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

Aid for Earthquake Victims In Iran
Iran faced an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 in 2017. This is one of the worst natural disasters Iran has faced. It shook the ground and caused catastrophic damage. Iran sits on major tectonic plates. As a result, earthquakes are common in this nation. Additionally, fault lines cover about 90% of Iran. These earthquakes cause damage to homes, outdoor markets, businesses and schools. Earthquake victims in Iran often face homelessness and hunger. Fortunately, the Iranian Red Crescent Society provides relief to people natural disasters and other life-threatening emergencies displace. Volunteers at the Iranian Red Crescent have provided aid for earthquake victims in Iran.

The Iranian Red Crescent

Iran established the Iranian Red Crescent in 1922. It was originally known as The Red Lion and Sun Society. However, its name changed after it received admittance to the Red Cross Society in 1923. The Iranian Red Crescent provides employees and volunteers with life-saving training to manage all medical emergencies. In addition, many people require medical help after a natural disaster. Falling debris, leaking gas lines and live wires are dangerous and can easily injure someone in emotional disarray.

One of the most recent earthquakes happened near the town of Sisaket in February 2021. It was a magnitude 5.6 earthquake that resulted in 30 people injured and damage to infrastructure.

The earthquake destroyed the majority of houses in Sisakht. Villagers were nervous about the next quake due to the frequent seismic activity. Most people remained outside for fear of aftershocks. Outdoors is the safest place to be after or during an earthquake. The damage to Sisakht caused major power outages and damage to villages.

Helping Find Shelter

On the eve of February 17, 2021, The Iranian Red Crescent dispatched teams from Fars and Isfahan into the city of Sisakht. These teams assisted in providing materials such as blankets, tents, water and food. The organization placed six additional teams on standby in case further help was necessary. Furthermore, it sent three trucks of essential supplies to these outer regions.

It set up about 60 tents as emergency shelters. The tents provide privacy to families and individuals as the city rebuilds from this natural disaster. Additionally, the age of the pandemic has made sanitation a necessity. All Iranian Red Crescent workers wear masks to protect others and themselves from the COVID-19 virus. Furthermore, the support that The Iranian Red Crescent gave provides people with peace of mind that even in the worst times they are not alone.

Building a More Stable Future

In late 2019, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake shook the city of Kermanshah. This earthquake caused mass damage and resulted in 620 deaths. The devastation of this quake prompted earthquake safety training to go to schools. The Iranian Red Crescent participated in teaching children the importance of escaping danger, digging out of rubble and taking the injured to safe places. Additionally, more than 14,000 students in more than 110 schools received quake and safety exercises.

The Iranian Red Crescent deploys helps to ensure the safety and well-being of the people of Iran. While Iranians continue to face natural disasters, earthquake victims in Iran are more equipped to handle the situation now.

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

Violence Against Women
The bill titled the Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence has been under review and edits since 2013. In September 2019, Iran’s legislation approved the bill and now, parliament and the Guardian Council will review it. The vice president for women and affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar is spearheading the bill. Masoumeh Ebtekar entered her position in 2017 and has pushed for reform to protect women from violence. This bill aims to address the issue of domestic violence against women in Iran. For the past 17 years, Iranian women have been campaigning and fighting for a bill that protects women from violence. Here is some information about violence against women in Iran.

Women in Iran

Iranian women frequently receive treatment as second-class citizens and devaluing due to gender-based discrimination. Iranian women also frequently face physical, sexual and psychological abuse. In Iran, domestic abuse is not illegal, leaving women venerable to violence. If a woman’s husband is abusive, the only legal action a woman can take is to have her husband financially support her for the first three months after separation.

The Iranian judicial system systemically discriminates against women in other ways as well. For example, women are legally responsible at 9 years old, whereas the system charges men as adults at 13 years old.

Violence Against Women During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In 2020, female-aimed violence in Iran skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. It caused public outrage and led to the birth of Iran’s own Me Too movement, sparking protests and demand for reform and equality.

Many public events charged the civil discourse. One of the most public events of violence in 2020 involved Romina Ashrafi, a 14-year-old girl. Her father beheaded her in what he called an honor killing. This act of terror sparked a demand for change, forcing Iran’s legislation to approve and pass the long-awaited bill regarding violence against women. As Iranian researcher Tara Sepehri Far said, “For decades, Iranian women have been waiting for comprehensive legislation to prevent violence against women and prosecute their abusers.”

The Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence Bill

The bill intends to address violence through education. In fact, it will implement educational courses for teachers, parents and students to help others recognize when a woman is at risk of violence and help bring awareness and knowledge to the subject of abuse against women. The bill will also implement legal support for women in abusive situations, including safe houses and medical and psychological aid for women. It will also initiate training for medical workers to equip them on how to help women seek help in abusive situations.

Another major reform of the bill requires law enforcement to redesign how it approaches violence against women. Before this bill, many lawyers and law enforcement were wary of taking on domestic abuse cases, often regarding violence cases against women as a family issue, not rather than a state issue. This bill now requires judiciaries and law enforcement to seriously address the topic and consider them a public safety issue.

Looking Ahead

This bill is a positive step toward ending violence against females; however, Iran must also address the bill’s shortcomings. The bill does not aim to end or address marital rape or child marriage, or even domestic abuse, thus leaving these essential topics in silence.

However, this bill is worthy of recognition for progressing protection for women in Iran. Women in Iran have been fighting for a voice and change and this bill is a powerful reminder that growth and change do happen. While it will not end women’s fight for safety and equality right away, it is a worthy beginning showing that the Iranian government now recognizes that domestic violence and discrimination are significant issues.

– Rachel Wolf
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Iran
The Islamic Republic of Iran is the second-largest Middle Eastern country, home to roughly 83 million people. Iran is one of the oldest civilizations but has the classification of being a developing country. However, its healthcare system is not underdeveloped. Iran has both public and private health care organizations extended to urban and rural areas. Nevertheless, Iran has maintained a 17-18% population share of people with a mental health or development disorder. The global population share of people with any form of mental disorder is 10.7%.

Mental Health in Iran

Mental health issues are prevalent in Iran. About one-fifth of people have a mental illness or substance disorder, amounting to nearly 10% of the total disease burden. Over 60% of Iranians do not receive any treatment, and only 15-25% get proper treatment. Many do not seek treatment, and resources are currently limited to treating disorders for those who do.

While 64% of the population reside in urban areas, mental health is nearly identically prevalent in rural areas. Iran aims to aid urban and rural areas accordingly. The Iranian health care initiative intends to soften the gap between urban-rural access to healthcare. Part of the initiative is lessening the disparity of primary health care between urban and rural areas. The gap has decreased significantly, and Iran has begun integrating mental health treatment into its primary care system.

Therefore, rural areas are obtaining near-equal access to mental health treatment as urban areas. However, only 3% of Iran’s healthcare spending goes toward mental health, which complicates its success in treating mental health. Iran has a robust healthcare system, allocating more money toward mental health should down-trend its number of mental health cases.

Various mental disorders are prevalent in Iran. Iran’s mental health difficulties vary depending on the type of disorder. Overall, mental health maintains a vital challenge for the country. With 4.3 million Iranians currently suffering from depression, it equates to around 5% of the Iranian population, compared to 3.4% of the global population suffering from depression. Another 688,000 Iranians have bipolar disorder, which is less than a percentage point of Iran’s population. Meanwhile, 5.75 million Iranians have an anxiety disorder and over 180,000 Iranians have schizophrenia. With that, mental health disorders of all severities continue to be prevalent in the nation.

Underlying Causes of Mental Health Issues in Iran

Several underlying factors escalate the issue of mental health in Iran. The nation has a fluctuating unemployment rate, shifting between 10-15%, with almost one-third of people living in poor conditions, exacerbating the attempt to aid mental health. While unemployment and poverty are sources of mental health issues, they also lead to mental health deterioration factors. Therefore, women have a higher rate of mental illness in Iran, as they are twice as likely to be unemployed than men in Iran. Another issue is the rate of mental illness increases within older age groups, although adolescents maintain similar rates.

Solutions

Iran has continued to address the issue. Iran has made several attempts to find solutions to lower the number of people with mental health disorders within it. From 2013 to 2018, Iran increased its health expenditure by 2.6% totaling almost 9% of its total GDP. Aforementioned, Iran integrated mental health treatment into its primary care system in 1989, improving access to treatment. As the country increases its healthcare expenditure, mental healthcare funding would increase within Iran’s primary care system. With the steps occurring to reduce the percentage of people needing mental health treatment, resources such as having enough facilities, hospital beds and doctors to treat people are the next step for Iran.

With 792 million people globally living with any form of mental illness, mental health is not only prevalent in Iran. Similarly, the stigma behind mental health has contributed to the setbacks and barriers. Though, Iran maintains a firm hold over taking steps to eradicate the issue over time. As the country continues to make public health care a primary focus, the goal is to see mental health cases slowly dwindle in the foreseeable future. Continuing the betterment of mental health in Iran serves to alleviate unemployment and poverty in the nation.

– James Van Bramer
Photo: Unsplash

Period Poverty in Iran
Menstruation is a normal, healthy part of life. However, for women and girls worldwide, having a period can be a barrier to attaining true gender equality. Period poverty in Iran is the result of many factors including misconception, lack of training and education, stigma and traditional, conservative religious beliefs. With “millions of women and girls [continuing] to be denied their rights to water, sanitation, hygiene, health, education, dignity and gender equity,” some are directing attention and resources to the menstrual equality movement.

Misconception and Restriction

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, taboos, misconceptions and social and cultural restrictions shadow menstruation for many women. A study among school girls in West Iran found that “41.2% of girls understood that menstruation is a normal physiological process in women,” leaving the majority of pubescent girls in this study to form inaccurate perceptions about this normal bodily function. In a similar study, 48% of Iranian girls stated they believed that menstruation was a disease. The feelings of confusion, panic and fear that accompany such beliefs can inhibit girls from experiencing true dignity and comfort in their bodies.

Cultural, religious and traditional beliefs have a significant impact on norms and attitudes. Islamic rules dictate various prohibitions for menstruating women. During menstruation, women cannot bathe, pray, enter a mosque, fast during Ramadan, touch the Quran or have sexual intercourse. Certainly, the level of restriction varies amongst communities and families, however, much of these restrictions predominate.

A study that occurred in secondary schools in the city of Tabriz, the most populous city in northwestern Iran, indicated that the majority of female students were able to access menstrual hygiene products. Specifically, out of the 1,000 students included in the study, two-thirds reported a favorable economic status and 95.6% reported using disposable pads during menstruation. Though these rates are encouraging, Iran’s poverty rates remain very high. After the last census in 2016, an Iranian economist estimated that 30 million Iranians were living in relative poverty and 12 million in absolute poverty. High poverty rates correlate to less access to water, sanitation and hygiene resources, including menstrual pads.

The Impact of Education

While organizations and governments can best tackle the complex issue of combating period poverty in Iran through collaboration across disciplines of education, urban planning, water and sanitation, a study out of Iran University of Medical Sciences and Health Services states that “health education is among the fundamental and successful approaches to health promotion.” It is promising, then, that in early 2019, a group of officials from the Iranian Ministry of Science and Health as well as the Vice President for the Women’s and Family Affairs, collaborated to create a document aimed at promoting sexual health awareness and education. The document provides guidance to empower teachers and parents, implement education packages and establish policies and interventions to promote indirect sexual education through media. This document is the first of its kind and marks a critical undertaking of improving adolescents’ sexual health education in Iran.

Training and education have a considerable influence and can help mitigate period poverty in Iran. One study found that the use of sanitary pads, as well as bathing and washing after urination or defecation during menstruation, were practices significantly elevated in groups of young girls that received training. The stakes of proper training are beyond fostering hygienic practices; education has a direct impact on health outcomes. Young girls who are first learning about menses are a particularly vulnerable group. Lacking information about menstruation can lead to anxiety and lowered self-esteem but also reproductive tract infections and pelvic inflammatory diseases. The International Journal of Pediatrics found that “young girls with better knowledge and practice toward menstrual hygiene are less vulnerable to adverse health outcomes.”

The Importance of Mothers

Iran can best take on the task of providing reproductive education to its youth by utilizing a critically helpful source: mothers. Countless studies state that the most efficient, culturally and religiously sensitive strategy to convey information to girls about menstruation involves families, mothers in particular.

A study by the International Journal of Preventive Medicine compared different training sources for adolescents’ menstrual health education. Its findings indicate that partnering parents and school trainers as equal stakeholders “leads to more successful results in health implementation.” Another study based out of Iran suggests that education to mothers could be even more effective than directly training adolescent girls themselves. With 61% of Iranian girls reporting that their mothers are the best source of information about menstrual hygiene, it is critical that mothers receive sufficient education so they can share accurate information with their daughters. It is urgent, ethical and resourceful to prioritize education and training for menstrual health management.

Organizations Addressing Women’s Health

While there are over 2,700 NGOs working in Iran on women and family affairs, including Relief International and Center for Human Rights in Iran, the work of Imam Ali’s Popular Student Relief Society, IAPSRS, has been substantial in the area of reducing period poverty in Iran. This prominent group includes 12,000 volunteer university students and graduates. It aims to promote social and economic justice by supporting marginalized children and women in the most problematic, marginalized neighborhoods in Iran. The organization has provided workshops about personal hygiene, birth control, maturity and sexually transmitted disease prevention, as well as deployed volunteer gynecologists for biannual disease screenings.

The work of this group is currently in jeopardy, however. In early March 2021, a court verdict dissolved the NGO, stating that it “deviated from [its] original mission and insulted religious beliefs.” The Human Rights Watch has already called on the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to reverse this action and reinstate the organization.

The Period Equity Movement

The last decade has illuminated the need for a growing focus and global movement on menstrual health management. Significant developments have occurred to address the barriers facing girls and women all over the world, but the need for major overhauls in programming and policy agenda persists.

– Brittany Granquist
Photo: Flickr