Reviews| Oppressing women, from Tehran to Washington, is it about maintaining patriarchy or money?
The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s vice police for allegedly breaking dress rules has sparked outrage inside and outside Iran over rights of women, and within the country against economic and political stagnation.
Governments and corporations are using the deep links between women’s rights and economic and political progress to their advantage. People would do well to understand this and also see that it is about money, not just patriarchy.
“Solidarity with brave women and allies in Iran who are protesting for their freedom. Mahsa Amini was murdered for no reason by the same patriarchal and autocratic forces that suppress women around the world. The right to choose belongs to all of us, from hijab to reproductive care.
This Tweeter of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) – the U.S. Congresswoman from New York State – is of course referring to the recent U.S. Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade, who previously legalized abortion in the United States.
I think AOC is quite right. These are the same things that led to the murder of Ms Amini and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Patriarchy, autocracy, religion or whatever; they are efficient mechanisms, dials to be turned to obtain the right result. I don’t want to diminish religion or the evils of autocracy.
But they’re useful mechanisms for getting people to behave in a certain way – so at the end of the day, a select few can make money.
It’s best not to think about it in the usual way – women are fighting for equal rights and benefits with men, and white men in particular. I really wish I had $5 for every time a white man complains about facing discrimination, but I digress.
Imagine a world where women and men have equal rights and benefits, including education, reproduction, marriage, income, wealth, property and business ownership, inheritance, voting and exercising public functions.
Women, children and families would likely be better educated and healthier. The economic research is very clear, regardless of country — money in the hands of women is the best strategy for human capital development. Controlling fertility and therefore family size is the key to these results.
Better health and better education often mean better personal incomes, provided markets work. Higher incomes can translate into investments in productive assets, which means more wealth and capital income. All of this is good for economic growth and results in a more equitable distribution of resources.
Politically, women voters and legislators with equal power and rights are less likely to allow laws to be passed that do not serve their interests.
Clap – now back to reality.
Who benefits from Mrs. Amini’s death? Nobody, precisely. His death is senseless, collateral damage from a few overzealous individuals, pawns of a larger strategy.
Iran’s former president, Hassan Rouhani, was more moderate – a centrist pragmatist whose administration brokered the first nuclear deal with the United States. He ushered in a more relaxed stance on Iran’s morality laws. It is said that he opposed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Mr. Rouhani had the explicit goal of dramatically changing access to Iran’s market, but if that means a stronger population, economically and otherwise, it’s not in everyone’s interest.
People who can make money in Iran without public scrutiny or objection from its citizens benefit from a code of morality used to oppress all Iranians.
The current Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi, is favored by the Ayatollah and is seen as his possible successor.
In 2019, the US government estimated the Ayatollah’s wealth at $200 billion, up from $95 billion in 2013. He is the sole owner of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate with business and real estate assets.
A dozen profitable religious institutions owned by the Ayatollah are exempt from taxes and can use public budgets to carry out religious activities.
It’s not hard to see how – in a country with about 1% of the world’s population but 8% of the world’s natural resources – morality laws to oppress people could be useful to the Ayatollah.
I’m not saying he’s not interested in morality laws for religious reasons. I say, at the very least, that he also has other good reasons.
Although very difficult to measure, it is estimated that around three quarters of Iranians live below the poverty line. Agriculture, which is normally an important productive sector, is increasingly affected by drought and other climate-related problems.
The specific oppression of women – in addition to men – is significant because of their repeated critical role throughout history in changing political frameworks and in leading food riots.
Historians disagree on the extent of women’s role, but even more conservative accounts place women as pivotal in food riots from the 17th to 21st centuries in countries around the world, such as Belgium, Canada, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Peru, Russia, Spain, the United States, as well as during the American, French and Russia and the First World War.
Since women focus more often than men on household food, they are more likely to be sensitive to changes in food prices. Historically, food riots usually started in markets near shops and mills, where women congregated the most.
They are just food riots. Now let’s think about the election and back to AOC’s tweet.
American elections prove time and time again the power of women voters. After Senate confirmation hearings exposed the misconduct of Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Clarence Thomas, the number of women lawmakers in Washington has increased in the upcoming election.
Analysts often claim that female voters elected Donald Trump as president, and then kicked him out of the White House, primarily because of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The US midterm elections are just weeks away, and both political parties have been fighting to get more female voters on their side. Women are less loyal to the party than men.
Everyone is waiting to see how changes to abortion laws will affect changes in elected lawmakers across the country at all levels – although abortion is obviously more important than an election issue.
Why have so many companies and influencers (the real ones, not the social media ones) invested so much money and effort for so long to create a United States Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade, especially when it affects the political power of those elected officials who most often do their bidding?
Look at the list above in which women have the same rights and benefits as men in an imaginary world. In the United States, the law adequately protects American women from unequal treatment in most of this list – not income.
There are not too many laws protecting women’s rights that could be changed, except those protecting reproductive rights; laws where money, power and religion could be used to create certain outcomes.
Speculation about upcoming laws guaranteeing access to contraception comes as no surprise after the court struck down Roe v. Wade.
First, larger households are often poorer and their children may fare less economically. If women are focused on the battle for abortion rights, as many are this election, they will be less focused on other battles. Moreover, as in Iran, the uncertainty on the application of the laws creates a mental load.
In many countries, attacking women’s rights is a diversion. The goal is to make money, a very unequal share. Some will influence policy and legal frameworks and what happens inside a private home to achieve this goal. As food prices continue to be high, I expect more attacks on women’s rights.
Dr. Iris Boutros is a behavioral and developmental economist and strategist. She writes on employment, business development, inclusion and economic growth. His work currently focuses on the gains and value of the behavior-brain-body connection.