Female street vendors are facing harassment – physical, sexual, and psychological – and violence every day on the metro in Tehran because of the misogynous policies that not only encourage the suppression of women but also prevent women from accessing organizational support.
The number of women peddling in the metro has increased considerably in the past few years. Why? Well, because women prefer to peddle on the underground rather than the street because rising living costs and the economic crisis means that they are forced to take these insecure jobs but are facing pressure from officials who are trying to cut peddling, without fixing the reasons for this, so are just making the lives of these women worse.
Female peddlers are working long hours for little money, but they are desperate to make ends meet through any means as rent and food prices soar. Many of the peddlers are graduates or even employed teachers. Their working environment has led many to suffer from depression and contract the coronavirus.
Of course, we haven’t even looked yet at the harassment or violence they suffer, particularly from municipal officials. Let’s hear from some of the women.
One 35-year-old accounting graduate with three children had her goods confiscated by officials who insinuated that she would be able to get them back in exchange for sexual favours. While a 17-year-old, who is missing school to earn extra money for her family, was sexually harassed by a subway officer.
One 44-year-old, who has been working for 15 years, said: “The more you are available to the officers, the greater the harassment. A friend of mine who was very beautiful was not safe from the municipal authorities. She was married and had children, but they didn’t care. It’s bad enough to be a poor woman with no support. On top of that, it seems everyone wants a piece of your body.”
One 40-year-old with a degree in literature, who used to work as a teacher, has been peddling handicrafts for seven years, saying that officials routinely obstruct her and even stole her goods. A 22-year-old said that she is routinely propositioned by officials who know that she needs money, while a 29-year-old mother said that she’s been working on the subway since being fired after getting pregnant.
This woman said: “No laws protect us. It’s like we don’t exist. All the authorities do is ban our work. They take our goods, and we have to jump through bureaucratic hoops just to get them back.”