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What Iranian women do in hard times

Another cause for dissent in Iran, and one which has forced many women onto the Tehran subway to hawk trinkets, is economic hardship.

But not all of these women are wives and older women. Some of them are young students trying to pay for college. It’s not a norm for students (especially women) in Iran to, for example, wait tables. There are very limited jobs not frowned upon that young women with limited education can do.

One of the students working in the metro writes an anonymous blog in Farsi, “Memoirs of a metro vendor,”  which has become hugely popular. She writes in one of the posts that she keeps her blog using the internet from a coffee shop in the 7-Tir station.

One of the first posts is a poem and, translated from the Farsi, it reads:

“I’m a metro vendor/ Because I need the money/ I sell here because there’s nowhere else/ I’m educated, but jobless/ I want to write here/ Because I have no one else.”

Another post reads:

“It’s September and I only have a month to have my tuition money ready. Sometimes I feel so happy that Abadeh (a city in Iran) is so far away from here. This way my classmates would never see me working as a vendor.”

A shift is taking place rapidly in the Iranian society. It is becoming more acceptable for women to be present in less sophisticated professions. Inflation, high costs of living and unemployment has prompted these women to find innovative ways to earn a living. And it works. They sell their products and passengers get what they need.

“It’s convenient,” said Atousa, a female who frequently rides Tehran's metro, “instead of going to the bazaar, the bazaar comes to you.”

It helps the vendors that the wagons are women-only: the (typically) male authorities can’t enter and enforce the law. There are a few female police, but the vendors outnumber them and know how to avoid them.

The segregation also makes the carriages a desirable place to earn money: In effect, they double as small sanctuaries because they shelter them from the preying eyes of men and the hostile working environment outside.

Inside the closed doors vendors deal with women, their counterparts and their friends. Atousa recognizes a lot of the women who sell on the subway. “I don’t mind them,” she says, “in fact I kind of like seeing them," she adds. "If one day I travel, and they’re not there, I feel like there’s something missing. I get bored.”