Women Empowerment in Iran, Gender Roles and Issues in the Country

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Table of Contents

  • Beliefs, Religion, and Spirituality
  • Language, Communication, and Etiquette
  • Gender Roles
  • Concept of Health and Illness Related Issues
  • Treatment Issues
  • Mental Health Issues
  • Labor/Delivery and Pregnancy
  • Death and Dying
  • Conclusion

Iran is a country located in the middle east, those that are from Iran call themselves Iranian. Iranian culture is the oldest in the region and has influenced others such as Italy, Macedonia, Greece, Russia, Arabian Peninsula, and parts of Asia. You may have heard the term Persian used interchangeably with Iranian, this is common, but there are differences. As mentioned above all citizens of Iran are Iranians, but only some can identify as Persians. Before 1935 Persia was the official name of Iran. In 1935 the name Iran came into existence and has been used since. Modern Iran has a large number of different ethnic groups, those who identify as Persian are the majority. There are also large numbers of those who identify as Azeri and Gilaki. The CIA World Factbook for 2011 provides a breakdown of approximate what percent Iranians, belong to what groups. Around 51% of Iranians identify as Persian, 24% identify as Azaeri and 8% as Gilaki.

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Beliefs, Religion, and Spirituality

Islam is the religion practiced by a majority of those residing in Iran. Their practices and beliefs influence personal, political, economic, and legal issues in life. The Islamic religious idea is that the believer accepts to surrender to the will of Allah. Those who practice Islam follow the Qur’ān (Rahman, Schimmel, & Mahdi, 2019). Religious events such as weddings or funerals in Iran are large events and usually span across two days.

Language, Communication, and Etiquette

Farsi is the official language of Iran, and one of the most prominent in the Middle East. Approximately 58% of the population speaks it. During conversation Iranians prefer a conversational space to where you may feel one’s breath on your face. This is the opposite of how those in the U.S. converse. Iranians are also quite physically expressive when communicating. An example of this can be when expressing sincerity, their hand is placed over their heart and slightly bow their head. Relationships are very important to Iranians; therefore, it is very important for Iranians to nurture a personal relationship before conducting any business. During conversation it is not appropriate to ask questions about an Iranian’s wife or other female relatives. Family is important to Iranians, the women are to be protected and taken care of, and it is always important to greet your elders first as a sign of respect. It is not uncommon for an Iranian to negotiate or barter prices or goods for services, whereas in the U.S. prices are for the majority set. Modesty is important to Iranians; men are to not bear their chest or arms and women should be fully covered except their face, hands, and feet. When working with this culture, care should be given to ensure patient comfort.

Gender Roles

Before the revolution there was public segregation of men and women, women had also been required to were the Chador. There were clashing of these views with those of the upper and middle classes (mostly in Tehran, the capital of Iran) which lead to a main focus of the Pahlavi era, which is now known as modernized Iran. During this era it was the government’s main focus to change the traditional attitudes towards sexual segregation. The government sought to encourage women to get as much education as possible and to participate in the labor force at all levels. These changes brought social conflict between those who participated in Shia (a branch of Islam), they defended traditional values. In 1932 Iranian women held a meeting of the Oriental Feminine Congress of Tehran, calling for the right to vote for women, equal education for both boys and girls, equal salaries for men and women, and to end polygyny (Metz, H. C. 1987). Women were soon given the right to hold a job, and shortly after given the right to vote.

Concept of Health and Illness Related Issues

Article 29 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Iran emphasizes that every Iranian has the right to enjoy the highest attainable level of health (Lankarani, K. B., Alavian, S. M., & Peymani, P. 2013, February). To achieve this, Iran has one of the most comprehensive primary care programs in the nation, by using a nation-wide network. Primary care services like prenatal care and vaccinations are free, regardless if one has private or public sector insurance. Due to this program in place, the rate of immunization in children, depending on the immunization, is around 80-90%. Official data also states that more than 90% of Iranian people are under the coverage of at least one kind of health insurance. They are able to access social security, the medical service insurance organization, the military personnel insurance organization, or Emdade-emam (a committee that provides health insurance for the uninsured poor). WHO reports praise on the Iranian health system; “Over the past 20 years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has made remarkable progress in the health sector with much improvement in various health indices.” (Yurtoğlu, 2018).

The highest rates of mortality are in Cardiovascular Diseases at 45% mortality, Accidents at 18% mortality, cancers at 14% mortality, and neonatal and respiratory diseases at 6%. The burden of noncommunicable diseases is increasing; these include Obesity, Cardiovascular diseases, Diabetes, and Hypertension. This is mostly due to westernization in the Middle East, which is causing vitamin deficiencies, obesity, and other related noncommunicable diseases. Iran is doing great things to decrease health hazards, that can contribute to the increase of noncommunicable diseases, such as tobacco use. They are also one of only seven countries in the world who has adopted the strongest regulation on smokeless tobacco warning. (Lankarani, Alavian, & Peymani, 2013)

Treatment Issues

Iran has shown great progress in controlling communicable diseases, shown in their vaccination rates. Their primary health care is thriving whereas specialty services are only in larger cities and struggling to meet the needs of rural areas. The drugs to treat diseases such as heart diseases, diabetes, and cancer are scarce and expensive. Occasionally drugs are imported from neighboring countries. For example, the cost of chemotherapy has tripled, and those not being able to afford the increase are left untreated.

Mental Health Issues

Mental Health incorporation in primary care was started to screen for major psychiatric disorders due to the low rates of clinicians versus the population needing to be treated. Substance abuse is one of the major causes of mental health in Iran. Iran is struggling with treating Mental Health mostly due to the stigma; but also due to lack of awareness, lack of Mental Health providers, cultural barriers, and insufficient financial resources. A study by Taghva, Farsi, Javanmard, Atashi, Hajebi, and Khademi was done to dig deeper into the issues of stigma in Mental Health. It found that patients suffering from mental illness usually suffer more stigma than with other health conditions, and in turn isolates the patient from society which ultimately results in worsening of the condition and prognosis. Those with severe mental disorders are exposed to discrimination in everyday life such as housing, education, and jobs.

Labor/Delivery and Pregnancy

Much like primary care in Iran, prenatal care and child vaccinations are free. Over the past two decades neonatal mortality has changed. Infectious diseases have decreased (due to vaccinations) but prematurity and congenital disorders have increased. There is no explanation as to why prematurity and congenital disorders have increased, but we can assume it may be due to westernization causing other health problems in women in Iran. However, Maternal mortality has decreased and is now less than 300 annually with an estimated 1.2 million births per year, which means they have met their Millennium Development Goal ahead of schedule.

Death and Dying

As stated above funerals are big events and that often follow strict script. The formal funeral often comes first and is accompanied by the body of the deceased. After the cause of death is determined by a doctor and the family says goodbye, a hearse pulls in up in front of the home to take the body to be washed and buried. Islamic customs dictate that the deceased be buried as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours of death. The deceased are washed in private rooms where the family can choose to be present. After washing they are wrapped in a simple white cloth, with their face covered, and placed on a stretcher. At this time a Men Mourning Party begins, they carry the body above their heads while shouting “la ila ilallah” meaning “there is no God but God” and proceed around the hall. At the burial site family and friends gather under a party tent while the deceased is carefully placed in their grave, still wrapped. Five flat stones are then placed on top, to hold the place, until the marble slab the family ordered arrives. Speaking at the grave is frowned upon, however memorial speeches at the informal funeral are encouraged. The informal funeral follows the formal funeral either the day or a few days after. It is an organized ceremony for a larger group of family and friends. At the informal funeral a traditional Iranian singer sings to the beats of a daf (traditional Iranian drum) and flute. (Erdbrink, 2018)


During my research I found the country of Iran to be interesting. Overall, they have modernized but still found ways to maintain traditional values. I really found their healthcare to be interesting. They are pushing primary care so much so that most everyone (90%) has insurance. However, the lack of specialists in rural areas is a gap that needs to be filled.  

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