Shutdown impact stories: how internet shutdowns affect women in Iran

Access now, 23 JUNE 2022 
By Skylar Thompson and Felicia Anthonio 

“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.