05/30/2018, 19.18
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For Iranian businesswoman, Trump's sanctions affect people, not the government

Leila Daneshvar, one of Iran’s first businesswomen, founded a company that makes equipment for the disabled and the elderly. The nuclear deal had paved the way for foreign investments. Her sales had doubled, profits had multiplied. The White House wiped out all that. With workers laid off and production costs quintupled, the future is uncertain.

Tehran (AsiaNews) - The decision by US President Donald Trump to cancel the nuclear deal with Iran (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and impose new sanctions against Tehran, the toughest in history according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are not just geopolitical or strategic choices. They have repercussions – often serious and disastrous – on people's lives, especially in Iran, where "collateral" effects will be greater.

The story of Leila Daneshvar, one of the first women to head a company in the Islamic Republic, is a case in point.

For years, as she told Middle East online, she fought in a male-dominated society, in a predominantly male world, to promote her own company to produce mobility equipment for hospitals, seniors and the disabled.

One of a small breed of women entrepreneurs, Leila was able to make a breakthrough thanks to help of a European investor, until money dried up because of Trump’s decision a few weeks ago.

She had this dream since her childhood, when she sat on the floor of her father’s mechanical workshop.

"[I]n those days, there were no mechanical careers in Iran, so I went to college in India. Even there, I was the only girl in my year of 139 students. I had a hard time," she remembers.

But she persevered. And now, at 37, she runs her own company in Iran, making mobility equipment.

"I went to Europe and saw how disabled people live happy, independent lives. I wished my own people had this equipment, and I thought: 'This doesn't look complicated. I'm a mechanical engineer – I can do it.'"

The breakthrough for the company, called KTMA and selling under the brand "Lord", came in early 2016, just after Iran's nuclear deal with world powers came into force, ending international sanctions.

Within a couple of months, a Swedish investor, Anna Russberg, had agreed to buy 25 per cent of the company, bringing much-needed business acumen and capital.

"It worked. People could tell we were a good mix. We respect each other's knowledge. She's the engineer, I'm the businesswoman."

Being women in Iran's patriarchal business world could be tricky, but also an advantage.

"Hijab is difficult when you're a manufacturer. You have to climb things, go below things," said Leila, laughing. "But being a woman has its advantages. Everyone remembers you."

Things were looking up: low production costs meant they could charge five times less than foreign firms and they were doubling sales each year, finally landing a major contract with Qatari hospitals.

Then Trump happened.

Even before he pulled the US out of the nuclear deal, the American president's constant threats to reimpose sanctions had a chilling effect on business.

It soon became hard to import crucial raw materials, particularly stainless steel.

"We already had problems in getting raw materials... and now it's impossible. Either I have to close the factory, or have to continue with much higher prices," said Leila.

"We had to let four or five workers go last month because we couldn't pay their salaries, and it breaks my heart."

On 8 May she watched Trump deliver his speech, re-imposing sanctions on Iran, with a mix of horror and fury, particularly when he claimed to be on the side of the Iranian people against their government.

“These sanctions are not on the government, it's on the people,” she laments. “I can give less to disabled people, to the elderly. [. . .] Can I do that anymore? I don't know."

Meanwhile, investors like Anna Russberg are no longer coming to Iran.

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