Greetings on International Workers’ Day to all the Workers of Iran and the World
Statement of the Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women on May Day
May 1st, the international workers’ day, is a historic day in which workers – men and women – rose to demand their rights from the capitalist system and to consolidate them. As we commemorate this day, in most countries of the world (except for countries like Iran, where it is banned or replaced by state-sanctioned alternatives) celebratory demonstrations are held with the aspiration to make a better world that is based on social justice, peace and friendship between nations, and the protecting the environment. May the 1st is a public holiday in most advanced countries, due to the struggles of the working class and toiling men and women. On this day, in glorious marches and rallies, demonstrators give slogans that challenge the exploitative capitalist system, against sexual exploitation and racism, and for better working and living conditions for workers. In Iran, not only is this day not an official public holiday or even an informal one, but the regime and its security forces prevent the celebration of this day of solidarity of workers of Iran and the world.
This year, too, May Day is commemorated at a time when a destructive war is raging in Europe, killing innocent people in both countries, and leading to millions being made homeless, the worsening of economic conditions and an increase in the cost of living, hurting workers worldwide. In contrast, the military budget of imperialist states has swollen evermore, as the profits of military and arms industries are built on the back of the workers and the poor.
In our homeland, May 1st, the international workers’ day, comes at a time when for the past few months, the movement of Woman, Life, Freedom, has shaken the foundations of the dictatorial regime. On the one hand the courageous women of our homeland continue their brave struggle against compulsory hejab despite all the threats and risks, and on the other hand the regime continues its suppression and the chemical poisoning of girls in schools, desperately trying to return the country to the conditions of late September 22. Even those within the regime of the Supreme Leader know well that this return is not possible.
The pursuit of the neo-liberal economic agenda, and a rentier economy have intensified poverty, and further diminished the purchasing power of the workers and the working poor. According to official data, one third of the population in Iran have been pushed to below the poverty line. The imposition of temporary and zero-hour, ‘blank’ contracts, arbitrary dismissal of workers and the closing of factories and workshops have become commonplace occurrences. Workers who have not been sacked often face the problem of unpaid wages and missed insurance.
As always, women are the first victims of this deepening poverty. They are also the first to be dismissed. Firing women under different pretexts, in industry, agriculture, offices, in nursing, and the like, is on the increase. The misogynistic policies of the theocratic regime have legalised the exploitation of women in social, political, economic, judicial arenas with destructive effect on the lives of women in general and especially on their employment and living conditions.
The international workers’ day is an opportunity for a review of the discriminatory policies of the regime in the life and work of women workers, and of the cases of unequal pay, longer hours of work for the same pay, sexual harassment in the workplace, and other difficulties placed in the way of women in employment.
The misogynistic regime and the challenges that women face in the labour market
Sex discrimination is a characteristic of the Islamic Republic’s organisation of the labour market in the country. Among the problems that women face is the lack of the same access to employment as men, non-payment of equal wages, benefits, or insurance for the same jobs, and obstacles in the way of women’s promotion in the workplace.
Women workers endure significant difficulties and discrimination. Sexual alongside class exploitation has pushed women mainly out of the formal labour market into the informal sector. Women need jobs to provide for life’s basic needs, the increasing inflation has left them exposed to employers who look for a more obedient workforce, deprived of rights, and women in need of a job.
According to statistics, the Centre for Higher Research in the Social Security Organisation, 80% of the those in employment who do not have insurance are women. They are forced into exploitative employment, without formal contracts, without social security and unemployment benefit, or retirement benefits, having to work perpetually till they cannot work any longer.
The new report by the Centre for Statistics of Iran shows an increase in unemployment among women in the past year. According to this report, “women have been hurt by the unstable labour market; unemployment among women has risen from 26.5% in 2021, to 27.7%, in the 18-35 age bracket; and more than 52,000 women have joined the ranks of the unemployed in this age bracket (Eghtesad News, 11th April 2023). The share of women’s employment in agriculture has also dropped against the numbers of men, dropping from 13.6% in the winter of 2021 to 10.4% the following year (same source).
The situation of women who are often heads of households is even more difficult in a severe economic crisis. They also bear the burden of dual exploitation. They face difficulties greater even than male workers: they are among the first to be fired in crisis-stricken production units, a crisis that has been exacerbated by the regime’s neoliberal economic policies and are deprived of job security. In many cases, women are made to submit to the inhumane demands of employers such as lower wages, temporary contracts or zero-hour contracts. Every year, many women workers employed in large factories are driven to small workshops outside the scope of the labour law or into the informal labor market with long working hours and wages much lower than the minimum wage, without insurance, pension, and other benefits. It is not only the employers who take advantage of women workers’ poverty and impose inhumane conditions on them, it is also the misogynist regime that intensifies their exploitation by its discriminatory policies and laws that discriminate against women. Women heads of households whose family depends on their income, are among the main victims of the regime’s policies. There are no official statistics on female heads of households. According to some media reports: “The latest speculations indicate there are four million female heads of households. Among these four million, about 1.4 million are covered by the relief committee and less than 600,000 people are supported by welfare insurance. But how do the rest of this population live? In addition, is the support that the Relief and Welfare Committee provides for families enough to live on? The pension of this group of people has increased by 20% in the new year. This means that a family of five is given 1,400,000 Tomans but can a family of five really survive with this amount in today’s conditions?” (Arman Melli newspaper, 23rd November 2022). The misogynistic regime that supports the interests of big capitalists in the Islamic Republic, cuts the budget of aid for women heads of the household and instead adds billions to the security budget including that in connection with the enforcement of the mandatory hijab. The Entekhab newspaper writes in the words of Fatemeh Qasimpour, member of parliament: “One of the important issues about this year’s budget related to women is that some of the previous years’ budgets have been slashed. For example, the issue of women heads of households or girls at the risk of harm, which was included in the budget passed by the Parliament in the last two years, and which was urgent and important to be included in the bill this year, was omitted unfortunately” (Entekhab Newspaper, 24th January 2023).
Educated Women, and Rising Unemployment
Women have difficulty accessing the labour market at a time when every year a large number of girls with higher education, and with higher grades than boys, enter the ranks of the unemployed. This trend has been on the rise in the last few decades. However, despite the increase in the number of female students compared to their male counterparts and the upward trend of the number of female students participating in doctoral exams, women do not have much chance in the labour market due to gender discrimination, and in some cases, the introduction of the condition of being married or observing the mandatory hijab for entry to governmental posts have made the obstacles to women’s employment tighter, tougher, and more selective.
But crossing the barrier of entry into the job market is not the end of difficulties. After gaining employment, women also face serious obstacles such as lack of job security and sexual harassment in the workplace for career and social promotion. Every year, many educated women flock to the service industry and unsuitable jobs or enter the informal labour market. According to the annual report of the World Economic Forum in 2022 this problem led Iran to the bottom of the global table for the gender gap, to rank 143 out of 146 countries in the world, where only three countries, Congo, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, rank lower than Iran.
Internet Filtering and Some Problems of Women’s Informal Employment
The informal labour market employs a wide range of women, from yesterday’s dismissed workers to peddlers and others, and are deprived of retirement pension, disability benefits, medical care, and other insurance protections. These include women working in un-registered workshops and factories, in waste sorting, caring for the elderly, secretarial work, domestic service, working in restaurants, and the like. These women are recruited through labour contracting agencies, who start exploiting them until they get to the employment stage where they are exploited by the employers.
In general, with the deepening economic crisis the number of women workers who do not have formal contracts under the labor law, who do not have insurance and are employed in various service sectors, is increasing day by day. According to the Higher Research Center of the Social Security Organization, 80% of the working population who are “without insurance” in the industry and service sectors are women.
Hawking is one of the different types of informal employment. According to various published reports, 11% of women are engaged in peddling in the city of Tehran alone. Many of these women are heads of households. However, the state brings in new measures to prevent these women from earning a living, deploying security forces and municipal officials to raid, and disperse their meagre goods. The internet, which offers a possibility to generate income, was filtered and severely restricted last year as part of the largescale suppression of the society. Many people, including women, lost their earnings due to extensive filtering. According to the report from the Centre for Statistics, until last year, about 11 million people had earnings through virtual networks, with 9 million people, 83%, doing so through Instagram businesses. Hamid Haj Ismaili, an expert in the field of labour, stated that about 350,000 online jobs closed down after the internet was cut off and some social networks were filtered (Ham Mihan newspaper, 1st January 2023]. Rural Areas About 11 million of Iran’s population in rural areas are women. Although Iran is facing a wave of migration to the big cities, the number of rural women is still significant. Women work in agriculture and animal husbandry or produce handicrafts. They make an important contribution to the country’s economy, but they have the least amount of property and legal rights and only 1% of the country’s rural properties belong to women. In addition to working in handicrafts, rural women, do more than 70% of the work related to livestock and poultry, about 40% of the work related to agriculture and horticulture, and 80% of the traditional processing of agricultural products are done by rural and nomadic women. However, in many cases, their work is not acknowledged, or because their work is mixed with men’s work, it is attributed to men. In northern villages, women are involved in 60% of rice cultivation, 80% of picking tea leaves, 90% of growing and harvesting vegetables and summer crops, 50% of cotton and oilseed cultivation, 30% of harvesting from orchards and fields, and 90% of breeding and raising silkworm. Most of the time, female farmers work in agricultural fields without employment contracts and with the exchange of a few words as a “verbal agreement” and with low wages. Some women are employed in informal workshops in villages and on the outskirts of cities in the so-called “transformation” industries cleaning and sorting beans and food grains, or in handicraft workshops, weaving straw-mats, weaving carpets, or tailoring and weaving to order, to the requirements of urban employers. These villagers work with the lowest wages and without any legal protection.
Women Nurses and Teachers
According to the Head of the Nursing System Organization, despite the severe shortage of nurses in the country’s medical centers, which is estimated to be more than 100,000 nurses, the regime has exacerbated the crisis by not hiring nursing graduates who are ready to work, turning them into a large army of unemployed nurses, and making the nursing workforce cheaper and open to severe exploitation. Imposing 89-day contracts on nurses, a large part of whom are women, is another example of the regime’s attempt to cheapen nursing labor and has led to more unemployment and poverty, and at the same time, limited access to medical and health services for the population. Changing the employment status from temporary contracts to permanent ones and implementing the “Nursing Services Tariff Plan” approved in 2006 are the two most important demands of the nurses in our country, in the fight against the privatizations and the regime’s severe violation of their job security and livelihood. These are among the key demands of protesting nurses. Brave women also play an effective role in organizing demonstrations and union strikes of teachers together with their male colleagues, who have often faced persecution, imprisonment, and other court orders. Recently, Zahra Avaz-Zadeh, one of the founders of North Khorasan Cultural Association, received a summons to the Revolutionary Court. Teachers support their students’ demands such as the right to choose whether to wear the headscarf or not, or their demand that sentences against trade union activists should be withdrawn, and especially their demand for an end to the chemical poisoning of children in girls’ schools and bringing the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice. They persevere, despite the pressures and retaliations of the security forces, including bans imposed on teachers who have protested a plethora of measures by the regime, from the job classifications imposed in Kurdistan, to the deducting of salaries or the deportation of some teacher activists.
The imposition of compulsory headscarf and the problem of sexual harassment
In addition to the adoption of discriminatory laws or directives that further restrict women’s employment, and the limitations on services such as kindergartens, one of the serious obstacles that have emerged during the last four decades and have contributed to the lack of job security, livelihood, and trade union rights of women as workers, employees, and the like, has been the imposition of the mandatory hijab in the workplace and monitoring the clothing and behavior of women. This matter has contributed to limiting the access of women and girls to suitable jobs and the violation of what is the basic right of every human being.
A wide range of women, such as women workers in production and service industries, teachers and academics, nurses, employees of private enterprises or state departments, have been deprived of the free choice of clothing. According to reactionary laws, if they do not observe the mandatory hijab, they are deprived of the right to work and live.
In addition, women face the problem of sexual harassment as they enter or stay in the labor market. There are no official statistics in this field, however, according to the head of the Iranian Sociological Association in 2019, about 40 percent of women experience harassment in the workplace. Trade union activists believe that sexual harassment against women is not recorded anywhere and cannot be prosecuted because it is not criminalized. Sometimes the desire for taking advantage of a woman in the workplace is mentioned under the sharia terminology equivalent to a “concubine” for the employer or a man in a superior position. If the woman who has been subjected to unwanted sexual advances reject them, they are easily dismissed. These women are usually single or heads of household and are seen not to be ‘owned’ by anyone. Women in employment, like all women in Iran, do not even have minimal legal protection against those who sexually harass them. Their need for a job and income to survive means that abused women must remain in a violent environment and suffer, or to try to find a job elsewhere, which is not easy.
Women workers, whether urban or rural, in addition to their general demands that are in common with male workers, such as the cancellation of temporary and ‘blank’ contracts, a fair increase in wages based on the real rate of inflation, have specific demands, which are:
- Equal wages for equal work with men
- Abolition of mandatory hijab
- Elimination of discrimination in employment
- Determining unemployment insurance premiums, especially for women workers
- Abolition of any kind of discrimination, especially in the field of pensions, choice of employment, insurance premiums, and employment benefits
- Permanent and formal contracts women employees without exception
- Guaranteed paid leave and job and workplace security before and after childbirth
- Expansion of the network of kindergartens to help women’s employment
- Payment of child benefits, especially to women employees who head households
- Drafting laws to support women in dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace and their strict observance.
Many of those who lost their life in the Woman, Life, Freedom movement, like the movements of the previous years (2017 and 2019), were young people from working-class families who were entitled to live a humane life free from poverty, unemployment, corruption, and the rule of tyranny. The attempt of the Islamic Republican regime to continue suppressing and arresting union and civic activists and workers, like the suppression of other popular forces in the movement, cannot prevent the widespread desire for fundamental change in society and the continuation of the popular movement against the ruling dictatorship. Working women and toilers of Iran demand the release of imprisoned labor and trade union activists as well as all political prisoners of Iran. They know that without organizing and active presence in the labor and union movement, they cannot defend their trade union and political interests and put an end to the exploitation, oppression, and gender and class discrimination imposed on them. With all the limitations and problems earning a living that they face every day, they strive towards achieving these demands. Greetings to all political prisoners, including labour activists and teachers who are held in the prisons of the Islamic Republic of Iran! Glory to May 1st, the day of solidarity of the workers of the world! Democratic
Organization of Iranian Women
24 April 2023