Throughout the world, nursing is seen as an honorable profession and the individuals key to the success of any health care system. In Iran, however, the situation of nurses is meriting attention from the international community.
According to the latest figure compiled on the number of protests taking place in Iran, an average of 20 protests are taking place on a daily basis. One sector of the economic and social fabric of Iran staging protests is the nursing sector. The majority of Iranian nurses do not have the security of official employment. They work under potentially harmful conditions and for long hours, risking their health and lives. Most of these nurses work under temporary contracts, being paid a small salary, although this is often paid on an irregular basis.
One of the latest protests was by the nurses was in Boushehr on August 24. They protested the non-payment of eight months of their past due salaries. Other protests have consistently demanded payment of salaries, but this lack of non-payment has a greater economic impact for these families, as unemployment continues to remain high throughout Iran.
Another issue is the working conditions of these nurses. Many of them are forced to work overtime, while those overtime wages are withheld for months at a time.
Not only are they not getting paid timely, but these nurses are working in unhealthy conditions. In just five months, six nurses have died in the workplace. This after an announcement that 10 individuals had died in the workplace five months earlier. The figures announced by the regime in this regard, should be viewed as minimums.
One of the reasons mentioned in the official reports is that these women are being overworked. According to Dr. Jaleh Ezzati, a vice-president of the Nursing Organization, “In Iran, every 15 patients have one nurse, while by the international standards, every nurse has to attend to one or a maximum of four patients.”
There is a shortage of nurses in Iran and this figure is only growing. Yet, there are nurses available, but they cannot get hired. Reports indicate that the number of unemployed nurses in Iran could be as high as 40,000.
The situation in Iran is reaching a critical level, as basic services, such as medical care, are being compromised by a regime that seems unwilling or unable to address the needs of its people. Instead, they look for cheap fixes, such as hiring untrained graduates as a source of cheap labor or simply using unofficial contracts to limit their options to address their grievances.
While equality for women in terms of pay and access to opportunities remains at the forefront of the international agenda, the working conditions of these nurses should not be forgotten. They are a snapshot of the larger issues facing the women of Iran.
Hamid Enayat is an Iranian analyst based in Europe. He is a human rights activist, and writes on Iranian and regional issues. Enayat is also a translator and freelancer, he collaborates with the Media Express Press Agency and contributes with his analyses about the complex issues of Middle East.