Many impoverished Iranian people living in the border regions have turned to the demanding and dangerous job of porter to make a meager living.
In fact, the biggest threat comes from the government, which does not recognize the job as it encroaches on the ayatollah’s smuggling efforts and send the State Security Forces (SSF) and border guards out to patrol the area. Dozens of porters are killed each year because they are shot at by border patrols, while many more are wounded or even permanently disabled.
Even those who escape are often injured through the job itself – carrying heavy loads across mountainous terrain on foot for 8 to 12 hours per day- and few last two years before they become housebound with their injuries.
So why would people still seek work as a porter? Because poverty and unemployment, something particularly high in the border provinces, has left them with no other choice if they want to keep their children fed.
There is an increasing number of female porters, especially those who are widowed or whose husbands are disabled, who turn to the job because they have no other choice. Often the sexist laws that they live under meant they had to leave school early and without qualifications because they were married and pregnant.
Many of them do not disclose their gender, do not speak to anyone, and wear men’s clothes to avoid harassment while working. They also take strong tranquilizers to manage the heavy loads because they do not want to face reduced payments.
Female porter Gelareh, who works in Uraman, started work as a porter after her husband lost his leg when he was shot by security forces.
“Many women work as porters. When one of the members of a family starts working as a porter, others follow suit. This becomes a family business. Working as a porter is not a popular job in this region but we have no other options,” she said.
“When the husband and children of a woman work as a porter and become disabled or lose their lives, what must that woman do? How can she earn a living? So, she would also have to work as a porter. But she would not say anything to anyone. In this little town, it is disturbing for a child to hear that his/her mother is working as a porter,” she added.
There are no statistics on female porters because of the secrecy, but we can be sure that it is only growing due to economic dilemmas. On the other hand, as Gelareh mentioned, while the government brutally targets porter and guns down hundreds every year, women have no option but involving in such hard and dangerous businesses to make ends meet.