Regardless of the fact that women have a very significant contribution to make to national production, employment generation and civil and economic society, women in Iran continue to be discriminatorily excluded from equal participation in the labour force. Although the Iranian women make up a significant minority of the workforce in Iran, they are forced to navigate various restrictions, imposed by law and custom.
The Iranian Constitution provides in Article 28 that “Everyone has the right to choose any occupation they wish, if it is not contrary to Islam and the public interests, and does not infringe the rights of others. The government has the duty, with due consideration of the need of society for different kinds of work, to provide every citizen with the opportunity to work, and to create equal conditions for obtaining it”. Nevertheless, women’s employment is not generally considered Islamic in Iranian society. The Iranian women who want to work are generally employed in low-wage jobs, such as secretarial work, public accommodation, domestic labour and textile and laundry work. The Iranian government does not monitor this situation effectively.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2016, the participation of women in the Iranian labor force was 17%. This means that Iranian women earned $4,963 on average each year, while Iranian men earned $29,468 in the same period. The report ranked countries on how close they are to eliminating the gender pay gap: Iran came 139th.
Discrimination against women in the labour market and opposition to women’s employment in societies such as Iran are rooted in religious belief. Discrimination against women in the Iranian labour market is based on the rule of Sharia that “The Man is Head of Household”, originating from the Quran and the Sunnah. In this context, “the role of being in charge or head of the household is one of the things that God has given to men, excluding women”.
However, from a legal point of view, both the discrimination faced by women in Iranian society and the Iranian government’s monitoring of it are contrary to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Iran is a party. The Covenant reads in Article 7(a)(i):
“The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which ensure, in particular:
(a) Remuneration which provides all workers, as a minimum, with:
(i) Fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind, in particular women being guaranteed conditions of work not inferior to those enjoyed by men, with equal pay for equal work”.
The Iranian government must therefore ensure that women working in the public sector are paid the same as men for equal work. It should also ensure that employers in the private sector pay women the minimum wage. In any case, in order to improve women’s participation in the labour force in Iran, the Iranian government must introduce laws ensuring equal working conditions for employed men and women regardless of their religious values. The Iranian government must also take steps to resolve the unequal gender distribution across occupations in Iranian society, and end stereotyping about their ability to perform certain jobs: for example, women are prevented from obtaining some positions such as judgeship because of their supposed emotional nature. In short, gender equality is one of the fundamental rules of human rights. It should not be compromised to match the religious values of a particular society.