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Shutdown impact stories: how internet shutdowns affect women in Iran

“This job insecurity may involve everyone, but it must be admitted that girls face more obstacles to finding financial independence.”

Women in Iran face an incredible array of legal and social obstacles to gaining financial independence. The worsening economic situation across Iran — owing to a barrage of economic sanctions and domestic corruption and mismanagement, among other things — has only made matters worse. Women are disproportionately affected by the crisis, and some have turned to selling goods online to earn income and support their families. But what happens when the internet goes dark?

As a new report from the United Nations confirms, internet shutdowns, by their very nature, restrict human rights, and there are almost no circumstances under which they can be justified according to international human rights law. Yet Iran’s regime systematically imposes internet shutdowns to silence dissent and simultaneously repress the right to peaceful assembly and association. Often, these shutdowns entail cutting off mobile phone networks, slowing down broadband speeds, or completely cutting internet access across regions or on a national scale, affecting both national and international networks.

Most recently, Iranian authorities imposed nationwide slowdowns or “throttling,” as well as blanket internet blackouts, when Iranians held protests to speak out against the soaring price of bread and other basic necessities. In May 2022, authorities reportedly disrupted internet access for 26 days out of the month. The same thing happened in 2021, as Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA) documented: authorities responded to dissent and protest over government mismanagement of water by cutting internet access in Khuzestan province, then extending the shutdown across the country.

These and other shutdowns have a devastating impact on the lives of the Iranian people. But what about the effects on women? Below you will find the stories of Samane, Susan, and Mehrnoush, gathered by HRA and Access Now to show how women who use the internet to achieve financial independence in Iran are impacted by the regime’s tightening grip on internet freedom.

We have experienced at least two internet outages in the last five years in the province. One for a short time and the other for a week. Naturally our supply and sales dropped to zero, while even in normal times due to the low speed of the internet for our online activities we always faced difficulties, but the internet shut down completely stopped our work. We suffered a loss … we are still worried about how repetition or longer versions of this will affect our economic and cultural activities.

I experienced an internet outage for about a week … but at [the time] we did not know how long this outage would last and I was stressed and worried about my financial obligations. I checked Instagram every day, but the internet was down and the pressure on me was increasing. I told myself I had to find another way, but there was no way … I think the stress of those days still does not leave me … My situation is like moving on a hair strand, that is, I have no support, and my life and that of my daughter, who is now a student, is supported through this business. I have no better way to live, and I have put all my hope and money into this.

My business is completely dependent on the internet. I have no store other than the internet and the Telegram channel and my Instagram page … in such a situation, the internet shut down means the destruction of my business. … A young girl like me has no future in this country. This job insecurity may involve everyone, but it must be admitted that girls face more obstacles to finding financial independence.

Join the fight against internet shutdowns: make your voice heard

Internet shutdowns are extremely harmful and continue to widen the gender digital divide worldwide. They block efforts by stakeholders around the world to connect more people to the internet. Here are some ways you can support the global movement to stop shutdowns:

* Names of contributors in this article have been changed for security reasons.