As many as 23 million Iranian women are unemployed, and 17.8 million of them are educated and literate, a government office has revealed.
The study, by the Statistical Center of Iran, an arm of the governmental Plan and Budget Organization, identifies an unemployment crisis for the country’s women, and for the economic health of the nation in general.
It looks at the working patterns of women in both urban and rural areas. It found that, among the 28 million unemployed women in Iran, a majority of these women were literate and so eligible for a range of mid-level jobs, including in the service sectors and industries in both the private and public sectors.
President Hassan Rouhani has repeatedly pledged to prioritize employment for women — the promise was a key aim of both the 2013 and 2017 election campaigns. “We must pay attention to 50 percent of the population, women,” he said, adding that more management jobs needed to go to women and admitting that Iran was “confronted with a chronic historical backwardness in this area.”
But as much as the Rouhani administration might be committed to alleviating the crisis, it is limited in what it can do, especially since it directly contradicts the message coming from the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. He says the priority for women is the role they play in supporting the well-being of the family.
But exactly what is the current landscape of the job market for Iranian women? What opportunities are there for working women? And how serious is Rouhani’s government about implementing its campaign promises?
The Statistical Center splits its figures into categories, differentiating between women in urban versus rural areas, and between literate and illiterate women. The center defines “working age” as 10 years old and above. The recent study looks at figures for the Iranian calendar year 1394, so March 21, 2015 to March 20, 2016.
Chart 1 illustrates and compares the number of employed and unemployed literate women in both rural and urban Iran. In 2015-2016, more than 28 million women were economically inactive. Of this total, more than 22.8 million were literate. More than 17 million of them lived in cities and 5 million resided in rural areas.
The number of female students attending university in the academic year 2014-2015 was about 2.2 million. Around one million girls were enrolled in middle school and about 1.5 million in high school. Added together, this means that there are around five million literate “women of working age” in school.
The same chart shows a similar ratio for the rate of women in employment. Of the 3.46 million Iranian women who have jobs, more than 2.98 million are literate. Among these, almost 2.30 million live in cities and 746,000 in rural areas.
So the number of unemployed women of working age is eight times higher than the number of women who have jobs. Isolating the figures for literate women, the ratio of unemployed versus unemployed is 7.8 times. In urban areas, this ratio is eight, and in rural areas it is 6.8.
A Difference From Province to Province
Chart 2 shows that most employed women — or 48.6 percent — worked in the service sector. Next came agricultural jobs, at 26.1 percent and then the industry sector at 25.3 percent.
The figures also show that the situation is different from province to province. In other words, the distribution of jobs for women in the three economic sectors is not the same for all provinces.
As Chart 3 shows, in 14 provinces, the share of women employed in the service sector is higher than the average for the whole country, which is 48.6 percent. In eight provinces, women workers constitute 60 percent of the service sector workforce. In Tehran, where the highest number of employed women live, about 80 percent work in the service sector, putting Tehran high above the average.
The share of women employed in the service sector does not tend to correlate with the population densities of the cities. Tehran and Alborz provinces, the highest populated areas, are home to the highest number of female service sector workers, but despite high populations, the province of Razavi Khorasan is not among the top 14 and Isfahan comes 13 in the ranking.
In 16 provinces, the share of women employed in the industrial sector is higher than the average for the country. In eight provinces, more than 30 percent of employed women work in some sort of industry.
And in 17 provinces, the number of women working in the agricultural sector is above the average for the country. In 11 provinces the share is above 35 percent. In Razavi Khorasan it is 34.9 percent.
Looking at the figures together, the numbers show that women work in other sectors more than they do in the industrial sector. In 17 provinces — more than half of the country’s provinces — a considerable number of employed women work in agriculture. In eight provinces — North Khorasan, West Azerbaijan, Kermanshah, Ardabil, Zanjan, South Khorasan, Kurdistan and East Azerbaijan — the share of the agricultural sector is the highest.
A Look at Women in Private vs Public Sectors
The Statistical Center report also provides analysis of women’s employment in private versus public sectors. Among women with jobs, 74.2 percent work in the private sector and 25.8 percent in the public sector.
Breaking down these numbers at the level of provinces (as illustrated by chart 4), we see that in 15 provinces, more than 74.2 percent of women in work in the private sector. In 10 of these 15 provinces, the share is more than 80 percent, higher than the national average, which is 74.2 percent.
The figures suggest that in these provinces, government bureaus and organizations provide a lesser share of employment for women than the private sector. But it’s also important to point out that the bigger share of the private sector does not mean a higher rate of women’s employment in the corresponding provinces.
As Chart 4 shows, in 16 provinces, among those who are employed, the number of women working in the public sectors is above the national average, which is 25.8 percent.
It is also important to note that a considerable number of provinces where the public sector employs more women than the national average are also among some of Iran’s most disadvantaged provinces. Among them are Sistan and Baluchistan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Lorestan, Ilam and Bushehr.
Overall, the conclusions of this report are alarming: 22,800,000 literate women in Iran are without jobs. If we exclude the approximately 5 million girls over 10 (“working age”) who are still in school, that leaves close to 18 million women, a disturbing number even if the situation has changed over the last year or so. And if it has changed, it’s of course possible that it has changed for the worse.
Considering that most agricultural jobs are in rural areas and that in 17 provinces, the number of women working in agriculture is above the national average, it is fair to conclude that in these 17 states, literate women have fewer opportunities for finding employment in cities. The employment prospects for literate women vary across the nation. Therefore, any government policy designed to enhance job opportunities for women must take into account the specific conditions in each province and within various areas in that province.
Unfortunately, it does not seem that policy makers have paid any attention to statistics with this in mind. And the fact that women are largely employed by the private sector likely means that the public sector is less willing to offer jobs to women than the private sector is. This is also worrying, especially since the public sector in Iran is, directly or indirectly, the controlling force in the economy.
This report was based on the following data provided by Iran Open Data.
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