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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 June 2005, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
Gap widens between Iran's rich and poor
Unemployment and poverty are some of the most important issues in Iran today. As Iranians prepare for presidential elections, BBC Tehran correspondent Frances Harrison spends the day with a house cleaner struggling to feed her family.

Tahira Khanum, Tehran house cleaner
Tahira says she'll vote, though she does not trust politicians

At six o'clock in the morning Tahira Khanum's alarm clock starts beeping. It's the start of a long day for this 60-year-old woman who's the only breadwinner for her family of 10 in south Tehran.

Her husband and sons cannot find jobs.

Unemployment is the most serious economic and social problem in Iran now. The presidential election candidates promise more jobs but it's unclear if they can deliver.

"They make promises when we go and vote for them. They say 'We will build new schools and give you gas and piped water'. But when they win they completely forget us," complains Tahira.

Things are getting worse by the day for me
Tahira Khanum

After the bleak days of the Iran-Iraq war there is now more money around but inflation is wiping out any benefits for the very poor.

"The gap between rich and poor is widening," says Shirzad Bozorgmehr, the editor of Iran News.

Twenty-six years after the revolution, the presidential candidates repeat the rhetoric about helping the dispossessed - but the disparity in wealth is still striking.

"Things are getting worse by the day for me," says Tahira.

Despite her scepticism, she is going to vote. She has not decided which candidate to back yet, but she feels it is her religious duty to vote.

Tahira says she wants to vote for the sake of those who are unemployed, who cannot afford to get married or who turn to drugs.

Across the city

After a quick breakfast on the floor of her tiny kitchen, she dons her black chador for the long journey to the other end of the city. Six days a week Tahira goes to clean the houses of the wealthy.

It takes her three hours just to get to work one way - a journey that involves taking two buses and two shared taxis.

Fariba, interior decorator
I am not going to vote in this election and I think most people - especially the young - feel like me
Interior decorator

North Tehran is another world, where billboards advertise designer watches and expensive electronics Tahira could never dream of purchasing.

Today she's working in a swanky apartment that belongs to an interior designer.

Her employer Fariba is making cappuccinos for her guests looking extremely glamorous in a bright pink headscarf, matching pink sandals and a long white embroidered Indian cotton shirt.

Different concerns

Fariba has never been to the suburb of south Tehran where Tahira lives; it's a far cry from her modern apartment complete with a balcony dotted with Buddha statues, hanging glass lanterns and garden gnomes.

And when it comes to the elections, these two women have completely different concerns.

Tahira Khanum, Tehran house cleaner
It can take Tahira three hours to get to one of her cleaning jobs

"I am not going to vote in this election and I think most people - especially the young - feel like me," says Fariba.

She is worried about the number of candidates who were disqualified from standing.

"In my opinion an election should be held in total freedom and people from different groups should be allowed to contest it but unfortunately... although there are educated and intellectual people they have not been allowed to run," Fariba says.

At the end of a long day mopping and washing, Tahira puts her chador on again, takes her money and disappears onto the streets of Tehran where her poverty makes her invisible. Just another poor woman going back to south Tehran.

As she walks under huge election posters urging people to vote, she's just hoping there'll be a president who will do more than just pay lip service to the problems of the poor.

Concepts like political freedom mean little to someone who's still struggling to feed her family in a country with the second biggest oil reserves in the world.

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