What do the sanctions on Iran say about Western commitments to Regional Development?

In the past few months, a new wave of sanctions have been imposed on Iran by the U.S. and the EU to ramp up international pressure against their nuclear program. The latest effort along these lines by the Obama administration aims to punish financial sector companies and shippers that help Tehran sell its oil, and thus cut off sources of income to the country. Experts at the Brookings Institute noted that this latest move seeks to “close loopholes that have allowed Iran to get around the existing sanctions.” Middle East expert Ms. Susan Maloney also pointed out that “there is clear evidence of rising commodity prices, particularly food prices, and there were indications of a growing public backlash against the impact of the sanctions.” A recent report by the International Civil Society Action Network digs deeper to drill down impact that these sanctions are having on Iranian women.

The ICAN report raises concerns about Western governments motives – while they claim to be supportive of women’s rights worldwide, they seem to be unconcerned about the grave social, economic and cultural impact of their ever-increasing sanctions on Iranian women. For instance, the intensification of sanctions has led to increased economic hardships at the national level, which have, for example, resulted in the Iranian government impose quota-based limitations on educational and employment opportunities for women. The decade of comprehensive economic sanctions in Iraq between the years of 1990 – 2003 and its impact on Iraqi society has been documented by scholars and activities, and is also raised as a parallel in the report. Meanwhile, Iran has operated under various U.S. imposed economic or political sanctions since as back as 1984. While the Iranian leadership denies any suggestions that the sanctions have had a lasting or significant effect, most researchers have found it hard to evaluate the situation because of the lack of transparency or availability of data. In that respect, the ICAN report sheds on the issue, by including varied perspectives from women on the ground. One such example is the facebook comment left by an Iranian women’s activist below:

“Today the fluctuating costs of products in the mar­ket between the morning and the afternoon was truly something worth noting. The cost of tires in the morning was 350,000 Tomans (at about $200-$250 at the time) by the afternoon the same tires were 750,000 Tomans. I think that we should just lay down and die, and only those idiots who keep saying that sanctions will not impact the economy of Iran should be allowed to live.”

Other critics have also noticed a number of similar negative downstream effects the sanctions have had for women.  For example, the sanctions on technology have led to a blockage on access to online services and software — including e-mail, blogging platforms and security tools that prevent user activity from being traced — that are extremely helpful to civilians on the ground, particular those that are leading opposition movements. Similarly, the U.S. ban on financial transactions to Iran has also raised many questions about the accessibility of relief funds to victims of natural disasters or aid groups inside Iran. It was heartening to hear that the U.S. responded to the news of the twin earthquakes that occurred in northwest Iraq earlier this week by allowing donations of food and medicine to Iran without fear of prosecution.

Raising visibility into the impact of these sanctions on Iranian communities and the worsening situation for women, particularly for those who are not supporters of the regime, will allow for more effective foreign policy strategy. The international community should be pressed to push for more transparency and support to issues of human rights in this region. The report from ICAN is a commendable start to this effort—it provides an important perspective in questioning and evaluating the overall impact of these recent and previous rounds of sanctions on Iranian communities, and whether the U.S., EU and the larger international community will be able achieve their ultimate goal in the region.

Photo credit: Please! Don’t Smile

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  • Nadia

    Excellent post!