SEATTLE, Washington — Iran is a Middle Eastern country that has an abundance of natural resources. The country sits on a sea of oil and is the second-largest producer of natural gas. Unfortunately, that abundance is not equally distributed among the people. The feminization of poverty in Iran has led to heightened inequality for women in the country.
Poverty in Iran
The country is ruled under a totalitarian regime whose legitimacy is based on the ideology of Shia Islam. Due to the regime’s policies, poverty is on the rise. It is estimated that 16% of Iran’s 80 million people live in absolute poverty. This is equivalent to 12,800,000 million people. At least 50% of the population is believed to live below the relative poverty line.
Destructive policies have led to the closure of factories, diminishing agriculture and mass unemployment. The public’s purchasing power is dwindling due to soaring prices and inflation. These issues affect women the most, causing them to be the poorest demographic in society. Women face double discrimination through the country’s laws and social norms. Since women constitute the poorest sector of Iranian society, even the state media has acknowledged the feminization of poverty in Iran.
Feminization of Poverty
From a sociological perspective, feminization is the process through which an increasing amount of women are involved in an activity that has usually been male-dominated. Examples of feminization include the feminization of education where the majority of teachers are female and the feminization of the workforce with more women in low-paying jobs like food preparation, personal care or service.
The term “feminization of poverty” was coined in 1978 after American sociologist Diana Pearce noticed that over time a disproportionate amount of women and children constituted the lowest income individuals both in the U.S. and worldwide.
Poverty Trends Worldwide and in Iran
Although global poverty rates have been decreased by more than half since 2000, women and children continue to be more likely than men to live below the poverty line. In Iran, 82% of the 3.6 million women who run households do not have a decent job and live under the poverty line. At least 500,000 or 16% of women heads of households are younger than 20 years of age.
The four main problems women’s households face are discrimination, inequality, unemployment and lack of social security. Other problems they face include lack of freedom and choice, lack of social respect and poverty, which can be attributed to patriarchal social norms.
Government Policies Contribute to the Feminization of Poverty in Iran
Women in Iran can be excluded from employment if they are married or have children. Most women are pushed into the private sector where businesses hire more women since they can be paid less. For every 100 men employed, there are 22 women working. Furthermore, only approximately 12% of all women in the country are employed. While there is a welfare program in Iran, the National Welfare Organization estimates that only 180,000 women heads of households are receiving welfare.
It is estimated that 88% of women heads of households who are eligible for government support for pregnant women and child nutrition programs have been excluded from the plan due to poor funding. Only 5,000 women were actually included in the plan. The budget for welfare given to pregnant mothers was cut by 39%.
Improving the Situation
In November 2020, women in Iran took to the streets in protest to fight sexist policies as well as increase their “political rights and freedom of expression.” In April, the Middle East Institute highlighted the importance of women in Iran in its series of lectures “human rights in the MENA region in the face of Covid-19.” In addition, organizations like Relief International are working in Iran to improve access to education. It is working to improve the future of girls in Iran by providing, safe, equitable education. The organization has helped support 470 schools and more than 100,000 students. It is also training teachers, which gives more women formal job opportunities.
Iran society is dominated by a totalitarian regime and follows a strict interpretation of Shia Islam that discriminates against women. Women in Iran struggle to hold available jobs and make ends meet if they do not live with a man. They struggle with both poverty and sexism driven by national policies and societal norms. The feminization of poverty is not isolated to Iran, but the country must do more to improve the economic condition of women.
– Anna Brewer