Iranian women face a huge crisis unemployment, with as many of 90 percent of women without paid work in some areas of the country. 

A new report published by the Statistical Center of Iran reveals a nationwide gap between job opportunities for women and men. The Center, an arm of the governmental Plan and Budget Organization, looks at employment by province for the Iranian calendar year 1394 — March 21, 2015 to March 20, 2016. 

Although the report, “Results of Workforce Census — 1394,” says as many as 90 percent of working-age women are out of work, it’s important to remember that Iran considers age 10 to be “of working age,” so children still at school or attending university and not in work are also included in the figures. 

Despite Hassan Rouhani’s promises that the nuclear deal would bring greater economic benefits to all Iranians, the situation has not improved for the country’s unemployed, and work prospects for women in particular remain bleak. Unemployed people in Iran face hardship in general, but women are further burdened by discriminatory laws and restrictions in their daily lives driven by a political and religious establishment that dictates that women should prioritize traditional “family roles”  — without giving them the financial, legal and social support if they do agree to take on these roles. 

While the official statistics reveal a relatively high “employment rate” — and, as a result, a relatively low “unemployment rate” — the figures are misleading. The data fails to take into account the “employment ratio” index, which is the number of the employed people divided by the working age population, or to consider the situations of individual provinces. 

In the Statistical Center’s data, the “employment rate” refers to the ratio of the “employed population” to Iran’s “active population.” Since, when calculating the indices of the job market in Iran, the “active population” covers a small number of people who are at the working age, it means the rate of employment rises. The “active population” refers to individuals who, in the specific week when the statistics were gathered, either had a job or had the prospect of one.

Against the index of “employment rate” is the “employment ratio” index. This rate is arrived at by dividing the number of the employed people by the working age population, illustrating the unemployment situation for all Iranians who have reached working age — in Iran, this is defined as a person aged 10 and over.

This index is not affected by the numbers of active or inactive populations.

According to the Statistical Center of Iran’s report, the employment ratio for women is far below the same ratio for men — the ratio is 57.3 percent for men and 10.7 percent for women. These indices show the average for the whole country. To arrive at a more accurate picture of the employment ratio for women, it’s important to study the statistics for each province separately.

Looking at the three indices for assessing the unemployment rate, employment rate and employment ratio for women by province, the nationwide imbalance of the job market for women becomes clearer. According to the Statistical Center, for the Iranian calendar year of 1394 (2015-2016), the average unemployment rate for women across the country was 19.4 percent. However, a study of the unemployment rate in 31 Iranian provinces shows that in 15 provinces the unemployment rate for women was less than 19.4 percent.

The Reality behind the Rosy Façade

As Chart 1 shows, the three provinces of East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan and North Khorasan had the lowest rate of unemployment in the country: In these three provinces, the unemployment rate for women was less than 10 percent. This is even lower than the 11 percent average unemployment rate for the whole country, men and women combined. In other words, the employment rate for women in the three provinces is over 90 percent — a very rosy picture if taken at face value.


But if we also look at the employment ratio index, it turns out that the landscape for women’s employment in these provinces is actually rather dismal. As Chart 1 shows, the “employment ratio” for women is 12.5 percent in West Azerbaijan, 13.3 percent in East Azerbaijan and 18.9 in North Khorasan. So the official statistics show that in these three provinces less than 20 percent of working-age women have jobs. 

Consequently, the only reason for reported low unemployment rates and high employment rates is that the “active population” of women is underestimated. If the calculation is based on “working-age population” instead of “active population,” then the rate of women’s employment falls sharply. Comparing “employment rate” with “employment ratio” on chart 1 clearly illustrates the difference.

Women’s Share in the Job Market is Shockingly Low

A similar study of the provinces with lowest employment rates reveals more alarming conclusions.

In 2015-2016, the three provinces of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, Fars and Mazandaran had the lowest employment rate in the country — 66.5, 71.3 and 72.4 percent respectively. On their own, these rates do not point to a crisis in women’s employment. Taken at face value, they show that even in provinces with the lowest employment for women, a relatively high percentage of them have jobs.


But, again, it is crucial to compare the employment rate to employment ratio in these provinces, which reveals the disastrous employment situation for women. Chart 2 clearly illustrates this scenario. In the provinces of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, Fars and Mazandaran, the ratio of working-age women to women who are actually employed is, respectively, 6.8, 8.3 and 11.6 percent. This troubling picture is only revealed when one looks at the employment ratio, and is not reflected either in the employment rate nor in the unemployment rate. 

Overall, in the period in question, the average unemployment rate for women in Iran is 19.4 percent and the employment rate is 80.6 percent — but the employment ratio is mere 10.7 percent.

In the province of Qazvin, the women’s employment ratio is the same as the average for the country. In the 15 provinces shown on the upper section of Chart 3, the employment rate is lower than the average of 10.7 percent for the whole country. It is important to note that in 14 provinces the number of employed women is less than 10 percent of working-age women. In the province of Tehran, the most populous province in Iran, women’s employment ratio is 9.9 percent. Taken together these ratios show that the share of women in the Iranian job market is extremely low.

Again, a province-by-province study of “employment ratio” for women clearly shows the dismal situation of women’s employment. In 28 of 31 Iranian provinces, employed women constitute less than 13 percent of working-age women. According to Iran’s Statistical Center, in the Iranian calendar year of 1394 (2015-2016), the average national employment ratio for women was 10.7 percent. This means that close to 90 percent of working-age Iranian women are without work.



This report was based on the following data provided by Iran Open Data: Major workforce indices for the population aged 10 and over as per gender, province, in urban and rural areas and nationwide in 1394.

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