Social Equality Should Be High on Political Agenda

People Desk
Belying public expectations can pave the way for social insecurity and chaos
Over the past years, a number of factors have come to the fore, sensitizing people to urban management.
Over the past years, a number of factors have come to the fore, sensitizing people to urban management.

Recent reports say Iran’s misery index has seen a 40% improvement after President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013.

“But that does not mean social indicators have indeed improved or are improving for the masses,” says the economist and scholar of poverty alleviation, anti-corruption and social justice, Hossein Raghfar.

“Iran’s misery index score declined from 48.8 in 2013 to 29.3 in 2016. However, that is because the inflation rate is a major parameter in the index, and the reduction does not show improvement in social indicators,” he told Financial Tribune on the sidelines of a conference at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University on Wednesday.

According to the former journalist, “That is why studying and addressing the relation between poverty and insecurity must be placed on the political agenda.” Belying public expectations could pave the way for social insecurity and chaos, he says, and adds that one solution to the problem of increasing inequality is determining a share for each generation in natural resources.

“Another solution could be that wealth generated through the use of natural resources be transformed into other forms of economic value and human capital by spending on education and healthcare.”

“The decrease (in the misery index) is because inflation was brought down, which in turn was due to a period of stagnation in the country. That is to say, people’s purchasing power shrunk, and they grew (economically) weaker,” he said.

The misery index is an economic indicator, created by American economist Arthur Okun (1928-1980). The index helps determine how the average citizen is doing economically and it is calculated by adding the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate to the annual inflation rate.

In 2014 and 2015, the index for Iran stood at 49.1 and 36.7 respectively, according to data released by Cato Institute.

The conference was a platform to help spread public awareness on a social campaign titled ‘Another City,’ to create conditions to make Tehran a better place for living.

The campaign aims to raise awareness among the people on their rights as citizens as enshrined in the Citizen Rights Charter unveiled by President Hassan Rouhani in December 2016, encourage them to be actively involved in the urban decision-making process by voting in urban and rural council elections (to be held simultaneously with the presidential elections this month) and stay abreast of urban developments as informed and conscious citizens.

The Citizen Rights Charter constitutes a roadmap for developing, implementing and supervising the implementation of citizens’ rights.

It draws a clear perspective of the rights of citizens, which are dispersed in a large number of laws, and opens the door for them to be acquainted with their political, legal, economic, cultural and social rights. However, a majority of Iranians are unaware (some say indifferent) to the content and provisions of the charter.

The university event was organized and launched by students and supported by social activists, university scholars, and people.  Two of its main proponents, Raghfar and Leyla Arshad, social worker and founder of the Khaneh-Khorshid (literally Sun House) charity to support vulnerable women, were keynote speakers. Both are candidates for the Tehran City Council elections.

 Social, Political, Economic Dissatisfaction

Raghfar believes that inequality, poverty and the ensuing tension must be addressed before any meaningful cultural/social change is possible.

“The informal economy, including the informal job market, is created by a risk society (a society where the accumulation of risks – ecological, financial, social, informational, etc. is strongly present) in Iran,” he noted. “Huge disparities and inequalities have given rise to social, political and economic dissatisfaction.”

The Al-Zahra University faculty member is running for the council elections on a platform “to alleviate poverty through appropriate decisions for the city.” Stressing that fighting poverty is an ethical issue, he said fighting poverty and inequality is a must because “it is the demand of social and global peace.”

The two candidates are strong proponents of transparency and responsibility in decision-making. “People should be informed of major decisions related to oil resources such as oil and gas contracts, auto industry, performance of municipalities and every sector funded from public resources,” Raghfar maintained.

 Creating Jobs

“Councilors should be the people’s representatives, and not push their personal agendas, and convey public expectations to the authorities,” Arshad said in her speech. “Transparency is crucial in gaining people’s trust.”

The problem of social insecurity will persist until all classes of society, including the vulnerable, are given social and healthcare support, she noted.

Both speakers addressed the issue of youth unemployment and said programs to empower youth for the current and future generations must be developed and extended.

Iran is saddled with increasing numbers of jobless people, mainly the youth and university graduates. The situation has worsened due to the recession and bad economic conditions that has been blamed on the international economic sanctions and lack of domestic and foreign investments.

Needless to say, unemployment has emerged as one key issue in the ongoing live debates for the presidential elections. Political opponents of the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani and their conservative media outlets have routinely attacked the outgoing government for failing to create jobs and cut the dole queues.

Over the past years, a number of factors have come to the fore, sensitizing people to urban management. Burgeoning number of skyscrapers, the worsening traffic and air pollution, destruction of green spaces in Tehran and inadequate public transportation services, all of which are more palpable against a backdrop of social discrimination, have prompted people to take more interest in urban affairs.

The ‘Another City’ campaign seeks to also encourage the masses to perform their individual duty as citizens and contribute to a better tomorrow.

Add new comment

Read our comment policy before posting your viewpoints