The Unseen Pillars: Rural Women in Iran's Social Fabric
While urban centers often capture the spotlight in discussions about political activism, rural areas also have their dynamics of resistance and civic participation.
Rural women in Iran are a diverse and multifaceted group whose experiences and contributions often overshadow broader narratives about women in Iran. They play critical roles in their communities, yet their stories are rarely told internationally. In Iran, these women are the backbone of their communities and active social, economic, and political participants. This piece aims to delve into the multifaceted lives of rural women in Iran, shedding light on their unique stories, challenges, and triumphs. It also aims to serve as a comprehensive yet concise overview of the lives of rural women in Iran based on their stories collected through interviews in honor of International Rural Women's Day.
Rural women in Iran serve as vital custodians of traditional culture, from folklore to handicrafts like "Termeh" weaving. They are the primary transmitters of oral traditions and artisanal skills, ensuring the preservation of cultural heritage. Their role extends beyond local impact; they contribute to national and international recognition of these traditions. For instance, the art of Termeh weaving is often a skill passed down through generations of rural women, who produce for local markets and gain broader recognition. These women act as living repositories of cultural knowledge, safeguarding Iran's intangible heritage. In the following, we will see how rural Baluchi women, with the support of an entrepreneur from Tehran, put their efforts into keeping Baluchi Suzandoi (needlework), Sekedozi (coin embroidery) Ayneh dozi (mirror embroidery), and Goldozi (embroidery ) as unique hand-made weaving techniques alive.
Agriculture: Rural women in Iran play a crucial role in the agricultural sector, often juggling farm management with household responsibilities. In Zaveh County in Khorasan province, Owliya led a women's agricultural cooperative that modernized saffron farming through innovative techniques like drip irrigation. Her leadership transformed local saffron quality and enabled export, boosting the community's economy. Owliya's story highlights rural women's significant impact on Iran's local and broader economic landscapes, demonstrating their role as economic powerhouses and community leaders. Their contributions extend beyond traditional roles, empowering themselves and their communities.
Entrepreneurship: Many rural women engage in micro-businesses, such as handicrafts and local produce, contributing to the local and national economy. In 2008, a graphic designer, Maryam Moqise, founded her brand and company under MIM Jewelry and Accessories to invent a novel method to fabricate jewelry made of hand-woven and hand-embroidered clothing materials which have been a long history among Baluchi, Kermani, Turkman, and Afghan's women. Her main goal was to revive and introduce this invaluably rich Persian culture to artisans and enthusiasts worldwide. Collaborating with more than seventy skilled rural women and local artisans around the country made them this unique, unknown, or, perhaps, unforgettable tradition. Besides that, this entrepreneurship empowers rural women financially and encourages sustainable fashion throughout the country and abroad.
Rural Sisterhood: Rural women provide social cohesion and community development through various local governance and social structures. In rural Iran, there is a form of social solidarity where women come together to assist each other in times of need, be it a wedding, a funeral, or a community event. Rural women create a network of mutual aid that transcends mere social interaction. Take the story of Fatemeh, a rural woman from Hormozgan. When her husband fell ill, the women in her community rallied around her, providing emotional support and practical help like food and childcare. This social participation is a testament to rural women's resilience and community spirit in the real world.
Community Health: Some rural women serve as community health workers, providing basic healthcare services and education to their communities. Based on my interview with Zahra from Isfahan province, she, as a nurse, and her other colleagues as a nurse or midwife, often serve as community health workers, addressing critical healthcare gaps in their villages. Trained in basic and maternal healthcare, Zahra initiated a community program focusing on prenatal and postnatal care. She organized health camps, provided check-ups for pregnant women, and educated them on nutritional needs. Additionally, she trained local women to assist in childbirth and created a network of informal healthcare providers. Zahra's efforts significantly reduced maternal and infant mortality rates in her community, exemplifying rural women's vital role in enhancing community health in Iran.
Rural women in Iran are emerging as significant political actors, often overshadowed by their urban counterparts but no less impactful. Active in local and national elections, they've also been vocal in recent uprisings, particularly in provinces like Kurdistan, Sistan, and Baluchestan. Take Leila, a young woman from Sistan and Baluchestan who mobilized her community to vote and led protests against a local dam project. Her activism caught national attention, amplifying her community's concerns. While their political activities may be less documented, rural women like Leila increasingly contribute to Iran's political landscape, challenging traditional roles and advocating for social justice.
Civic Participation in Recent Uprisings
The role of rural women in the recent uprisings in Iran is an important subject that deserves attention. While urban centers often capture the spotlight in discussions about political activism, rural areas also have their dynamics of resistance and civic participation. Rural women have been increasingly involved in the recent uprisings in Iran, although their participation is often less visible than their urban counterparts. Their involvement ranges from organizing local protests to disseminating information. They often use informal networks and community ties to mobilize support. They also leverage local knowledge and resources to sustain movements, such as providing food and shelter to protesters.
Generational shifts are transforming the landscape for rural women in Iran. Younger rural women like Parisa, from a village near Shiraz, are increasingly educated and tech-savvy. Parisa leveraged her education in environmental science to establish a sustainable farming center in her town. She trained farmers in water-efficient techniques and offered literacy classes for women. Her efforts changed her family's perspective on female education and had a broader impact on her community. These younger rural women are using education and technology to overcome traditional barriers, leading to shifts in social dynamics and creating sustainable change.
Challenges and Barriers
Rural women in Iran face a multitude of challenges that often go unnoticed. They grapple with limited access to essential healthcare, education, and economic resources. Gender-based discrimination further exacerbates these challenges, limiting their opportunities for growth and empowerment. The lack of visibility for their activism and contributions is another significant hurdle, often due to limited media coverage and the risk of persecution. Resource constraints, particularly in technology and healthcare, add another layer of difficulty. Additionally, patriarchal social norms and traditional gender roles can hinder their full participation in public life, including political activism. These multifaceted challenges necessitate targeted interventions for empowerment.
Rural women in Iran are vital players in agriculture and domestic work, contributing to food security and climate resilience. Despite challenges like economic disparities and social norms, they are active community members, not passive bystanders. Their unique challenges require targeted interventions for empowerment.
About the Author
Middle East Program
The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform U.S. foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Read more