The Islamic Republic of Iran: youth and women at the centre of its challenges and opportunities


Peace, Security & Defence

Picture of Claudio Providas
Claudio Providas

UNDP Resident Representative in Iran

Photo of This article is part of our Iran in Focus series.
This article is part of our Iran in Focus series.

Click here to learn more

Show more information on This article is part of our Iran in Focus series.

Friends of Europe’s Iran in Focus series aims to identify new approaches to diplomatic relations with Iran by establishing an understanding of the domestic political context and recent developments in international relations that jointly underpin the country’s political decision-making.

By taking a wider perspective on security and focusing on the role of women, the state of civil society and the human rights situation in the country, the series brings a fresh and informed perspective on diplomatic engagement that empowers domestic activism.

Amplifying a varied range of voices, these think pieces examine the challenges and opportunities of civic movements and organisations in Iran. Priorities include women’s rights and political participation, freedom of speech and of the media, the humanitarian considerations of international sanctions, and the role of international actors in Iran.

Our articles and the Iran in Focus series as a whole will engage with these overlapping themes, promote new and diverse opinions, and provide a coherent and progressive reconfiguration of diplomatic relations with Iran, including concrete conclusions and recommendations, based on strategic thinking and mutual interests.

Related content:

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by all the United Nations member states in 2015 provide a shared vision and framework to combat poverty, protect the environment and foster peace. While some progress has been made, progress is insufficient, and vulnerable populations continue to bear the brunt of conflict, inequality, injustice and climate change. Iran faces a myriad of internal and external challenges, including unilateral economic sanctions, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change-induced events, inflation and rising food prices, and the most vulnerable have been heavily affected. Moreover, these difficulties, coupled with growing inequality and high youth unemployment, have led to social unrest.

While economic stagnation, perceived corruption and restrictions on personal freedoms have led many young Iranians to seek opportunities abroad, Iran’s youth and educated middle class play a pivotal role in shaping the country’s future. Iran’s population is relatively young compared to other countries in the region. Having a youthful population is an advantage and opportunity for the country from an economic development point of view; this ‘demographic bonus’ is expected to reach its peak by 2042. It is a window of opportunity that arises when the proportion of the working-age population is greater than the dependent’s population. Seizing this opportunity requires adequate public policies in education, health and employment, to ensure that young people have access to opportunities and can contribute to the economic and social development of the country.

The erosion of past development gains includes the decline in human development indicators, especially in women’s health and education. Estimates find that from 30% up to half of the population might be now living below or just above a national relative income poverty line. Addressing these challenges requires a collective effort and a shared vision for development choices.

By addressing grievances, promoting dialogue and fostering an environment of trust, Iran can unlock its true potential and build a prosperous and equitable future

The UN system plays a crucial role in Iran, offering a legitimate and impartial platform for discussing and implementing development solutions. Leveraging its convening power and access to global networks, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is well-equipped to address complex development challenges by shortening the time to market and providing innovative and transparent programmes. Through evidence-based advocacy, flagship programmes and collaboration with other UN entities, the UNDP seeks to provide transformative solutions and opportunities for Iran’s population. The multilateral platform is especially relevant for a country that has historically balanced its relations between the East and the West.

For example, in 2022, the UNDP initiated the ‘Green & Digital’ programme, promoting a green economy in rural communities, focussed on fair trade, climate-smart agriculture and reduced plastic usage. By establishing rural digital hubs and supporting local producers, particularly women, the programme enhances economic diversification and access to new digital markets. Water use savings of 30%, a reduction of pesticide use by 40% and a 15% boost in productivity are results that, if taken to scale, could help reverse migration trends, generate employment thus reducing poverty, and address the water stress and energy challenges in vulnerable provinces.

Iran faces a multitude of challenges that demand comprehensive solutions. As exemplified by the commitment of multilateral institutions, such as the UNDP, inclusive development policies, environmentally sustainable practices, an enabling environment for entrepreneurship and the economic empowerment of youth and women can address current social concerns, presenting an opportunity for positive change. By addressing grievances, promoting dialogue and fostering an environment of trust, Iran can unlock its true potential and build a prosperous and equitable future.

The views expressed in this #CriticalThinking article reflect those of the author(s) and not of Friends of Europe.

Related activities

view all
view all
view all
Track title


Stop playback
Video title


Africa initiative logo