic calamity, Iran posted a GDP growth of 1.5%. In many ways, this turnaround resembled a unique occurrence in China. In 2020, China also registered positive GDP growth, the only large economy to do so. But China had controlled COVID-19, whereas Iran was still struggling with its outbreak. The ability of the capital Tehran to manage its economy relatively well amid greater uncertainty was impressive.

But all was not well in Iran. Deaths from COVID-19 spiked across the country and satellite images confirmed the construction of massive buriel pits. By mid-July, almost 90,000 deaths were recorded in Iran. However, this is believed to be an underestimation. Data from the University of Washington confirms more than 200,000 excess deaths for the same period.

Vaccines Requested and Delivered

To get out of its current situation, Iran needs vaccines. In this arena too, recovery promises to be much faster than initially predicted. The refinement of COVID-19 vaccines, which was expected to take years, was released in months. The current challenge is the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. As of mid-July, only 5% of the Iranian population have received one dose of the COVID-19 jab and just 3% are fully vaccinated. But philanthropy is coming to the rescue. In the United States, a group of philanthropists is planning to send 150,000 Pfizer doses to Iran. Abroad, countries like Russia and China have promised to donate vaccines as well.

The road to normalcy will be difficult for Iran. But a strong global recovery has the potential to bring Iran to success.

– Zachary Lee
Photo: Flickr

Iran's ImpoverishedIn the past decade, Iran’s impoverished have floundered due to an overwhelming bombardment of economic sanctions. Documented human rights violations and insincere promises to slow its uranium enrichment program have garnered the Iranian state’s pariah status. Iran’s tumultuous relationship with the West has only worsened following President Trump’s decision to abandon the multilateral nuclear agreement and impose harsher sanctions in 2018. Forced to pay the price of their government’s politics, Iranians have found themselves virtually isolated from the West. With the potential lifting of sanctions, hope is on the horizon for impoverished Iranians.

Potential Lifting of Sanctions

Iran’s reintegration into the international economy may be coming sooner than expected as the Biden administration has made concerted efforts to restore the nuclear deal and implement some stability in the region. Following initial negotiations, Iranian chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi proclaimed to state media that more than 1,000 sanctions would be lifted. “An agreement has been reached to remove all insurance, oil and shipping sanctions that were imposed by Trump,” said Vaezi on June 23, 2021. With the lifting of sanctions, Iran’s impoverished will see their economic outlooks drastically improve.

Loss of Jobs

While U.S. sanctions are intended to target the hardliner regime, Iran’s most marginalized communities have paid the biggest price. Iran’s energy, shipping and financial sectors have been completely stifled, causing essentially all foreign investment to dry up. President Trump explained that the strict sanctions “intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue.” Since 2018, Iran’s gross domestic product (GDP) has shrunk by nearly 15%. In addition, the unemployment rate has risen to nearly 20%. Unsurprisingly, the IMF reported zero growth in Iran’s economy in 2020.

Economic Downturn

The stagnancy of the economy can be felt everywhere, most notably in the rapid devaluation of the Iranian currency. The reinstatement of sanctions in 2018 has caused the Iranian currency to lose 50% of its value against the U.S. dollar. As a result, the rial (the Iranian dollar) is increasingly worthless. The effects of such extreme inflation have been disastrous, to say the least.

While the regime and its key supporters have been able to subsist due to rampant corruption, Iran’s most impoverished citizens have not been so fortunate. In Tehran, it is commonplace for the children of Iran’s impoverished to wait in a government-subsidized queue for free food. Parents simply cannot afford to feed their children at home due to the rapid increase in daily costs.

The costs of essential items such as meat and vegetables have more than doubled. Equally concerning, the price of healthcare has skyrocketed. Iran’s impoverished have no resources to access affordable healthcare, unable to pay the rising medical prices for tests. Even the prices of tobacco have increased by nearly 80%.

Reactions to Vaezi’s Claim

Understandably, Iranians were ecstatic upon hearing Vaezi’s claim that the infamous sanctions would be brought to an end. However, the U.S. has since denied that an official agreement has been reached. An unnamed spokesperson for the U.S. has emphasized that “During negotiations of this complexity, negotiators try to draft text that captures the main issues, but again, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” While there is still work to do, it seems that the conversation between the two countries is headed in the right direction, bringing the hope of reduced poverty in Iran.

– Conor Green
Photo: Flickr

The Gender Wage Gap in Iran and COVID-19 Vaccines
Today, the gender wage gap in Iran is so large that, on average, a woman can expect to make just 18% of what a man does. To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has widened the already severe gender wage gap in Iran. According to the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum, the pandemic has made a major impact on gender inequality, as “closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.” This shift disproportionately targets countries with large pre-existing gender wage gaps, such as Iran. As a result, gender wage gaps will only continue to persist and worsen until the end of the global pandemic. While the outlook for closing the gender wage gap in Iran is currently grim, the advent of the COVID-19 vaccine offers a ray of hope for restarting the movement towards gender equality.

Gender Inequality in Iran

Many consider the Islamic Republic of Iran to be an authoritarian state and it has notably restricted the rights of women since undergoing an Islam-oriented Cultural Revolution in 1980. As a result, Iranian society has since relegated women to domestic roles. Women’s political power in Iran has severe limitations. According to the World Economic Forum, the number of women in Parliament is a paltry 5.6%. Additionally, the number of women participating in the labor force stands at a mere 18.9% in 2021, compared to 39% in 2006.

With restricted rights and limited representation in politics, intervention is critical in reducing the massive gender inequality that is present. A paper that the United Nations published on the subject argues just that, saying, “remedial policy is required if Iran is to pursue socio-economic development and redistributive justice.”

One organization fighting for gender equality in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries is the Women’s Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE). This NGO fights against unjust interpretations of the Quran. This includes the idea that men should be above women in society and relationships in Islam. Through the promotion of a more just interpretation of the Quran, WISE helps nations create legislation that will open doors for women in the workforce, politics and society.

How the Gender Wage Gap in Iran has Changed Over Time

While the situation in Iran is far from ideal, some societal improvements lend hope for a better future. Particularly, the increases in education. Education lays the foundation for an elevation of the role of women in society. In the past 15 years, literacy rates for women have increased from 70% to 80.8%. This is due to increased educational resources for women in the country. Women have also increased their presence in parliament, which increased from 4% to 5.6%.

The movement towards gender equality is making modest headway in some regards, despite the widening gender wage gap in Iran in that same timeframe. However, the ongoing pandemic is stalling much of this progress. The World Economic Forum estimates that since 2018, Iran’s Gender Gap Index, a scale of one to seven showing how severe the gender gap in a country is, has fallen from .589 to .582. This is mostly due to the impact of COVID-19. It shows how the pandemic is turning the tides away from gender equality.

Despite some success in recent years, COVID-19 has undone much of this positive change. The impact of COVID-19 is especially harmful to women in the workforce. Solving the issues presented by the pandemic is key for closing the gender wage gap in Iran. Since the gap is actively widening, it is crucial to stop the spread of COVID-19 as soon as possible.

How COVID-19 Vaccines Can Help Close the Gender Wage Gap in Iran

It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing open the gender gap in Iran rather than closing it. The good news is that vaccines present a route out of the pandemic for the country. If Iran can vaccinate according to WHO’s critical mass figure of 80% of the population, the country can achieve herd immunity and return to functioning as normal.

In fact, the devastation of the pandemic has left a greater demand for labor. The roughly 34 million unemployed women in Iran could meet this demand. The sheer volume of unemployed women demonstrates the overwhelming disadvantage women are at in Iran’s workforce. However, the need for mass vaccinations to allow for more women to work is clear as well.

As of May 20, 2021, only 2.4% of the population has received a dose and only 0.4% of the population is fully vaccinated. Iran has a long way to go to vaccinate enough people to return to normal and increase the chances of women in the workforce. It is important for world leaders to prioritize the distribution of vaccines worldwide. This will not only help to end the pandemic but help stop the rising gender inequality that has stemmed from it.

Looking Ahead

Data from the World Economic Forum proves that the pandemic has created a devastating impact on the gender wage gap in Iran. The data shows why vaccinations must experience as much promotion as possible to stop the spread. Without swift action, the gap will only widen. Change in legislation can help bring gender equality in Iran. As of now, though, the next step in working toward that goal is to end the pandemic.

– Jeremy Long
Photo: Flickr