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A Statistical Glance at Women's Employment in Iran

By Mehdi Moayedi
Kowsar Economic Organisation
No. 39-40;

Summary:

Iran like other developing countries has a low rate of employment for women. This article elaborates on women's employment in urban and rural areas and in the public and private sectors. Issues discussed here include literacy, skill, and legal support for female workers and housewives.

Text:

Women's employment is one of the most important issues in the economy of Iran, which have been rarely brought up in economic discussions. Most discussions held so far on employment have not made a specific mention of women's employment.

This article focuses on women's employment in Iran from quantitative and, to some extent, from qualitative points of view from 1335 (1956) onward, covering the status of women employed by the public sector and their activities in rural and urban areas.

Employment of Women:

In Iran, like in other developing countries, women have a high unemployment rate. In reviewing women's employment on the basis of existing evidence and statistics (table 1) we can see that from 1335 to 1365 (1956-1986), 9 percent of women aged above 10 were employed. The percentage of employed women reached six in 1365 (1986). Women's employment rate in industrialised countries stands at 40 percent.

There are various reasons for the low rate of employment among Iranian women, most important of which are (1) illiteracy or lack sufficient education and skills, (2) legislative support for women workers and (3) the fact that a large number of Iranian women are housewives.

Illiteracy and Lack of Skills:

In most productive, industrial and service-related establishments, having an education, and sometimes a skill, is a must, because in such establishments robots are employed to do the raw work and therefore there is no need for large numbers of unskilled manpower.

For urban women, who are employed in service-related and industrial sectors, being educated or skilled is a prerequisite. However, women employed in the agricultural sector, as unskilled workers do not have to be literate or have any specific skill (because of traditional agricultural methods in the country).

This type of employment is prevalent in rural areas of the country. Statistical figures in table 2 show the literacy rate among Iranian women. Despite having an upward trend in recent years, women's literacy rate is still at a very low level, something that can affect their employment rate.

Existing statistics indicate that the literacy rate for women living in urban areas is higher than that of women who live in rural areas. Therefore, urban women are expected to have jobs in public services and industrial sectors as rural women are expected to be engaged in agricultural activities.

Legal Support for Women Workers:

Although some laws have been legislated to support women workers, they have some pros and cons in connection with women's employment. Under the law, women workers are prohibited from engaging in hard and hazardous jobs. Moreover, mothers who breast-feed are given half an hour break every three hours at work in order to feed their babies.

The breaks are calculated as their working hours. Those employers who deny women workers such rights are fined the first time and in case they repeat the offence they would receive prison terms ranging from 91 to 180 days.

The law has gives almost complete support to women's rights. Such laws that back the rights of women cause private employers and even government organisations to be reluctant to employ women except when employment is necessary.

The declining trend of women's employment in the public sector (table 4) supports this theory.

Most Iranian Women are Housewives:

Statistics show that most Iranian women are housewives. Some 69 percent of women in urban areas and 75.4 percent in rural areas are engaged in housework. Though the percentage of housewives in rural areas is higher than that in urban areas, most rural women are engaged in agricultural activities, besides their housework.

Women account for 60 percent of rice production, 90 percent of vegetable growing, 50 percent of oil seeds production, 30 percent of horticultural products and 90 percent of carpet production.

Illiteracy and the inclination of mothers to keep their daughters at home to help them with housework (for instance taking care of babies, etc.) explain why most Iranian women are at home.

Women's Employment in Public Sector

Some ministries and organisations have to employ women because of their efficiency in doing certain jobs (educational and medical fields). Among them mention can be made of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health.

Based on statistics (table 4) between 1361 and 1370 (1982-1991) 63.6 percent of female civil employees were employed by the Education Ministry, while the Health Ministry accounted for 20.3 percent of the employed women. And other ministries employed the remaining 16.1 percent.

Moreover, in the year 1365 (1986), 43 percent of the all employed women were working for the public sector and 57 percent for the private sector.

 

Women's Employment According to Types of Work

The jobs of women living in urban areas are different from those of rural women. A distinction should be made between urban and rural areas because otherwise the analysis would not be close to reality. With regards to this explanation and considering the existing evidence (table 5) we realise that the majority of employed women in urban areas between 1335 and 1365 (1956-1986) were working in service-related and industrial sectors.

There have been few women engaged in agricultural activities in urban areas. The jobs occupied by women in the service sector fall in the three categories of education (teachers, employees of day care centres), medical fields (nurses, midwives and physicians) and civil servants (secretaries and other office jobs).

Women's employment in the service sector has increased from 52.5 percent in 1335 (1956) to 73.5 percent in 1365 (1986) whereas their employment in the industrial sector has fallen from 39.4 percent in 1335 (1956) to 12 percent in 1365 (1986).

As for women's jobs in rural communities, most of their activities until the year 1350 (1971) were linked to the industrial sector but in the years up to 1365 (1986) most women turned to agricultural activities. Since in a transitional period (transition from a traditional to a modern stage) the traditional technology is turned into a modern one, rural women, because of lack of education and access to modern technology, gave up traditional industries (carpet weaving and kelim weaving, and so on) and instead embarked on traditional agriculture.

The reason for this is that agriculture in Iran is still in a traditional stage and therefore requires a cheap work force rather than skilled manpower.

Statistical evidence (table 5) indicate that the activities of rural women in industrial fields decreased from 52.7 percent in 1335 (1956) to 33.6 percent in 1365 (1986) whereas their activities in agricultural areas increased from 35 percent to 54.3 percent.

It is to be noted that at present, the industrial sector uses modern technology more than the agricultural sector. Such a discrepancy in the utilization of modern technology has caused simple manpower to be replaced by investment in the industrial sector. In other words, this has diverted the female work force from traditional industries to traditional agriculture mainly because of the failure of traditional industries to keep pace with modern technology.

Table 1: Women aged 10 and above, employed in cities and villages (in percentage):

Year

Nation-wide

Urban

Rural

1956

9.18

9.23

9.15

1966

11.5

9.57

12.72

1976

10.81

8.5

12.97

1986

6.08

5.92

6.29

 

Table 2: Literacy rate of females aged 6 and above (in percentage):

Year

Urban

Rural

1975

52.1

10.9

1976

53.7

11.6

1977

57.4

18.7

1978

-

-

1979

61.3

21.7

1980

62.9

23

1981

64.5

24.3

1982

65.3

25.2

1983

65.7

25.7

1984

65.8

26

1985

64.6

33.6

1986

65.4

36

1987

66.5

38.8

1988

67.6

41.7

1989

68.7

44.6

 

Table 3: Housewives aged 10 and above (in percentage):

Year

Nation-wide

Urban

Rural

1956

79.5

77

80.77

1966

73.33

68.1

76.69

1976

68.78

64.2

72.88

1986

68.68

68.48

71.34

Average

72.57

68.94

75.42

 

Table 4: Women employed by various ministries throughout the country:

Year

Education Ministry

 

Health Ministry

 

Others

 
 

Number

%

Number

%

Number

%

1982

215316

65.2

45418

13.8

69421

21

1983

218703

64.1

52707

15.4

69745

20.5

1984

16006

16.4

52671

54

28892

29.6

1985

218734

86

6790

2.7

28735

10.3

1986

286103

68.2

87102

20.7

46339

10.1

1989

313463

70.6

87058

19.6

43319

9.8

1991

380869

74.4

82633

16.1

48316

9.5

Average

 

63.56

 

20.3

 

16.4

 

Table 5: Women aged 6 and above, working in major sectors in cities and villages (in percentage):

Year

Urban

Rural

 

Agriculture

Industry

Services

Others

Agriculture

Industry

Services

Others

1956

4.1

39.4

52.5

4

35

52.7

11.7

1.2

1966

3.1

45.7

45.6

5.6

32.1

61.2

5

1.7

1968

4.2

42.8

46.9

6.1

51.3

42

5.4

1.3

1971

1.7

39.6

53

5.7

41.1

55.8

2.5

0.6

1986

2.5

12

73.5

12

54.3

33.6

8.1

4

Source of all tables: Iran Statistics Centre