Gender and Entrepreneurship in Iran

Roksana Bahramitash, Hadi Salehi Esfahani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The issue of female entrepreneurship has become a globally important topic in recent years, especially for countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Yet, in the case of Iran the topic remains under-researched despite the significance of female entrepreneurship as means of addressing the disproportionately high unemployment within the educated female work force. This article presents the findings from a survey that uses the World Bank Enterprise Survey questionnaire to document the characteristics of a sample of enterprises in Iran. The results suggest that entrepreneurship rate among Iranian women falls within the regional variation and remains low relative to other regions of world outside Asia. Low female entrepreneurship is mostly distinct among small and medium enterprises (SMEs). On the positive side, however, women entrepreneurs in Iran (similar to the rest of MENA) tend to be better represented in larger firms. The research highlights some of the notable characteristics of female entrepreneurship, indicating a high presence in the service sector, especially gender-segregated activities, as well as in some new and growing industries such as electronics and information technology. Our data shows that female-owned enterprises in Iran tend to face particular challenges in accessing some infrastructure services, particularly telecoms and the Internet. Yet, there were fewer complaints among female entrepreneurs regarding other aspects of business, such as obtaining permits and paying taxes, in comparison to the rest of the MENA region. Many female entrepreneurs indicated that international economic sanctions were a major obstacle for their business, predominantly because female-owned firms are new and tend to depend more on technology and foreign trade. Generally, a large part of gender differences in terms of enterprise ownership could be explained by firm size and industrial characteristics of female-owned firms, though one needs also to recognize challenges women face with regard to attitudes toward gender roles and stereotypes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)293-312
Number of pages20
JournalMiddle East Critique
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 26 2014


  • Gender and Entrepreneurship
  • World Bank Enterprise Survey
  • women in Iran
  • women's economic status
  • women's employment
  • women's entrepreneurship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations


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