An Iranian woman’s year in the shadow of US sanctions and Covid-19

The double blow has particularly hurt ordinary Iranians, such as Mahnaz Parhizkari, a 35-year-old Iranian woman living in Tehran.

Since her divorce five years ago, Parhizkari has struggled to support two sons, ages 8 and 13, on her own.

After her split from her husband, she worked as a cleaner, a job that paid the rent for a small apartment in a high-rise building in a working-class neighborhood in Tehran.

It also allowed Mrs Parhizkari to set aside enough money to buy a used car in installments and land a job as a driver for Snapp, an Iranian knight.

The United States then withdrew from a 2015 agreement to contain Iran’s nuclear activity and imposed devastating sanctions on Tehran, punishing what the Trump administration said was Iran’s aggression in the Middle East. The measures reduced the country’s exports and abolished Iranian banks from the international financial system.

“Sanctions have deprived us of small pleasures.”

“I used to take my children to the park on the weekends. But now I have to work. ”

“At the end of the month, I have no savings left.”

“Children have school expenses, and we are very worried. I can no longer buy high quality bags for my sons. ”

“I have to save money and get something that lasts at least a year.”

The sanctions hit a economy that was already struggling, exacerbating unemployment and sending the Iranian rial in a tailspin. The currency lost 80% of its value against the dollar, which pushed up inflation and hurt the working class Iranians the most.

“One of the fun things the kids enjoyed was going to the supermarket. They could buy toys and other things. But now I can not take them anymore. I’m very ashamed not to be able to please them. ”

Keeping her driving job became more expensive during the year, as her car required repairs more often and inflation pushed up spare parts.

“The car is old, a pride in 2009. It breaks down more often now. ”

More problems came late last year when the Iranian government tried to strengthen its finances by lowering fuel subsidies and sending gas prices high overnight. The price increase triggered nationwide protests, which security forces put down violently. Hundreds of protesters were killed in clashes that were the deadliest state force in decades.

Parhizkari did not take part in the protests, but the price increase deeply reduced her income by tripling the price of a whole tank of petrol. “But the travel price did not triple,” she said.

“I have to start thinking about another job.”

“People started taking the subway and the buses more often.”

The higher petrol prices rippled through Iran’s economy and sent the price of a series of goods which in turn rose.

“I calculate everything on an abacus,” she says. “I write down all the costs to make it to the end of the month.”

“I can no longer afford to buy the fruit I used to buy for my children.”

Although she took an extra full-time job as a cleaner at a petrochemical company, she had to find a cheaper apartment that was cramped even for her small family.

“I make dishes with soy products, and thankfully my kids don’t like them.”

When Covid-19 hit, Iran was one of the hardest-hit countries in the region, with more than 3,000 cases a day in the spring, according to Johns Hopkins University. The government encouraged people to stay home and the schools of Parhizkari’s son were closed. As a result, her driving income dropped. She started looking for a new job, but to no avail.

“I’m really scared of this virus and I have two children at home,” she says. “I can not endanger their lives.”

With the schools closed, Parhizkari stayed home to take care of her children and supervise their school work. She could drive very few hours as a result, so that she could barely cover her expenses.

In the summer, Parhizkari was forced to move her two children to the neighboring province of Ghazvin so that they could live with her ex-husband, who she says had been addicted to drugs and largely absent during their married life. The father lives with his parents and he has started giving Mrs. Parhizkari small sums of money to help with the children’s expenses.

“It’s a long drive to Ghazvin, and sometimes I’m so tired I’m not going to see the kids over the weekend,” she said. “But I do not want my children to be hungry. I could not afford to keep them. ”

In October, Parhizkari received a contract with Covid-19, possibly from his co-workers, several of whom had also become ill. She soon recovered, but she was shaken.

“When I heard I was infected, I felt dizzy,” she says. “I was very scared. The first thing I thought of was my sons. What will happen to them if I die of the virus? I even complained to God. ‘Why me?’ With all the problems I’ve been through this year, it’s not fair. I did not deserve to get sick. ”

Recently, Parhizkari’s income has increased again. She takes occasional Snapp jobs to supplement her salary from her cleaning job at the petrochemical company.

Now she has pinned her hopes on getting an apartment in a government-subsidized housing project on the outskirts of Tehran.

“It can take a year or more to get it,” she says. “Then I can take the children back to me.”

Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen at [email protected]

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