Remarkable Gains, But Still Far to Go

Finance Desk
Remarkable Gains,  But Still Far to Go
Remarkable Gains,  But Still Far to Go

Women in Iran are doing well in many areas. They outperform men academically - 65% in universities are women. They also account for 60% of the top spots in university entrance exams. Their extraordinary achievements on all fronts have inspired the nation and the world. Yet, there’s one area where women are lagging and that’s finding employment as more jobs are becoming male-dominated.

In the past eight years, jobs were elusive and women suffered by way of unemployment. In 2005, there were 3.9 million women in the workplace. But over time, this figure dropped gradually, reducing the number of working women to 3.1 in 2013. This means that overall, 816,000 women lost their jobs. But in an odd twist, the economy saw 1.5 million jobs added for men during this same eight-year period.  In other words, every year more than 100,000 women had to leave their jobs as men twice their number found work. This employment data was released by the Statistical Center of Iran.

Hassan Taee, an official at the ministry of labor, however, said in an interview with ‘Tejaretfarda’ weekly that labor statistics are not compatible with recent economic trends and that “real figures could be even grimmer’’. Even if we take these figures at face value, they do not bode well for an economy in which women ought to play a more prominent role.


 Women’s unemployment rate rose from 17% in 2006 to 20% in 2013. But to gain a better understanding of the situation it would be helpful to consider the rate of their participation in the labor market. Labor force participation rate is the proportion of the population aged 15 and older that is economically active: i.e. all people who supply labor for the production of goods and services during a specified period. According to the World Bank, women’s participation in the workforce in Iran is only 12%, an indication of the wide gender gap that currently exists. A report by the World Economic Forum says Iran ranks 134 among 136 nations when it comes to the gender gap.

While 600,000 women prepare annually to enter university in Iran, only a small percentage has the chance to land a job as challenges exist.

However, women have time and again showed their grit and are making their voice heard.

Leila Fallahi, a researcher at the cultural and social center of the ministry of higher education thinks that Iranian women have made progress “in leaps and bounds in recent decades and this shows that when the playing field is level, women are equal to the challenge.” There was a time when it was commonly held that women were not fit for certain fields or jobs; now it is proved that given the chance, women can compete together with men in every field.

Fallahi, who is also director of the center’s women studies, says that today the focus of gender differences should be on roles and tasks, not on capabilities. She advises women to use their academic experience to hone their management skills. By learning to develop critical thinking, she believes that women can rise to management positions and unlock their potential. ‘’Our women should learn that their absence in management and executive positions is not a sign of incompetence for they have already proved their worth in academia; all that remains for them is to develop a leadership style,’’ she maintains.

Dr. Amanaollah Gharaee Moghaddam, a sociologist has similar views. He believes that women’s achievements should be celebrated. “By highlighting women’s abilities, we strengthen our national unity and thereby, we raise our youth morale.”

  Historic Mission

Soheila Jelodarzadeh is another activist giving voice to women’s concerns. She is the president of the association of women workers and an advisor to the minister of commerce. In an interview with Iran newspaper, she says that women have had a historic mission in protecting their land from foreign aggression. “Women’s role in safeguarding social values is well and alive and it is incumbent upon them to rise to the task.”

Women today have crossed many barriers once considered insurmountable or a prerogative of men. She points out that society at large is now ready to accept women in new roles. “With President Hassan Rouhani in office and his campaign promises to eradicate gender inequality, women should be willing to step into uncharted territory and take on more challenges.”

Dr. Saeed Moeed-Fard another sociologist believes that “women can have it all if the door is open to them. We need to move beyond designating calendar events for women and instead of focusing on their roles as mother and wife, we should celebrate their success and capabilities.’’

 Sky is the Limit

When looking for role models and trailblazers, one needs only to look up to the gallery. From scientists to athletes and entrepreneurs, there are many to emulate. Just this week, Iranian women made history in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, with one gold, three silvers and one bronze awarded so far.  

More recently, Iranian-origin Maryam Mirzakhani became the first female recipient of the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics—or the Fields Medal—the ‘Nobel Prize’ for mathematics, so far conferred on 56 men since its inception in 1936. Born and raised in Iran, Mirzakhani studied at Harvard and is now a professor at Stanford and works on “the geometry of moduli space, a complex geometric and algebraic entity that might be described as a universe in which every point is itself a universe.” Ironically, Harvard president Larry Summers made his infamous comment about how women are naturally bad at math just a year after Mirzakhani finished her degree. Lawrence Summers, a career economist who served as treasury secretary under President Clinton provoked a furor back in 2005 by arguing that men outperform women in math and sciences because of biological difference, and discrimination is no longer a career barrier for female academics. He went on to argue that ‘’boys outperform girls on high school science and math scores because of genetic difference.’’

At her girls’ high school in Tehran, Mirzakhani convinced her principal to start math problem-solving classes like in the boys’ high schools, so she could make it to Iran’s International Mathematical Olympiad team. She became the first Iranian student to achieve a perfect score in the competition.

In his message, President Rouhani congratulated Mirzakahini and said ‘’today, Iranians can justly feel proud that the first woman to win the Fields Medal is their fellow citizen.’’ The president added: ‘’On behalf of the Iranian people, I value your scientific endeavors.’’

With eyes on the horizon, it is safe to hope that the path ahead is getting brighter and brighter for Iranian women.