In extraordinary times: supporting the economic empowerment of women headed households in Iran

May 19, 2020

In Iran, there are three million Women Headed Households (WHH), out of a total of 22 million families

Authored by UNDP Resident Representative in the I.R. of Iran, Mr. Claudio Providas & UNDP Iran Development Economist, Ms. Arghavan Farzin Motamed

The people of the Islamic Republic of Iran are currently witnessing some of the most extraordinary times in recent history. This is not just due to unilateral sanctions being imposed on the country, but also because of the COVID-19 outbreak which hit home just before the Iranian New Year –  Nowruz.

A time to celebrate, and generally a period of intense economic activity, has turned into a period of uncertainty and stress for many. These extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and apart from helping with the immediate health needs in the country, UNDP is supporting Iran to deal with the broader socio-economic and human development impact of COVID-19. 

In Iran, there are three million Women Headed Households (WHH), out of a total of 22 million families, and most of the WHH can be found in less developed areas of the country. The labor market structure indicates that most women in Iran, especially those in rural and less developed areas, are keen to start micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSME). As in many other countries, WHH is most likely to re-invest their earning in the children’s wellbeing. However, women face many barriers in accessing the market and developing viable MSMEs, in particular with access to finance, awareness of competitive value chains, and untapped local economic potential in their geographic area.    

UNDP's aim is to support the Iranian WHH in working towards building stories of resilience, change, and achievement. This is done through a partnership with the Vice Presidency for Women and  Family Affairs, Vice Presidency for Rural Development and Deprived  Areas, and other UN entities in Iran including UNICEF and  UNFPA.  

The UN in Iran has developed a Technical Assistance Package (TAP) as a  concrete response to the COVID-19 sanctions with the objectives to both protect development gains with a focus on vulnerable groups and identify innovative solutions to respond to the current context. To collectively overcome challenges faced by WHH, the mission is to support government efforts to improve the livelihood and well-being of WHH,  facilitate better access to available resources, build critical awareness on the responsibilities and social status of WHH and increase women's’ control over the decision-making process on all levels.  

COVID-19 adds additional challenges for economically empowering WHH in Iran, meaning that innovative strategies are needed. By focusing on analysis and knowledge exchange, UNDP can support the government in the assessment of the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and can facilitate the exchange of best practices from other countries on combatting the impact of COVID-19, with a focus on groups such as WHH. UNDP also focuses on policy, advocacy, and network development through assisting in the development of policies to address systemic issues, establishing and strengthening community-based groups, and making sure there is access to information and resources when it comes to decision-making that affects WHH. Finally, through programming UNDP can ensure the implementation of technical and management skills to enhance the economic participation of WHH in Iran. 

In the past couple of years, the ever-growing number of WHH in Iran has brought women and their families to the center of attention of policymakers. Investing in women's economic empowerment sets a direct path towards inclusive economic growth and achieving sustainable development. Therefore,  in times of uncertainty, whether caused by sanctions or the COVID-19  pandemic, there must be a focus on WHH in Iran to ensure that no one is left behind. 

Click here to access the UNDP Asia Pacific Gender Equality Dispatch (May 2020)