Share |

Empowerment of Female headed households

Case Study: "Sedighin" charity institution in Iran


This paper studied the empowerment of "female headed households"(FHH) in Iran. After a brief introduction, In the second section theoretical framework and definition have been reviewed .In The third sections reason of emergence and increasing of FHHs in the world have been discussed. In next section concept of Feminization of poverty was introduced. Descriptive analysis indicates that female-headed households are worse off according to a variety of measures of welfare. Some statistical data about increasing of FHHs and their poor position in Iran has been analyzed in fifth section. Female-headed households are usually looked upon as a social problem in Iran. The increasing number of female-headed households has caught the attention of both researchers and politicians .In this section, the policies that made by Iranian government about FHH's welfare has been analyzed and evaluated. Moreover efficiency of government charity model to improve the welfare of FHHs has been estimated. Although the government of Iran allocated financial resource for FHH's pension but most of FHHs are living under poverty line. In the sixth section empowerment has been discussed as a solution. Hence Iranian policy makers focused on this issue. According finding of this study, government charity model had not considerable ability and resources for empowerment of female-headed households and in this respect, participation of civil society and NGO s is essential factor in empowerment of FHH.Finally as a case study "Seddiqin charity institution "as a NGO, is chosen to analyze and we explain its function and influence on FHH empowerment.


Female headed households (FHH), Empowerment, Feminization of poverty, Sedighin charity, Iran 


  1. Introduction:

The household is regarded as the fundamental social and/ or economic unit of society. Transformation at the household form, therefore, has impact at the aggregate level of a country. For instance, changes in household composition and structure have an impact on the distribution of goods and services, and on the planning of the public institutions, requirements for schools, housing and health infrastructure.

In recent decades the new form of households emerged. House headed by women have become more significant phenomenon worldwide in the last half of  20thand 21thcentury (Baros & Fox, 1997, p. 231).In 1960 only 9 percent of families with children in united state were headed by none married women; by 1999 the number was over 20 percent. (Min & Michael, 2003, p. 191)

A more recent occurrence in this direction is the increasing number of women headed households in developing countries that are emerging as a result of economic changes, economic downturns and social pressures, rather than as a product of cultural patterns. In many countries in the third world, like Asian or Latin American countries, in recent years, there has been a significant increase in the percentage of female-headed households (FHH).

This is critically important when considering that female-headed households (most of which are headed by lone mothers, are rising in number and proportion in most developing regions, currently constituting an estimated 13% of all households in the Middle East and North Africa, 16% in Asia, 22% in sub-Saharan Africa, and 24% in Latin America. (Bongaarts, 2001) As the study of the status of female household heads and their households is becoming important and is given a fairly new emphasis among women's issues, it is the belief of both policy makers and functionaries working in the area of gender and development that researches on areas related to female heads and their households should be given special priority and concern.

  1. FHH Definition:

Primary, the difference between family and household is discussed. A family, by definition, is a social institution that has a personal function of the reproduction and replacement of members (Schultz, 1976, p. 81). It is a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, owned or adopted, of the sexually cohabitant adults. (Murdock, 1949). In contrast the household has another meaning and it is "the basic residential unit in which economic production, consumption, inheritance, child rearing, and shelter are organized and carried out"; [the household] "may or may not be synonymous with family (Haviland, 2003)

 The headship of the household is usually identified with the person who has the greater authority in the family or household. Power and authority in turn may be vested in the member who has control over the general affairs of the family unit, including decision-making concerning its economic, social and political interactions. (Sanni, 2006)

Illo (1989) however cautions that while females are recognized as potential household heads, in reality, [official] data collection, men are most often ascribed the headship position “a practice that still subscribes to the patriarchal view that men provide for the family while the women nurture it. Thus, headship may be assigned without due regard to the actual economic contributions of the female members.

The gender of the head of the household is one of the most important characteristics of the household. When households are headed by women, it is generally hypothesized that these households are more likely to be economically deprived and to lack the proper emotional environment for psychosocial development in children.

Fuwa (1999) gives three broad categories of FHH definitions: self-reported, demographic, and economic. The self-reported household category is often created based on respondents statements in surveys and censuses, although there is no precise definition. Demographic definitions take account of FHHs where there is male partner that is temporarily not present, and of FHHs where the female head is separated, divorced, widowed or single (1999). Further disaggregation of households can be done in terms of de facto and de jure FHHs. De facto FHHs are those households where the self-reported male head is absent the majority of the time (Fuwa, 1999). De jure female-headed households are those usually headed by widows or unmarried, divorced or separated women. Finally, FHHs may be defined depending on the level of economic contribution of females to the household. Fuwa (1999) suggests defining headship in terms of the largest cash earner in the household. Rogers (1995) advocates a distinction in terms of the 'major earner,’ i.e. an earner who contributes 50 percent or more to the household earnings. Gammage (1989) uses the term ‘female- maintained’ to describe this particular type of household. Moreover, Rosenhouse (1989) uses the working head definition for the household member most heavily engaged in income-generating activities, which includes activities in the Labour  market as well as family Labour  (but excludes household chores or child care) in order to emphasize the dual burden attached to female workers.

The definition of female-headed household adopted for this study, is the one given by International Labour Organization (ILO): Household where either no adult males are present, owing to divorce, separation, migration, non-marriage or widowhood, or where men, although present, do not contribute to the household income. ( The ILO Thesaurus, 2005)

  1. Reasons of creation and proliferation of FHH:

According this definition there are many reason for creation of FHH. Among the main reason, we can imply to male migration, the deaths of males in civil conflicts and wars, divorce, and family disruption.

In respect of routes into female household headship, it is fair to say That these are more usually ‘involuntary’ than ‘by choice’ i.e. in cases Where women get pregnant and do not marry, or fall victim to Separation or divorce, men are more often the ones in the position of Determining and/or instigating the process. This is partly because in most societies the pressures on women to contain their sexuality within a stable partnership and/or to keep marriages afloat are greater than for men. (Chant, 2007)

What are the reasons behind the proliferation of FHHs? They vary, but in Europe and the United States an important reason has been the greater longevity of women compared with men, and the large percentage of women aged 60 and above (United Nations, 1995) Another reason, pertinent to these regions, is the greater social acceptability of single mothers, female participation in the modern economy, and access to housing. Who constitute female-headed households? It is helpful first to distinguish between de jure and de facto FHHs. De jure FHHs maintain their households alone, while de facto FHHs may include men who are unable or unwilling to work. Female-headed households may consist of elderly women (widowed or divorced) with no dependents, or younger women (divorced or never-married) with dependent children. FHHs may be permanent or transitory or embedded in a wider kin network of support. They may represent family breakdown or a conscious lifestyle choice. (Moghadam, 2005, p. 10)

 The majority of women in FHHs in developing countries are widowed, and to a lesser extent divorced or separated. In the developed countries most female-headed households consist of women who are never married or who are divorced. Perhaps because of flexible definitions of female headship, as well as inadequate data, estimates on the extent of FHHs tend to vary.

  1. Economic and social results of households with female supervisor:

Thus, female headship is a concept that attracts policy attention as a social and economic issue in many cases. Since a substantial segment of female- headed households are "man less" households or households with no permanent male resident contributing to household income, female headship may imply a heavy economic burden on women who have the responsibility of maintaining the households. The situation is assumed to be particularly critical in developing countries like Iran where social welfare systems which could support this group are nonexistent or inadequate.

In developing countries, the majority of households that are headed by women have many economic and social problems. FHH often faced with issues such as cultural discrimination, lack of access to job opportunities, low literacy and lack of regular income. Socio-Economic factor of poverty directly and indirectly affects on the cultural, social and ecological condition of FHH.

Poverty in female headed households is not an isolated case as literature maintains that women make up a disproportionate number of the poor. The United States also found that, of the world's poor, 60-70 percent is women. (Dungumaro, 2008)

Two African scholars asserted that there exists a strong relationship between female headed households and the incidence of poverty. There are several persuasive factors that attribute to the prevailing perception of feminization of poverty (Kimenyi & Mbaku, 1995, p. 44). They include disparities in rights, entitlements and feminization of Labor.

Rosenhouse (1989) termed such economic disadvantages as "triple burden." They are; (i) disadvantage that women experience in Labour  market and other means of income (ii) dual task which places time constrain (iii) higher dependency burden as in most cases women in these households are single earners as opposed MHHs who are mostly joint earners.

The feminization of poverty is key concept for describing FHH social and economic level. The feminization of poverty is the process whereby poverty becomes more concentrated among Individuals living in female-headed households. (Asgary & Pagán, 2004, p. 97)

The term “feminization of poverty” originated in the United States in the late 1970s, when it was discovered that the fastest growing type of family structure was that of female-headed households (Pearce, 1978). Moreover, because of the high rate of poverty among these households, their increase was mirrored in the growing numbers of women and children who were poor. By the mid-1980s, it was believed that half of all the poor in the U.S. lived in families headed by women in various stages of the life-cycle (Moghadam, 2005, p. 6).

U.S. census data showed that between 1966 and 1986, women consistently represented the majority of the poor population (56-57 percent female and 42-43 percent male). This was in part due to the lower wages earned by women compared with men. By the mid-1990s, about 20 percent of all U.S. households were headed by women, and of these, some 39 percent were below the poverty line. In 2000, the U.S. poverty rate was about 13 percent; that is, there were over 34 million impoverished individuals, and the majority of the poor are women and children. Even some workers with full-time, year-round labor force attachment earned poverty-level wages. (Moghadam, 2005, p. 7)At the same time as the U.S. studies, Women in development research was focusing on female household headship and its importance to development planning, particularly in light of rural poverty and labor migration (Buvinic & Youssef, 1978) Studies proliferated on female-headed households (FHHs) in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean and to a lesser degree, in South Asia (Dwyer & Bruce, 1988)These and other empirical studies found that women who head households have greater constraints in obtaining resources and services in housing and agriculture. Because women have less access to land, credits, capital, and jobs with good incomes, and because they are likely to have dependent children, they are disadvantaged and more vulnerable to poverty. The women in development studies thus recommended that poverty-alleviation policies explicitly target FHHs. (Moghadam, 2005)According chant (2007, p. 7)  feminization of poverty has some familiar feature.

· Women experience a higher incidence of poverty than men

· Women experience greater depth/severity of poverty than men (i.e. more women are likely to suffer ‘extreme’ poverty than men)

· Women are prone to suffer more persistent/longer-term poverty than men

· Women’s disproportionate burden of poverty is rising relative to men

· Women face more barriers to lifting themselves out of poverty

· The ‘feminization of poverty’ is linked with the ‘feminization of household headship’

· Women-headed households are the ‘poorest of the poor’

· Female household headship transmits poverty to children (‘inter-generational transmission of disadvantage’).



  1. FHH in Iran

Iran also is facing this problem. In recent years, Statistics show that divorce, unexpected accidents, immigration, crime and imprisonment have caused to increase of the number of female headed households.Female-headed families have been viewed as a sign of social pathology and the disruption of family and social values, resulting in poverty and economic inequality.According to official Iranian statistics, 9.45% of the country’s households have female providers in 2006.

Chart 1:Number of households in Iran based on Gender of households (Normal households, according gender and age of head of households and the number of people in household: Persian date Aban 1385, 2006)

Existing data on tells a considerable  realities, including a growing number and proportion of Female heads of households during the last four decades is such that in the years 1976, 1986 and 1996, female head of households have formed 7.1, 7.3 and 8.4 percent of the total Iranian households. (Women headed households become poorer and more every day, 2005)

According to Statistical center of Iran, nowadays near 10% of the country’s households have female providers, but some sociologist claims that the real number is closer to 15%. The authorities only count widows and divorced women in their statistics. (Kristiansen, 2003)Nevertheless, there are many women who are heads of their households of other reasons, because the husband is in jail, is a drug addict, old, ill or disabled. Or because the husband has left the family to find works in the city or abroad, or has fled Iran of political reasons.

Another significant issue is typology of Female Headed Households in Iran. According chart 2 65 percent of single person households have been formed by women.On the other hand, with the increasing of the number of household members, the percentage of households with female head is reduced. Hence this fact can be observed that the lowest number of female headed households were in households with seven or more members.

 Chart 2:Numbers of member households regarding to gender of head of household in Iran-2006 (Population Statistics, 2008)

According chart 3, the majority of families headed by women consist of one member, who has been widowed at the age of 60 and over.

Chart 3:Number of persons in households with female head based on age group of head of household-2006 (Population Statistics, 2008)

Finally it is concluded that the number of dependants in families headed by women is fewer than families headed men and majority of single person household in Iran is consisted from old widow women. In other word, the majority of families headed by women consist of one member, who has been widowed at the age of 65 and over.

According statistic 90% of elderly men have spouses whereas this statistic for elderly women is 51%.The ratio of elderly women who have been widowed is almost 4.9% times more than elderly widowers. (Motie, 2004)

It should to be noticed that the majority of old families headed by women consist of one person. But 3.3% of elderly women are considered to be economically active, whereas the same statistics for men is 61%. (Motie, 2004)

Approximately 72.5% of elderly men have retirement benefits or income not related to employment, these statistics regarding women is approximately 27.5%.

Another important aspect of FHH in Iran is employment. 14.06 Women heads of households out of the entire number, (9.4%) are employed and 86% are not directly active in job market and have another way for earning money.

Activity status













No working income
















Table1: FHH's Activity status -2006 (Population Statistics, 2008)

The majority of urban women heads of households are employed in service industries, whereas in rural areas these women mainly consist of simple agricultural workers. Over half of internal immigrants in this country are women, the majority of whom travel to large cities for education and employment purposes. Only 22.5% of women heads of household are active in the formal sector. In Iran’s urban society 31.4% women heads of household are employed or have income unrelated to employment, 62.4% are housewives. This statistic in the rural societies is respectively 44.2% and 49.4%. In other words the majority of urban and rural women heads of household relies on financial supports from other members of their families and do not have a stable income. Moreover inadequate pension of women heads of household has often resulted in their employment in the private and unofficial sectors. (Motie, 2004)

One third of the poor women worked, but because there are no good and cheap day care systems, working at home was the most typical, like laundry and sewing. Some of them also brought their young children to work. 70% of the women were not working and lived on support from the government or family. (Kristiansen, 2003)

Literacy status of women headed households is as follows: In terms of literacy, 71% of illiterate women headed households compared with the average amount of illiteracy in Iran shows a huge gap. (Women headed households, 2007) In addition the poor women in had low reading and writing skills, but this was not true of their children. Almost all of the children that participated in the study went to school, and none of them were school dropouts. The literacy rate or levels of education of women’s heads of household is far lower than that of men. Therefore, women heads of household have far less access to higher income jobs.

For more than half of the poor women the cause of headship was their husbands’ deaths, while divorce was the reason for 18%. The others stated the reason for headship that their husband was drug addict, refugee, in jail or disabled. In families where the husbands were not totally absent, many of women reported great problems with bad treatment from their ex-husbands, like violence or threats of violence. Furthermore women looked upon kinship and the family network as important, especially mother and sisters. More than half of the poor women lived together with their own parents or other family members in their own family, while one quarter lived with husband’s family. This means that women without husbands mainly are supported by their own family. So in spite of laws and traditions that prescribe that married women belong to the husband’s family; it is the women’s families that support them when poverty prevails. (Kristiansen, 2003)

But in the old people different situation is observed. The demographic decline in families and changing attitudes in inter-generation relations deteriorates care taking of the elderly, whereas their need for care is higher than ever. This issue affects old women more. With the increase in the age of head of household, the economical well-being of the family decreases. Considering the average age of women heads of household, these families are placed in the lowest income brackets. (Motie, 2004)

According Shadi Talab study (2004, pp. 63-54)While more than 50 percent female head of households has formed the poorest groups, male head of households are 16 percent. In other words, women headed households represent "poorest poor" social groups.The main findings of this study indicate that women are at increased risk of poverty and that the poverty rate of female headed households is higher than the poverty rate of male headed households, but the gap between the two groups has diminished. While the poverty rate of female headed households in urban areas has decreased, uneducated and low literate female headed households remain at high risk of poverty. Also, the study indicates that as the number of income earners in these families increase, the likelihood of poverty in the poorest segments of this population decreases. Female headed households of Iran, because of low education levels, small families and fewer numbers of income earners within the family can be classified as the poorest groups living in poverty.

According to Imam Khomeini Relief Committee 29 percent of households below the poverty line are households with female head.

  1. Government policies for reducing poverty among FHH:

For fighting against FHH's poverty some work has been done by government of Iran. Today some organization like Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, Ministry of Welfare and Social Security and Behzisti (welfare organization) are trying to reduce poverty among FHH.

Principles of constitutional law and civil laws in Iran have referred to special support of the women and procurement of their salary. By virtue of the fourth plan of development, the government is obliged to take action regarding preparation of master plan for empowering the women supervising their family. This plan can be implemented on the basis of cooperation of the organizations, foundations, and nongovernmental associations. In recent years, number of the families which are managed by women and live under poverty line is increasing due to traditional and legal limitations and social and economic problems.

 After Islamic Revolution, "Imam Khomeini Relief Committee", a charity organization affiliated with the government, dealt with female headed household welfare issues. Imam Khomeini's Relief Committee was founded in March 1979 as a charity organization to provide support for poor families. The aim was to help such families regain financial stability. This foundation is supported by Iranian government and also receives the Islamic taxes of Khums and Zakat, as well as voluntaries aids.

For the poor women, charity organizations are important for economic support, while there was little help to get from the government. The support that according to the law of 1992 is supposed to be given to needy women and children only covers 5-10% of the total expenses of a family of five persons. (Kristiansen, 2003)

The Imam Khomeini Relief Committee covered 1023773 female headed households with 1997995 members in 2008. (Statistical Yearbook 1387, 2008).This charity pays 30$ each FHH per month as the Pension. Moreover 174000 women headed households are covered by Behzisti (welfare organization) in 2010. These people are paid monthly pension (Barimani, 2010).This data shows that more that 70% of FHHs in Iran need assistantship of Charities. If this statistic is compared with percentage of employment of FHH employment this fact is found that FHH have not Ways and means.

According section L article 97 The "law of Fourth social and economic and cultural development plan in Iran "(2005-2010) with purpose of reducing and preventing social calamities, government is bound to take measure and prepare comprehensive plan to increasing monthly pension of needy and unprotected families and women heads of households under patronage of protective organization on the base of at least 40% of the salary and wage in the first year of plan. (Law of the Fourth social,economic and cultural development plan of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 2004)    

But actually monthly pension of women heads of households has been remained on level of 10 to 20 percent annual minimum wage since the first year of plan. (Mohammadi, 2009)

In fact the highest amount that protective organizations are paying to under patronage FHH as the pension is 60 dollars. This 60 $ is paid to the woman who has five members in her household.Otherwise, to single person or small household as pension 32 dollars are paid. The Ministry of Labor and Social affair announced 305 dollars as 2010 minimum salary. According law 40 percent of minimum wage are equivalent of 120 to 130 dollars. On the contrary what the women headed households reaches is finally 60 dollars. (Report on the status of women headed households in Iran, 2010)

Despite government's effort for better financing for FHH, growing rate of creation of this type of households requires more resources.Mr. Musa Reza Servati, Member of Parliament's social commission, said: The budget ofwomen headed household's protective organizationhas been increased 20 %.He remarked that Behzisti's (Welfare Organization) Budget in 2007 years has been approximately 457 million dollars and it was increased to 473 million dollars in 2008.He also remarked 20 % of budget of  the Welfare Organization in current  year  is allocated women headed households. More over Iran's parliament has allocated 1,186,000,000$ for Imam Khomeini Relief committee in 2007 and billed 1,400,000,000 in 2008 .The parliament also determined 20 % of credit this year for women headed households . (Abadi, 2009)

This means that despite the enormous budget allocated to women headed households practically between 20 and 30 dollars has been paid as pension to every household. In addition the government presently owes considerable sums to the social security fund which it will not be able to pay in the near future.

It should be mentioned that the latest research and statistics of Imam Khomeini Relief Committee shows 7,050,000 people are protected by the Relief Committee. Furthermore This Committee is paying pension to approximately 4,000,000 people.  According this data these people are living under the absolute poverty line. (Samadi, 2009)

This problem mostly affects the disabled, the elderly and women heads of household, who will be likely to suffer the most as result of inadequate resources in the system.

In addition to the Social Security Organization Behzisti Organization, which is also responsible for supporting women heads of household, families without heads and their children has not been able to achieve the Third Development Plan objectives financially. Moreover with same situation it cannot realize Fourth Development plan goals.

Finally, despite the noticeable increase in funds of Imam Khomeini Relief Committee and Behzisti (welfare organization) they have not effectively been able to meet with basic needs of the urban and rural elderly and women heads of household.



  1. Empowerment as a solution:

However restrictions on financial resources and increase the number of FHH caused to policymakers pursuit empowerment policies rather than direct contribution. Moreover direct payment makes dependent these households to government and they cannot be independent and active unite in the society. In this framework, the empowerment approach focuses on mobilizing the self-help efforts of the poor, rather than providing them with social welfare. Economic empowerment is also the empowering of disadvantaged sections of the population like FHH.

The empowerment prepares a framework for the FHH in which they can be independent, productive and active in the society. Then the main question is what women's empowerment?

The word "empowerment" is used in many different contexts and by many different organizations. For example, literature about "empowerment" is found in the fields of education, social work, psychology, in US radical politics in the 1960s and community development groups in the North and South, as well as in the work of feminist and development organizations. (Oxaal & Baden, 1997, p. 1)

 The concept of women empowerment was introduced at the international women conference at NAROIBI in 1985.  Women's empowerment has five components:  women's sense of self-worth; their right to have and to determine choices; their right to have access to opportunities and resources; their right to have the power to control their own lives, both within and outside the home; and their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally. (Sushama, 1998, p. 11)

The idea of power is at the root of the term empowerment. Power can be understood as operating in a number of different ways:

power over

This power involves an either/or relationship of domination/subordination. Ultimately, it is based on socially sanctioned threats of violence and intimidation, it requires constant vigilance to maintain, and it invites active and passive resistance;

power to:

 This power relates to having decision-making authority, power to solve problems and can be creative and enabling;

power with

This power involves people organizing with a common purpose or common understanding to achieve collective goals;

Power within

This power refers to self confidence, self awareness and assertiveness. It relates to how can individuals can recognize through analyzing their experience how power operates in their lives, and gain the confidence to act to influence and change this.


Table2: Definitions of power and empowerment in practice (Williams, Seed, & Mwau, 1994)


UNICEF has adopted the Women's Empowerment Framework, developed by Sara Longwe, as an appropriate approach to be used in mainstreaming gender. The framework states that women's development can be viewed in terms of five level of equality in which empowerment is an essential element at each level. The levels are:

1. Welfare: this addresses only the basic needs of women, without recognizing or attempting to solve the underlying structural causes which necessitate provision of welfare services. Women are merely passive beneficiaries of welfare benefits.

2. Access: equality of access to resources such as educational opportunities, land and credit is essential for women to make meaningful progress. The path of empowerment is initiated when women recognize lack of access to resources as a barrier to their growth and overall well-being and take action to redress this.

3. Awareness-raising: for women to take appropriate action to close gender gaps or gender inequalities there must be recognition that their problems stem from inherent structural and institutional discrimination. They must also recognize the role that women themselves often play in reinforcing the system that restricts their growth.

4. Participation: this is the point where women take decisions equally alongside men. Mobilization is necessary in order to reach this level. Women will be empowered to gain increased representation, by organizing themselves and working collectively, which will lead to increased empowerment and ultimately greater control.

5. Control: The ultimate level of equality and empowerment, where there is a balance of power between women and men and neither has dominance. Women are able to make decisions regarding their lives and the lives of their children and play an active role in the development process. The contributions of women are fully recognized and rewarded. (UNICEF, 1994)

  1. The role and position of NGOs in empowerment

Furthermore The Human Development Report (UNDP, 1995) stresses that empowerment is about Participation. Development must be by people, not only for them. People must participate fully in the decisions and processes that shape their lives. but at the same time promotes a rather instrumentalist view of empowerment; Investing in women's capabilities and empowering them to exercise their choices is not only valuable in itself but is also the surest way to contribute to economic growth and overall development .

This concept of empowerment without public participation is unimaginable.  Empowerment is essentially a bottom-up process rather than something that can be formulated as a top-down strategy. Understanding empowerment in this way means that development agencies cannot claim to "empower women". Women must empower themselves. Devising coherent policies and programs for women's empowerment requires careful attention, because external agencies/bodies tend to be positioned with "power-over" target populations. The training of development professionals, in government, NGOs or donor agencies does not always equip them to consult and involve others, which supporting empowerment requires. (Oxaal & Baden, 1997, p. 6)

The current popularity of the term empowerment in development coincides with recent questioning of the efficacy of central planning and the role of the state, and moves by donor governments and multilateral funding agencies to embrace NGOs as partners in development. Political and institutional problems have gained prominence on the development agenda with a focus on human rights, good governance and participation. (Razavi & Miller, 1995)

Hence central planning for FHH empowerment in Iran, need to increasing financial and human recourses, and the government could not afford it. Consequently the way for the presence of civil society organizations was paved by government. A large number of educated women heads of households voluntarily created NGOs to empower poor FHH. These NGOs observe empowerment in various aspect such as Education (Life skills, job oriented, health, and law), Entrepreneurship (job loan, technical aids), counseling and employment.

  1. NGOs and FHH empowerment In Iran:

Women Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in the form of charities that provide services such as food, medication, and education, became formally recognized entities in the aftermath of the 1906 constitutional revolution (Kazemi, 1996). But they had a low profile in Iranian society. At the time of the 1979 revolution, there were 45 NGOs working on women’s issues, predominantly on economic issues. They generally dealt with poor women and single-parent families, offering grants or self-employment loans. (Namazi, 2002)

 Most were linked to the state, and many were abolished after the revolution. Following the 1979 revolution, a number of new NGOs emerged with the goal of furthering Islamic values. They were politically motivated organizations, committed to presenting an “authentic” image of the “Muslim Woman.”

With Khatami’s election in 1997 and the increased attention given to women and civil society during his administration, there was a sudden proliferation of women’s NGOs. According to Khatami’s advisor on women’s affairs, Zahra Shojaie, the number of NGOs rose by 318 percent during his presidency. (Women’s Rights and Democracy:Peaceful Transformation in Iran, 2006)

 Some of these organizations went beyond charity, education, and reproductive health and became engaged in political, cultural, and legal aspects of women’s rights.The shift have happened because women believe that fundamental changes are possible within the society. Women NGOs had a very active role in changing the focus of attention from reform through the state toward reform through civil society.

 With the understanding that increased awareness among women was a vital factor in promoting democracy and women’s rights, activists set out to launch campaigns focused on information and capacity building, education and communication, and domestic violence. Attention was also given to building the capacity of fledgling NGOs; however, most NGOs avoided taking on the issues in an overtly political manner, and opted instead to lay the in civil society (Women’s Rights and Democracy:Peaceful Transformation in Iran, 2006).

  1. Sedighin Charity Institute (SDI)on empowering the family supervising women

Finally as a case study "Seddiqin charity institution" is chosen to analyze and we explain its function and influence on FHH empowerment.

One of the most important NGOs emerged in Khatami Era is Sedighin charity institution. This paper regards some concerns which Sedighin Charity Institute mentions about problems of the supervising women in different societies and Iran as well as presentation of some solutions for solving the problems of this group of women and their families.

Sedighin Charity Institute started its activity in Dec. 2001 by aiming at empowering the supervising women under registration No. 43/76993 by Ministry of the Interior. The mission of this institute is to empower supervising women and their families and all activities of this institute is nonpolitical and non profit in accordance with Article 2 of Articles of Association. (Shababi, 2010, p. 2)

This NGO created by educated women heads of households and managed by them. All of this people are supervisor of their family and have job and high social position in Academic or economic aspects.




Zahra Bonyaniyan

Managing Director

MA - International Law

Mehrshad  Shababi


 PhD - Political Science

Maliha muazzin Qamsari

Board Member

MA – Public Administration

Fatemeh Hajian Moghadam

Board Member

PhD students - Cultural Management

Shahnaz Pezshek

Board Member

MA - Anthropology



Table 3: Mangers and Board of Sedighin Charity (Seddighin Charity Website)

Main objective of this institute is support and empower the target groups by giving financial and non- financial aids and legal, family, economic and employment consultations as well as to create job opportunities for this group of women and their children and to fulfill mental, psychological and cultural needs of their children through cultural-recreational activities and to promote cultural and educational levels of the women in order to prevent from social damages of these groups and those supervised by them.

Sedighin Charity Institute suggests some plans and methods for removing deprivation from this class all of which are summarized in empowering process. Empowerment is a complex process of changes of mental, psychobiological, spiritual, social and cultural factors and indices. Failure to promote each one of these sections can damage empowerment process; as a result, it is necessary to take action regarding realization of the following goals in accordance with empowerment master plan. (Shababi, 2010)

As referred above, empowerment is a complex process of positive and continual changes in mental, psychobiological, spiritual, social and cultural factors and indices. Goals of the empowerment master plan are as follows:

1-Mental empowerment of the assistance seekers:

• Study on mental health condition of assistance seekers and intervention for problem solving (removal of the tensions and problems which are serious obstacles to empowerment).

• Preparation of the assurance seekers for conscious entrance and active participation in empowerment process

• Increase of compatibility skills in assistance seekers

• Promoting management power in themselves and families (All of these cases are performed through individual and group consultations and formation of teamwork with use of experienced professors in the field of consultation and psychology)

2-Social and cultural empowerment of the assistance seekers:

• promoting level of knowledge, technical and vocational skills and life skills in assistance seeker (by creation of necessary facilities for the assistance seekers in order to continue studies and necessary coordination so that her education and training don’t damage her work and care of the children)

• Promoting social identity and active participation of the assistance seeker in social activities (by providing the opportunities for the assistance seeker to have social participation in addition to work).

• Promoting suitable relation level in the family (by providing the opportunity for the these persons to use pilgrimage and tourism trips with their families as well as holding classes for increasing skill of relationship with family member)

• Promoting social interactions in accordance with social customs

3-Biological empowerment:

• helping teat the diseases and train how to prevent from diseases (by covering them under Therapeutic services insurance as well as identifying charitable physicians and introducing them to the assistance seekers in need and giving necessary information regarding prevention from diseases).

• Empowering the assistance seeker regarding health with emphasis on suitable and varied nutrition

• Training and building culture of sport

4-Spiritual empowerment:

• reinforcing spiritual morale and feeling of confidence in the assistance seeker

• reinforcing religious morale through thinking and religion

5-Economic empowerment:

• helping the assistance seekers promote on the educational or technical and vocational basis in accordable with needs of the labor market

• making effort to employ the assistance seekers and promote their job skill, satisfaction and security

• providing necessary services for economic empowerment with emphasis on assistance seeker

• making effort to make the assistance seeker independent (self employment) It is necessary to note that this plan can be generalized in the country and be implemented in many other countries with partial differences commensurate with customs of the countries.

Empowerment activities:

Of activities of this institute are to establish Pazhoohesh Gostar Service Company under registration No. 188817 and to establish Soorchin semi industrial kitchen as well as to create and equip dressmaking workshop under trade name of Piratan and to train the assistance seekers with use of professors of Alzahra University which was confirmed by Islamic Development Bank (IDB) granting $19000 to the institute. These actions led to employment of many assistance seekers covered by the institute. Design of ATEK (Education, experience, work) empowering model which is herewith attached and implementation of the related model and creation of educational workshops: dressmaking, computer, repair of mobile, photography, cinematography and assembly are of other activities of this institute. It is necessary to note that more than 400 assistance seekers have been trained in ATEK design and more than half of them were empowered. (Shababi, 2010) In table 3 elaborated empowerment programs is summarized:

Table 3: Empowerment activities in SCI

SDI offers both of formal and informal educational courses for Female heads of households.Sedighin charity institution succeeds to obtain license of Vocational Training Educational Complex. All of these courses are job oriented. These courses include: information technology (hardware and software), sewing and Finance, Commerce and Accounting.

  1. Conclusion

In many developing countries as elsewhere, there has been a significant increase in the percentage of female-headed households (FHH) in recent years. Among the main causes are male migration, the deaths of males in civil conflicts and wars, unpatented adolescent fertility and family disruption. Development initiatives have often tried to direct resources and services to FHHs on the assumption that they were poorer than households headed by men (MHHs) and less able to improve their situation without special help

In Iran, On the basis of census of 2006, more than 1,641,000(9.45%) households headed by the women have been identified. Increase of these households is considerable in recent years due to increase of other social phenomena such as divorce and addiction and unemployment of husband. On the basis of statistics in 1976, 1986, 1996, families managed by women have comprised of 7.1, 7.3 and 8.4% of the total Iranian families respectively.

 On the basis of results of this census, out of 1,641,000 women supervising the family in the country, more than 1,410,000 ones i.e. about 86% have been unemployed and only 14% has been employed.

More than 50% of the families managed by women are in the first and second deciles i.e. the poorest groups. 71% of the women supervising their families have low education or are illiterate and poverty and illiteracy have direct and indirect effect on physical and mental health and cultural and social status of these women and their families.

Unfortunately, many women supervising the family are in poor, low income group and those lacking necessary skills for employment and there are other barriers to their growth and development.

Despite the noticeable raise in funds of Imam Khomeini Relief Committee and Behzisti (welfare organization) to more than 1.5 billion $ in year (2008) they have not effectively able to meet with basic needs of the urban and rural women heads of household. These organizations pay between 30$ to 60$ to more than 1,200,000 FHH as pension. But most of FHH are living under poverty line. 

Hence, limitations on fiscal resources and raise the number of FHH led to policymakers pursuit empowerment policies rather than direct contribution. Furthermore direct payment makes needy these households to government and they cannot be self-sufficient and active unite in the society. In this framework, the empowerment approach emphasized on mobilizing the self-help efforts of the poor, rather than providing them with social welfare. Economic empowerment is also the empowering of disadvantaged sections of the population like FHH.

In this paper according Nairobi conference, Women's empowerment has five components:  women's sense of self-worth; their right to have and to determine choices; their right to have access to opportunities and resources; their right to have the power to control their own lives, both within and outside the home; and their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally.But it should be mentioned that empowerment is about Participation. Development must be by people, not only for them. People must participate fully in the decisions and processes that shape their lives. but at the same time promotes a rather instrumentalist view of empowerment; Investing in women's capabilities and empowering them to exercise their choices is not only valuable in itself but is also the surest way to contribute to economic growth and overall development.Hence central planning for FHH empowerment in Iran, need to increasing financial and human recourses, and the government could not afford it. Consequently the way for the presence of civil society organizations was paved by government. A large number of educated women heads of households voluntarily created NGOs to empower poor FHH. These NGOs observe empowerment in various aspect such as Education (Life skills, job oriented, health, and law), Entrepreneurship (job loan, technical aids), counseling and employment.

One of the most important women NGOs emerged in Iran is Sedighin charity institution. Sedighin Charity Institute is seeking the solution for problems of the supervising women in Iran through empowerment.Sedighin Charity Institute suggests some plans and methods for removing deprivation from this class all of which are summarized in empowering process.

It is necessary to note that this sample can be generalized in Iran and be implemented in many developing countries with partial differences commensurate with customs of the countries.























The ILO Thesaurus.(2005). Retrieved September 16, 2009, from International Labour organization (ILO) Web Site:

Abadi, M. H. (2009, August 3). Women in the maze of life. Resalat Newspaper , p. 6.

Asgary, N., & Pagán, J. (2004). Relative Employment and Earnings of Female Household Heads in Mexico, 1987-1995’,J. Journal of Developing Areas , 1 (38), 93-106.

Barimani, S. (2010, September 13). 50000 women heads of household welfare are waiting for welfare organization. Retrieved October 3, 2010, from Mehrnews:

Baros, R., & Fox, L. (1997). Female headed households,poverty and welfare of childeren in urban brazil. Economic Development and Cultural Change , 45 (2), 231-257.

Bongaarts, J. (2001). Household Size and Composition in the Developing world. newyork: Population Council.

Buvinic, M., & Youssef, N. (1978). Woman-headed households: The ignored factor in development planning. Report submitted to the Office of Women in Development,. USAID. Washington, DC: ICRW.

Chant, S. (2007). Children In Female-Headed Households:Interrogating The Concept Of An ‘Inter-Generational Transmission Of Disadvantage’ With Particular ReferenceTo The Gambia, Philippines And CostaRica. London School of Economics. London: Gender Institute.

Dungumaro, E. W. (2008, september 22). Gender differentials in household structure and socioeconomic characteristics in South Africa.(Report). Journal of Comparative Family Studies .

Dwyer, D., & Bruce, J. (1988). A home divided: Women and income in the third world. . Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

Fuwa, N. (1999). The Poverty and Heterogeneity among Female Headed Households Revisited:The Case of Panama. Matsudo-City: Chiba University.

Gammage, S. (1989). The Gender Dimension of Household Poverty: Is Headship Still a Useful Concept?’. International Center.

Haviland, W. (2003). Anthropology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Illo, J. F. (1989). "Who Heads the Household? Women in Households in the Philippines". The Filipino Women in Focus .

Kazemi, F. ”. (1996). Civil Society and Iranian Politics. In A. R. Norton (Ed.), Civil Society in the Middle East. New York: Brill.

Kimenyi, M. S., & Mbaku, J. M. (1995). “Female Headship, Feminization of Poverty and Welfare. Southern Economic Journal , 62 (1), 44-52.

Kristiansen, N. (2003, 08 18). IRANIAN FEMALE HEADED HOUSEHOLDS. Retrieved 4 2010, 18, from KILDEN-Norwegian Information and Documentation Centre for Women's Studies and Gender Research:

Law of the Fourth social,economic and cultural development plan of the Islamic Republic of Iran.(2004, September 1). Retrieved April 17, 2006, from United Nation Public Administration Network:

Min, Z., & Michael, S. (2003). Assets, Expectations, and Children's Educational Achievement in Female-Headed Households. The Social Service Review , 77 (2), 191-211.

Moghadam, V. (2005). THE ‘FEMINIZATION OF POVERTY’AND WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS. Division of Human Rights, Gender Equality and Development Section. Paris: UNESCO.

Mohammadi, E. (2009, February 2). Women headed households requires immediate consideration of government. Retrieved April 26, 2010, from khabronline:

Motie, N. (2004). Women and Poverty . NGO Reports on B+10,SITUATION ANALYSIS OF WOMEN IN IRAN 10 YEARS AFTER BEIJING, Asian pasific women's watch.

Murdock, G. P. (1949). Social Structure. Newyork: The Macmillan co.

Namazi, B. (2002). Study on Community Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations in Iran. (S. Akhtary, Trans.) Tehran: Municipality Publication.

Normal households, according gender and age of head of households and the number of people in household: Persian date Aban 1385. (2006). (s. c. Iran, Producer, & statistical center of Iran) Retrieved 4 30, 2010, from statistical center of Iran Web site:

Oxaal, Z., & Baden, S. (1997). Gender and empowerment:definitions, approaches and implications for policy. Institute of Development Studies, BRIDGE (development - gender). Brighton: University of Sussex.

Pearce, D. M. (1978). The feminization of poverty: Women, work and welfare. Urban Social Change Review, , 28-36.

(2008). Population Statistics. Tehran: Center for Women and Family Affairs-president of Islamic republic office.

Razavi, S., & Miller, C. (1995). ‘From WID to GAD: Conceptual Shifts in the Women and Development Discourse’. Geneva: UNRISD.

Report on the status of women headed households in Iran.(2010, March 9). Retrieved April 22, 2010, from Radio France International Web site:

Rogers, B. L. (1995). Alternative definitions of female headship in the Dominican Republic. World Development , 23 (12), 2033-2039.

Rosenhouse, S. (1989). Identifying the Poor: Is ‘Headshipa Useful Concept?’. World Bank Living Standard Measurement Study.

Samadi, N. (2009, October 11). The variables of poverty line in Iran. Retrieved April 2010, 22, from Mowj News Agency:


Schultz, R. W. (1976). Marriage, Family, Capital and Fertility. Journal of Political Economy , 81.

Seddighin Charity Website. (n.d.). Retrieved April 2010, 22, from

Shababi, M. (2010). Empowering the family supervising women. Retrieved April 2010, 11, from Office of high commisioner of human right-UN.

shadi talab, J. (2004). The poverty of female headed household. Women research(in persian) , 2 (1), 49-70.

Statistical Yearbook 1387. (2008). Retrieved April 2010, 23, from Imam Khomeini relife committee:

Sushama, S. (1998). “Women and Empowerment. New Delhi: Discovering house.

UNDP. (1995). Human Development Report 1995. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

UNICEF. (1994). ‘Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls: A Policy Review’. UNICEF Programme Committee,.

United Nations. (1995). The world’s women 1995: Trends and statistics. New York:: UN.

Williams, S., Seed, J., & Mwau, A. (1994). Oxfam Gender Training Manual. Oxford: Oxfam.

Women headed households.(2007, January 14). Retrieved April 2010, 16, from Expediency Discernment Council of the System:

Women headed households become poorer and more every day. (2005, February 15). Kar va Kargar Newspaper(in persian) .

(2006). Women’s Rights and Democracy:Peaceful Transformation in Iran. Hunt Alternatives Fund, The Initiative for Inclusive Security Policy Commission. The Initiative for Inclusive Security Policy Commission.