By: UNDP Resident Representative is Islamic Republic of Iran, Claudio Providas, on the occasion of International Women's Day
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire world, with no regard to social or economic status. Families, households and particularly women, suffered a combination of economic, physical, and emotional stress.
During the pandemic-induced lockdowns, family interactions and livelihoods were impacted. Reduction in income, business losses, having to spend increased time in closer proximity than usual, and the fact that children could attend school gave rise to tensions between family members.
Iran was among the first countries to be hard hit by COVID-19. The pandemic broke out at a time when the nation was still reeling under the impact of the unilateral economic sanctions, and this added to the pressures on daily life, particularly on women.
The participation of Iranian women in the economy post-pandemic declined. The effect of this reduction was worse among Women Head Households (WHH) - and in low-income households headed by women, the situation was even more complicated.
According to Statistical Center of Iran, out of twenty-two (22) million families in Iran, over three (3) million are WHH and most of them are in less-developed areas. The Government prioritised such families for targeting the socio-economic support.
Focus on Women and the multiplier effect
UNDP Iran sprang into action, formulating immediate response initiatives and longer-term recovery plans. Working in close collaboration with the Government to reduce the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, UNDP designed a Rapid Socio-Economic Response (RASER) initiative to support the worst-affected populations, including WHH and vulnerable women in rural and deprived areas. The RASER initiative recognizes the need to combine social protection with home-based income generating activities and other economically sustaining measures.
The initiative is based on an integrated development model and focusses on supply and demand simultaneously. Promoting the circular economy and networks and promoting the use of digitalization are at the core of the response.
Vulnerable women in 100 villages belonging to three provinces were particularly identified under the scheme, implemented in partnership with three main Government agencies – Vice-Presidency for Women and Family Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture Jihad, and Ministry of Cooperative, Labour and Social Welfare, apart from relevant line ministries such as Ministry of Health and Medical Education, and Provincial Governors.
Job-generation and psycho-social support
The joint interventions by the Government and UNDP focussed on both creating employment opportunities and providing psycho-social support. They included conducting medical and psycho-social training programmes to reduce the negative impact of the pandemic, distributing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) packages to vulnerable households and providing medical and COVID-19 life insurance to whole families, besides providing conditional cash transfers to households to buy essential supplies. Approximately 5,500 households were targeted, and 4,400 women, including WHH and rural women, benefitted from RASER.
Micro, small and home-based businesses which were hit by the pandemic were revived through interventions under RASER, and around 5,000 jobs were created or reinstated, keeping in mind both local strengths and the need for sustainability.
Microcredit funds for rural women were an important feature. UNDP, in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture Jihad and Vice-Presidency for Women and Family Affairs, supported affected businesses in Lorestan and Hormozgan provinces by leveraging the capacity of rural woman to make use of microcredits. The entire business chain was covered – from identifying local potential and comparative advantages, targeting clusters to providing necessary materials and equipment, revamping agricultural processes by introducing technology, organising vocational training sessions, encouraging a participatory mindset, and connecting businesses to markets. There was a thrust on digital tools, in respect of both training and marketing.
Under the initiative, UNDP Iran supported rural women in not only increasing agricultural production, but also in connecting them to each other and to the markets. All face masks in the PPE packages distributed to households were produced by women groups. In addition, these PPE producers were connected to other businesses, to provide eco-friendly packaging for agricultural produce, thereby ‘greening’ the RASER initiative. Local products are also being linked to Digikala, one of the main digital market platforms in Iran.
Women accounted for around 90% of the beneficiaries of the various programmes, including job generation and vocational training.
Going forward, UNDP will support the Government in scaling up the RASER initiative to focus on socio-economic recovery.
Overall, lessons learned from RASER prove that:
Building resilience of women to shocks has a multiplier effect.
Women have the capacity to not only take care of the health of the family and society, but also to play an important role in re-activating the local economy.
Women are environmentally conscious and can promote green activities for the protection of nature and health.
Women’s traditional multiple roles within the family as breadwinners and educators needs special attention.
In short, women are the heart of society – they keep communities alive!