A common job in the impoverished region of western Iran is a porter or someone who carries heavy loads on their backs through treacherous mountain paths, but the job, which is difficult enough for strong, young men, is commonly being taken on by women and children because poverty levels are so high.
Up to 5,000 households in the Uramanat region of Kurdistan are making ends meet through the underpaid and undervalued profession and we are going to look at what it is like for female porters, who are most often widows or the heads of their families.
All porters must walk 8-10 hours carrying heavy loads and then walk all the way back, but despite doing the exact same job, women are paid much less. Even when they went on strike, their wages were only raised to about 45 percent of a man’s. And ever since a female porter died from hypothermia last winter, employers have refused to hire women during the winter. (Men are still being hired despite accidental deaths.)
In addition to the discrimination, female porters must also work at night to avoid being shot by border patrols, which makes it more likely that they will face accidental deaths.
Ronak Rostamzadeh, a 38-year-old mother of two, lives in Shamshir village and works as a porter alongside her 14-year-old son Mani.
Mani needed to buy a phone to access his schoolwork during the coronavirus pandemic, but on September 16, he fell down the mountain trying to escape patrol guards who wanted to shoot him. He broke his nose and eye socket, suffering other deep wounds, but Ronak had to carry him to a medical center on her own as the guards ran off.
Sabri carries 30-kilogram loads for five hours over the mountains, stressing that she doesn’t know how much longer she can continue because of excruciating back pain, saying that it is not even easy to be hired as a porter.
Sherafat, 60, says that despite injured legs and diabetes she must work to provide for her five children because she has no pension or insurance. She said that once she had to throw away a 40-kilogram load to avoid being shot by border patrols, before going back the next day to find and deliver it so she would not be fined.