Female peddlers in Iran are facing humiliation and the risk of death to make ends meet in these trying times.
Battling poverty and institutionalized misogyny, these women are forced not only to work long hours for meager money but also to avoid taking the spaces occupied by their male counterparts. Thus, they must work in the most crowded spaces, where the risk of contracting coronavirus is highest.
There are at least 4 million female heads of household in Iran, with the Iranian regime admitting that 82 percent of them are unemployed and living under the poverty line, which is astonishing because the regime likes to hide statistics that make them look bad. These women are doing whatever they need to so that their family stays alive.
However, the government is doing its best to ensure the opposite it seems, with insanely strict rules around welfare services. To qualify, a woman must be earning less than 60 percent of the minimum monthly wage or they are considered ineligible. But if they are making less than the Labour Ministry’s determination of a minimum wage, how can they be considered to be okay without welfare?
Even those who qualify for welfare will find that it does not provide for necessities for them, let alone their children, so they must peddle goods to survive.
“I have to work in this high-risk subway station several hours a day; I have no other way to make a living. I am the head of the household and have two student children. My rent is more than one million Tomans. What should I do?!” a woman who sells scarves in the subway station told ILNA news agency.
“My husband is sick and lying at home. I have to work. Half of my income goes to renting the house! On the outskirts of Karaj, I rent for more than one million tomans a month. Can I afford to be unemployed?! I’m afraid of the Coronavirus, I’m very afraid, but I have no choice; prices have gone up, and I have to be on the subway more than before,” ILNA quoted a 60-year-old woman as saying.
Of course, the official information on peddlers is muddled at best.
Seyed Ali Mafakherian, CEO of the Tehran Organization and Jobs Company, said in September that Tehran had 10,000 peddlers, while Tehran City Council member Hassan Khalilabadi attributed the increase to the coronavirus and rising unemployment as a result, particularly among women.
The government, rather than help the impoverished people or, at the very least, stopping stealing from them, is blaming poor people for their problems and even violently attacking the most vulnerable.
“[Security] officers take us off the trains or do not allow us to work at the stations. They just say, ‘go, get away from here!’ In general, the agents do not treat us well,” a woman said.
“I have given the necessary warnings for this and the monitoring center provides reports … At the entrance of the stations, if we notice the women peddlers, their presence will be prevented. We will deal with the presence of female peddlers,” said Farnoush Nobakht, CEO of Tehran and Suburbs Metro Operating Company.
Of course, as economist and professor Zahra Karimi Moghari, points out, the only way to removed female peddlers is to create decent jobs that give them financial security.
However, the experience shows that the ruling system will not do this. Iranian authorities want to maintain power and they consider the suppression of women as an ideal way to stifle the entire society.