Donald Trump may be out of office, but women in Iran will continue to feel the weight of his "maximum pressure” campaign as sanctions are being maintained under Joe Biden.
During the electoral campaign, Joe Biden addressed Donald Trump’s policy of sanctions against Tehran as a failure but has refused to offer the country relief to the sanctions upfront. The diplomatic stalemate between Iran and the US means Iranian women have been left to tackle the repercussions of economic sanctions and Covid-19, just as the country is expecting a fourth wave.
TRT World spoke to Amir Abdoli, Assistant Professor at Jahrom University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, to gain insight on what the healthcare impacts are on vulnerable women during the pandemic.
“Besides heavy inflation due to sanctions, many people have lost their job due to the Covid-19 outbreak, resulting in fallen household incomes. In these situations, vulnerable people, including pregnant women are more affected” Abdoli tells TRT World.
“Pregnant women need to consume healthy diets containing proteins, vitamins, and minerals. The inflation caused a sharp rise in the price of basic foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, vegetables and fruits. In addition, the costs of routine screening, medicines and supplements approximately 10 times increased during the sanctions of Trump's administration. Poor nutrition and lack of access to health services severely affect maternal and child health, especially in poor groups of society” Abdoli adds.
As the sanctions are yet to be lifted by the Biden administration, Abdoli believes that “the long-term effects of sanctions could be more dangerous for female populations than their short-term impact”.
The impact of US sanctions
America has framed part of its sanctions policies in the name of civil society, yet, the reality of these policies hurt not only ordinary women but also the movements happening on the ground in the realm of women’s rights.
Assal Rad, a Senior Research Fellow at the National Iranian American Council, tells TRT World “While U.S. policymakers may argue that sanctions are intended to target the Iranian government, in practice, they impact ordinary Iranians of all backgrounds”.
Washington’s narratives have been pushed back since Trump’s re-imposition of sanctions in 2018 by analysts and regional experts. They argue that sanctions impede the women’s rights movement in Iran even further, and the no sanctions on Iran coalition of feminist Iranian-American scholars, artists and activists are calling for an end to them.
“Studies on the impact of sanctions have shown that they tend to exacerbate women's rights, and this is not just the case in Iran. Since sanctions have a negative impact on a country's economy and political stability, women tend to suffer more because of their vulnerable political status as well. The security threats that come along with sanctions and heightened tensions create an atmosphere of greater security measures and increased repression of civil society movements, including but not limited to women's rights” Rad adds.
The interlink between the state and sanctions
The U.S sanctions, which have been in place since 2018, have not made it any easier for the women in Iran that are spearheading the movement towards gender equity. In an economy being crippled by sanctions, the pressure mounts on women’s rights defenders, with several activists being handed prison sentences in the past two years.
Ali Fathollah-Nejad, an expert on Iranian sanctions, and an affiliated scholar at the Centre for International Cooperation and Development Studies with the Université libre de Bruxelles, explains to TRT World how the negative impacts from sanctions materialise.
“In most cases, authoritarian governments try to externalise the costs of sanctions onto the civilian population. Both discursively and materially. Also in the Iranian case, there is a process of externalisation of costs, discursively and materially, onto the civilian population, including civil society and its main components in Iran, namely the students, labour and women's movements”.
“The discursive externalisation, for instance, works in a way that activists may be portrayed as being pawns in the hands of malign outside forces of imperialism in order to de-legitimise what they're doing” Fathollah-Nejad adds.
Due to the negative economic impacts of sanctions, he says “the economic well-being of civil society activists is being complicated so that it could lead to a scenario in which political activism becomes merely a luxury”.
A consensus certainly exists among regional analysts - although the movement for women’s rights in Iran is intensified by US sanctions, the country’s own policy choices are considered the root of its deplorable women’s rights records.
Fathollah-Nejad tells TRT World “When it comes to the specific issue of women's rights in Iran, the most important hurdle is the state, and not sanctions. The most important factor is the state and its multifaceted limitations imposed upon women, their rights and activism. This is something that is quite clear in the Iranian case”.