Data | Iran’s performance in key socioeconomic indicators and proximate causes for protests

The lack of adequate political freedoms, the absence of gender equality, and recurrent economic crises have frequently triggered protests

October 04, 2022 10:09 am | Updated 08:46 pm IST

Protests in Iran: People hold signs and chant slogans during a protest against the death of Iranian Mahsa Amini and the government of Iran in Turkey

Protests in Iran: People hold signs and chant slogans during a protest against the death of Iranian Mahsa Amini and the government of Iran in Turkey | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Earlier this month, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was detained by Iran’s morality police for “violating” the mandatory dress code. Though her family had been assured she would be released after a “re-education session”, she died on September 16 after being rushed to the hospital from the detention centre. Her family has contested the police claim that she died of a heart attack due to underlying conditions. Various reports have claimed that Amini was beaten up by police authorities after which she slipped into coma. Amini’s death has sparked protests across Iran. In the unrest, more than 75 people have so far been killed and hundreds are injured.

Iran has a long history of protests that have been triggered by socioeconomic and political issues. While the 1977-79 uprising unseated the country’s repressive monarchy, the Islamic republic that replaced the Pahlavi dynasty has also been accused of repressing dissent, including by women questioning the imposition of clothing and other behavioural mores by the regime. Here is a look at various protests that have taken place in the country in recent years with data showing the proximate triggers for these.

Chart 1A, 1B and 1C compare how Iranian women fare in literacy rate, labour force participation rate and the share of women in parliament, respectively, compared to women in other countries for whom such data are available. The charts show that though a large section of Iranian women is literate (81%), they have relatively poor economic and political freedom. The current unrest could be a reflection of the social awareness of literate Iranian women and their dismay at their economic situation and lack of political freedoms.

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The regime, overshadowed by economic and political crises, has repeatedly witnessed mass protests in the last four decades. The protests in 2017-18 and 2019, which were triggered by price hikes and inflation, reflect this. Chart 1D shows that Iran’s per capita GDP in 2020 was less than $3,000. This placed Iran 148 among 204 countries. Chart 1E displays a poor employment-to-population ratio, which is causing unrest among the youth. These protests have also coincided with the sanctions imposed on Iran by the U.S. in recent years.

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In 2009, over three million demonstrators took to the streets of Tehran protesting against irregularities in the presidential elections. According to Chart 1F, Iran fares poorly in political rights, ranking 157 among 193 countries. Restrictive laws have resulted in people having to fight for their basic rights. Chart 1G shows how civil liberties are poor compared to other countries.

Data for political rights and civil liberties were sourced from Freedom House

Chart 1H depicts the poor press freedom ranking in Iran. Methods used by the Iranian government to quell the protests in the country include brutal force, restrictions on movements, and digital crackdowns. Chart 1I depicts the nature of Internet freedom in Iran.

Chart 2A shows how Iran’s Human Development Index remains among the poorest in the West Asian region, with only Iraq and Yemen ranking below it.

Chart 2B shows Iran’s Human Rights Protection Index between 1950 and 2019. It dropped to its lowest after 1979. Though the ranking improved in the 1990s, it has not been able to reach the previous highs. And after 2014, it has been showing a downward trend.

Human rights protection scores capture the extent to which citizens’ physical integrity is protected from government killings, torture, political imprisonments, extrajudicial executions, mass killings and disappearances. Higher scores mean fewer such abuses

Iran overthrew the monarchy, but the lack of adequate political freedoms, the absence of gender equality, and recurrent economic crises, some of which have been triggered by sanctions, have possibly pushed the citizenry to protest frequently in the republic, especially in recent years.

Source: Our World in Data, World Bank

Also read | Iran: Limited democracy, unlimited theocracy

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