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

HIV/AIDS in Iran
Iran discovered its first case of HIV/AIDS in 1987. Now, over 30 years later, UNAIDS estimates that more than 59,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Iran. While Iran has had success managing its HIV/AIDS epidemic in the past, shifting conditions surrounding the spread of the disease has made prior prevention plans obsolete. Iranian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are taking a new approach to help tackle the present crisis.

HIV/AIDS in Iran

Avert is an organization working in HIV/AIDS education. According to its reports, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the area where Iran is located, has the fewest HIV/AIDS infections in the world. However, a concerning aspect of the region’s HIV/AIDS epidemic is that so few people are aware of their infected status. Of the estimated 59,000 people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Iran, UNAIDS estimates that only 22,000, or 37%, know that they are carrying the disease. By comparison, only about 15% of PLHIV in the United States are unaware of their status.

This lack of awareness amongst Iranian PLHIV is concerning both in its implications for the quality of life of those individuals, but also in its potential to increase the spread of the virus. This is part of the reason why Iran continues to see the steady spread of HIV/AIDS. According to UNAIDS, while new infections are down from a spike in 2004, Iran saw more than 4,000 new infections in 2019. The AP reports that this increase could be due to the rising prevalence of sexually transmitted cases of HIV/AIDS in Iran, where infection by contaminated drug injection has traditionally fueled the country’s crisis.

Knowledge and Perceptions of HIV/AIDS in Iran

The unknown status of many Iranian PLHIV results from larger issues surrounding Iran’s attitude towards the virus. Specifically, a lack of education regarding HIV/AIDS and prevailing cultural stigma towards PLHIV impacts how Iranians treat the virus and those living with it.

A 2013 survey showed that public education about HIV/AIDS in Iran is limited. The survey included 4,950 participants, each of whom had to fill out a questionnaire regarding their understanding of and attitudes towards HIV/AIDS.

The results of this survey showed that more than 80% of participants were aware that HIV/AIDS could spread through sexual contact or the sharing of a needle with a person with HIV/AIDS. In addition, 70% of participants knew that the use of a condom decreases the likelihood of contracting the virus during sex. However, despite this understanding, only 21.8% of respondents consistently used a condom during sex. This is particularly concerning given the rising role of sexual transmission in the spread of the disease in Iran.

The survey also revealed high stigmatization of PLHIV by respondents. Among respondents, 43% believed that HIV was a “fair punishment,” for “sins of the past,” and 48.6% said that they would stop interacting with somebody who contracted HIV.

Stigma towards PLHIV in Iran results from numerous factors. Misunderstandings about the spread of HIV/AIDS are part of the equation. Due to cultural norms, the association of HIV/AIDS with drug use, homosexuality and premarital sex have led to the widespread nonacceptance of PLHIV, a sentiment echoed in the aforementioned survey.

A New Approach to HIV/AIDS in Iran

Fortunately, NGOs in Iran exist that are advancing a more compassionate and effective approach to HIV/AIDS. The Tehran Positive Club is one such organization. The club devotes itself to assisting Iranian PLHIV, educating the public about HIV/AIDS and reducing the stigma against PLHIV. It provides services to PLHIV including counseling, group therapy, material support and vocational training.

Based out of Iran’s capital, the Tehran Positive Club has thousands of members and multiple branches throughout the country, including in populous cities like Isfahan, Kermanshah and Qom.

By providing material support, the Tehran Positive Club hopes to alleviate the social and psychological trauma that societal stigmatization causes PLHIV. And by increasing public understanding about the disease, it seeks to eliminate the prevailing cultural stigmata that result from misinformation. Reducing stigmatization creates empathy for PLHIV and raises the likelihood that more Iranians will receive testing for the disease, thereby reducing its spread and increasing the chances of survival for the unwittingly infected.

In 2016, the Tehran Positive Club received the Red Ribbon Award from UNAIDS for its work with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Iran. Though the organization already has powerful allies at home and abroad, including the Iranian Research Center for HIV/AIDS and the United Nations Development Program, increased foreign aid would undoubtedly help further its mission and turn the tide of Iran’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.

– Joseph Cavanagh
Photo: Creative Commons

Sanctions prevent humanitarian aid
When looking at what contributes to poverty in a nation, one might first look at the government and economy to try and figure out what is inhibiting the state’s growth. Sometimes though, the hindering factor does not lay within the developing state’s own government or economy, but a neighboring one’s, or perhaps in one with a substantial trade relationship with the state. Many struggling countries establish trade relationships with more economically stable nations to help foster their own economies. When others impose sanctions on these ‘helper’ countries, this can impact how quickly or how much they can still receive these resources. Moreover, sanctions can prevent humanitarian aid.

Sanctions Set Ripples

The U.S. and Iran’s relationship soured following the broken agreement between them regarding nuclear arms. Afterward, the U.S. killed top Iranian general, Soleimani, and imposed sanctions against 18 Iranian banks. The intention was to keep Americans from engaging with the banks. Meanwhile, the U.S. government imposed secondary sanctions on other countries to prevent them from doing business with those same banks.

While the U.S. issued a statement in December 2020 that stated the sanctions would not apply to humanitarian aid, Iran claimed that the U.S.’s sanctions have strained its relationship with South Korea, a U.S. ally. As a result, $7 billion from oil sales is still in South Korea due to U.S. sanctions. Iran claims this money was for humanitarian goods such as COVID-19 vaccines.

Influenced by the U.S. sanctions, South Korea’s relationship with Iran has deteriorated and inhibited the economic relationships, and assumedly others, since the U.S. secondary sanctions on nations engaging with the 18 Iranian banks do not exclusively apply to South Korea.

Effects On Humanitarian Aid

The act of imposing sanctions poses a threat to humanitarian aid in a variety of different ways. The most obvious is if an organization or staff member has sanctions directly or explicitly against them, although this remains hypothetical.

Another threat involves the fear and paranoia surrounding the idea of sanctions. In trying to avoid sanctions, many humanitarian organizations act with more caution than is necessary. As a result, this stringent self-policing ends up making their work less effective, which is counterintuitive to the purpose of humanitarian aid. This is observable in the case of Afghanistan, where groups avoid working in areas where the government does not have control – although that does not mean that people do not require aid there. Therefore, the sanctions directly prevent regions in Afghanistan from receiving humanitarian aid.

Corruption and Sanctions

Studies found a correlation between corruption and GDP, meaning the poorer the country, the more likely it has a high level of corruption. A high level of corruption, on the other hand, harms economic growth, creating a possible cycle of corruption and economic stagnation. However, the graphs and knowledge that experts have presented do not indicate the causality of low GDPs leading to corruption. One cannot say a country is corrupt because it is poor. Since fighting corruption is one of the U.S. Department of Treasury’s priorities, corrupt countries receive more sanctions than their counterparts, damaging the affected nations’ economy even more.

However, this does not only mean that corrupt countries lose money but it also most likely results in people in need receiving less aid. Reducing aid and applying sanctions also means that people have less money and trade options. Countries that receive sanctions may also lose jobs as industries suffer and businesses shutter, leaving the people and humanitarian workers to take the brunt of the consequences that those imposing the sanctions intended for their governments.

Relief International is Helping Iran

Regardless of the sanctions against Iran, Relief International has been working in Iran since 1990 when it emerged to help respond to the Manjil-Rudbar earthquake, the worst national disaster in the country’s history that had a death toll of 50,000 people. From there, Relief International has taken it upon itself to send whatever resources Iran might need, considering that it is a disaster-prone area. In 2019, 12,400 people received assistance from Relief International in the wake of the Nowruz floods. About 11,500 Afghan refugee students enrolled in Relief International’s education programs, while 2,500 were able to increase their income due to Relief International’s job programs. The organization has rehabilitated 27 schools after natural disasters ravaged them.

Avoiding Sanctions

Facing the COVID-19 pandemic, Relief International has prioritized sending medical supplies to frontline healthcare workers in Iran. Items as simple as masks, gloves and hospital coveralls are basic but essential to protecting healthcare workers as they fight on the pandemic’s frontlines. Relief International sent 1,000 kits with protective equipment, such as protective wear, hand sanitizer and shoe covers. Furthermore, it gave 40,000 testing kits to the Pasteur Institute of Tehran. To further help support healthcare workers, Relief International has started an Iran program to produce medical supplies and equipment locally, mitigating the delivery times and logistical hurdles of donating resources.

With mainly focusing on medical components, Relief International can avoid the negative effects that U.S. sanctions cause. However, with the sanctioning of banks, financial aid programs can face more difficulties with these measures and financial transactions to NGOs may only occur after catastrophes. The example of Relief International shows how crucial it is to protect organizations that deliver humanitarian aid. Alternatively, to put it more directly, sanctions can complicate and prevent humanitarian aid and others’ ability to save lives.

– Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in Iran
On December 5, 2020, Iran announced that the national death toll from COVID-19 had surpassed 50,000 people. However, medical experts from within and outside Iran have estimated that the number of Iranians who have died of COVID-19 is at least double that figure. Additionally, they estimate that the nation may be on the brink of collapse from the uncontrolled spread of the virus. A mix of social, political and economic factors have created a unique situation that has made the containment and treatment of COVID-19 in Iran nearly impossible. Medical experts have warned that a third wave would be a destabilizing threat to the nation. Remedying this crisis will require international support and effort at Iran’s federal level to alleviate the burden on frontline workers, increase access to healthcare resources and create a path for Iran to receive an effective vaccine.

A Fertile Ground for an Uncontrolled Spread

An economic depression, onset by U.S. sanctions and government mismanagement, has plagued Iran in recent years. The U.S. has posed various economic sanctions on Iran since 1979, after the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. As a result, the average purchasing power of Iranian families has decreased, drug and consumer product prices have soared and housing has become unaffordable for many Iranian families.

Economic sanctions do not explicitly ban the sale of pharmaceuticals to Iran. However, the Human Rights Watch reports that many European and American companies, fearing sanctions, are unwilling to sell drugs or pharmaceutical equipment to Iran. This, coupled with the skyrocketing prices of pharmaceuticals in Iranian pharmacies, places the Iranian public at a major health risk. Even before the spread of COVID-19 in Iran, many Iranian families could not afford basic drugs and waited for hours in line at local pharmacies.

The Iranian government made a number of missteps in the early days of the pandemic. These included reluctance to lock down public places when large swaths of the community were contracting the virus, as well as allowing international flights from China to enter Iran as late as January 26, 2020.

Struggling Healthcare Infrastructure

Getting exact figures of infections and deaths from COVID-19 in Iran is not easy due to the country’s opaque governmental structure. Experts estimate that Iran, along with the United States and India, may be among the countries that COVID-19 has hit hardest. This has put immense pressure on Iran’s already struggling healthcare infrastructure, which, according to Iranian health professionals, is reaching a breaking point during a third wave of the virus.

Almost every hospital in Iran now hosts a COVID-19 ward, and nearly every ward is at full capacity. Some hospitals have had to convert cafeterias into makeshift field hospitals to handle the incredible volume of infected patients. With the lack of necessary healthcare resources and staff to handle an ever-increasing number of infected people, several hospitals are unable to effectively administer care to patients, including those hospitalized for reasons other than COVID-19 infection, and are on the verge of collapse.

The Fight for a Vaccine and Maintaining Daily Life

The light at the end of the tunnel for any nation suffering a COVID-19 pandemic is a contract to receive mass quantities of an approved vaccine. Despite economic sanctions, Iran has entered into COVAX, an international organization that aims to allow foreign countries access to coronavirus vaccines. Due to international banks’ reluctance to grant loans to Iran, fearing sanctions from the U.S. government, Iranian officials may have to fly to Geneva to pay directly for an import of the vaccine. Still, Iran obtained a license to take part in COVAX, meaning that planning is underway to get vaccines to Iran.

The Iranian government has stepped up COVID-19 protocol in recent weeks, extending shutdowns that it put in place before the most recent wave. The government hopes that social distancing and stricter protocol will mitigate the spread of the virus. As of December 5, 2020, the Iranian government has put in place:

  • An extension of partial shutdowns in regions that the spread of the virus most affected.
  • A curfew in 278 cities that are not experiencing uncontrolled spread, but are still at risk of mass infection.
  • A mandatory mask rule in all public places.
  • A ban on people with COVID-19 from taking public transportation.

Taking on the New Wave

As a third wave has descended on Iran, the nation faces a set of difficulties that it has not seen since the Persian Famine during World War I. A combination of sanctions, fear of backlash from the international business community and federal reluctance to make strides in containing COVID-19 in Iran have created a unique crisis that threatens that nation’s health and security.

As hospitals face crowding and the price of available pharmaceuticals remains on the rise, Iran is likely to continue to struggle. Stricter and more thorough social distancing protocol, as well as strategic negotiations to obtain a vaccine, could combat the spread of COVID-19 in Iran and put the country on the path to recovery.

Kieran Graulich
Photo: Flickr

Cuts Increase PovertyIn November of 2019, amid sanctions that resulted in extreme inflation, the three branches of Iran’s government announced a fuel subsidy cut. Officials raised the price of gasoline to 15,000 rials/liter (0.5 $/gallon) for the first 60 liters of gas purchased in a month.  The subsidy cut was intended to generate money for about 18 million low-income families. This increase, however, was unwelcome and resulted in protests and a rise in oil smuggling. Interestingly, Iran’s poorest citizens engaged in these protests. Although the goal of the cuts was to raise money for Iran’s poor, the reform disproportionately hurt Iran’s poorest citizens and statistics suggest the cuts have actually increased poverty.

Case Study: Subsidy Cuts in Tehran

When measuring how drastically the cut affected Iranians at an individual level, it can be useful to evaluate the importance of cars to Iranians. For this, consider Iran’s capital city, Tehran. Iran’s average household had 3.5 members and Tehran’s population was about 8.7 million at the cut’s announcement, indicating there should have been ~2.5 million households in the city of Tehran. Yet the city deals with four million vehicles and 17.4 million trips each day. At first, these numbers may seem unusually high. However, Tehran has many commuters.

Those coming from outside the city rely on cheap gasoline to hold their city-based jobs. It is cheaper to live outside the city, so the average commuter is relatively poor compared to those living within the city. Consequently, the poor are often the most affected by the fuel subsidy cut.

Cuts Increase Poverty

The Iranian government claimed the increased price of gasoline would generate an extra 300 trillion rials per year for around 18 million families— or $395 per family. However, the extra rials that each low-income family receives per year was overshadowed by the high levels of inflation and the increased cost of living. In short, the extra rials received under the cut have not supplemented the more expensive gas.

However, only highlighting the cut’s effect on those living near large cities would ignore one of the subsidy cut’s greatest consequences— cuts increase poverty near Iran’s borders. Higher gas prices had immense implications for provinces that border other countries such as Sistan and Baluchistan. Oil smuggling serves as a reliable source of income for citizens living in border regions; this occupation is especially popular today due to high unemployment rates. Experts have even estimated that oil smuggling in Iran is a multi-billion dollar business. Iranian citizens living in these areas travel to Pakistan to sell their subsidized fuel for a profit. Therefore, these Iranians saw lower profit margins with the arrival of the subsidy cut.

Alternative Strategies to Combat Poverty

Some experts believe that tax incentives or increasing law enforcement would decrease oil smuggling in Iran. Alternatively, a Brookings study on youth unemployment programs suggests that improving education systems could serve as a better long-run solution to poverty.

The success of an education-based initiative would depend on collaboration between education-focused NGOs and the government of Iran. Increasing investments in education are likely to strengthen the economic resilience of border communities. Additionally, it has the potential to generate employment opportunities and to eliminate oil smuggling by creating higher-paying jobs. Improving the quality of jobs will lead to higher wages. In turn, this could prevent people from falling into poverty and remove the financial justification for oil smuggling.

Looking Ahead

With an increasingly strained government budget due to sanctions and coronavirus, it may be a long time before Iran reintroduces the previous fuel subsidy. Partnerships between NGOs and Iran’s government will likely have a larger role in reducing poverty. It will be essential for stakeholders to implement future policies that better protect Iran’s poorest citizens.

Enacting policies where the benefits are not instantaneous is difficult but necessary for Iran. Legislators should aim to develop education and employment prospects despite today’s many economic pressures including sanctions and COVID-19. The development will bolster at-risk communities and provide alternatives to illegal, unsustainable jobs such as oil smuggling.

Eliminating poverty will not happen overnight. Iran’s efforts will require patience and trust. In order to absolve the world of poverty, legislators and NGOs alike must maintain an unwavering commitment.

Alex Berman
Photo: Flickr

Medical Advancements in IranIran is a developing country located in western Asia as part of the Middle East. In the past several decades, Iran has accomplished major strides in terms of its health care system and medicine. The following list details only a few of the successful medical advancements in Iran that have been developed within the last decade.

The Health Care System

Iran adopted the Primary Health System in the 1990s, which revolutionized its health care system. Since its initiation, the country’s life expectancy has increased by eight years. This has had positive effects on both their economy and poor communities. Also, Iran has done tremendous work in improving the accessibility of health care. Currently, more than 90% of rural populations have access to affordable health care. Previously, there was a major gap in providing health care to their less populated, rural areas where many vulnerable groups resided.

Local Production

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the country has made initiating the production of locally produced medicines and drugs a priority. Prior to the revolution, Iran relied on imports from foreign countries for about 70-80% of its pharmaceutical ingredients. As of 2018, it is estimated that around 97% of their drugs were locally produced and manufactured.

Focusing on local production boosted Iran’s economy, making the country a major competitor in the world market. It also increased their GDP through the exportation of their locally produced pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, the country has strict regulations in place for importation. Iran both follows American guidelines and creates its own rules, which ensures high-quality, safe products.

Iran’s health minister stated that the country saves around 700 million euros simply by producing their own products. The country can now allocate this money to other necessities, which displays the importance of medical advancements in Iran.

Medical Biotechnology

Biotechnology is the production and development of products by manipulating living organisms. Medical biotechnology has the power to uplift health care systems for countries across the globe. Iran’s advanced health care system has allowed them to become a leader in medical biotechnology across the Middle East and North Africa.

Iran’s boost in local production stems from pharmaceuticals to biotechnology. As of 2012, the country had 12 approved products and 15 more products pending approval. These products placed Iran among the frontrunners of biotechnological production. Other countries now rely on Iran for medical trade. Biotechnology has the potential to produce a multitude of medical advancements in Iran. If the country earns the spot as the leading country of biomedical technology, the benefits for their economy and citizens would be numerous.

New Medical Treatments

Medical advancements in Iran have also led to new medical treatments. The country has developed new, upcoming medicines and treatments in hopes to cure certain diseases. Just this year, a group of scientists announced they developed an herbal treatment for epilepsy, Fenosha, that resulted in successful outcomes during their clinical trials.

Reza Mazloom Farsibaf, the founder of the medicine, stated there is no other medicine that competes with Fenosha. The treatment is non-toxic and has minimal side effects and symptoms. If approved, mass production is expected for Fenosha. The herbal medicine could potentially become a viable option for the 340 million people across the world that require treatment for epilepsy. The country is expected to continue generating products that will further mobilize its position in medicine.

Bolorzul Dorjsuren
Photo: Flickr