This paper sheds light on barriers that have held back Ahwazi women’s empowerment under consecutive Iranian governments. It investigates the factors that have moved the Ahwazi society backwards and, thus, have made the whole of society victims of inequality. It argues that without gender equality and women’s empowerment, Ahwazi society is unable to progress and improve. Therefore, this study aims to provide suitable solutions that could help Ahwazi women overcome their barriers and be empowered accordingly.
Throughout history, advanced societies have proved that women play a crucial role in the development of societies. However, there are many women in unequal societies who are disempowered due to discrimination and inequality. The misogynist systems that promote hatred and prejudice against women and deliberately create barriers for them have caused many societies to move backwards. For instance, in the Arab region of Ahwaz, which is occupied by the misogynist Iranian regime, women face many barriers that have negatively impacted them at all levels. Therefore, it is crucial to overcome the obstacles that Ahwazi women face in order to move the Ahwazi society forward. The main guiding question of this study is, “How empowered women contribute to creating more balanced and advanced societies?”
The following is the hypothesis of this research:
• The Ahwazi women could contribute to creating a more balanced and advanced society by enhancing human, sociocultural, economic, and environmental development.
Objective of Study
1. To shed light on Ahwazi women’s role in developing a balanced society.
2. To explore the barriers Ahwazi women face and assess their effects on Ahwazi society.
3. To promote positive sociocultural changes that support and encourage everyone in society.
4. To propose strong recommendations for Ahwazi society that help overcome the barriers and promote Women’s Empowerment.
5. To preserve culture and tradition that benefits the Ahwazi society and eliminates any harmful cultural and traditional practices.
6. To promote positive sociocultural change that supports and encourages everyone in society.
7. To raise awareness and educate the whole of society.
The primary beneficiary of the study is the Ahwazi society which benefits positively from the solutions provided for “Women Empowerment” in Ahwaz. The result of the study will also benefit the following:
Human Rights Defenders: The result of the study could serve as an information source for individuals and groups that promote and protect human rights.
Political Organisations and Parties: The study’s outcome will help political organisations gain the necessary knowledge about the social and political conditions in Ahwaz.
Academic Institutions: This study may serve as research data for academic institutions such as colleges and universities.
Future Researchers: the study could also serve as a basis for further research on women’s issues.
Limitations and Methodology
The challenges observed while preparing this study were due to a lack of adequate information concerning women’s rights in Ahwaz. This comes as the regime purposefully avoids documenting any information that could expose its crimes and violence against women’s rights. For instance, finding accurate statistics regarding domestic violence was not really possible. Since many cases of violence have deliberately not been reported or documented by the government. Therefore, the information and data presented in this study are mainly extracted from articles and reports published by human rights institutions and News Agencies, additionally through reliable academic essays and articles published by the Dialogue Institute for Research and Studies that specifically focuses on the Ahwazi cause.
The research method applied in this study is qualitative, as it is more convenient in identifying the relationship between women’s empowerment and society’s advancement. As a result, a case study analysis regarding the United Arab Emirates was conducted to reflect on women’s contribution to the country’s advancement through boosting human development, sociocultural development, economic development and environmental development.
This study is done based on the comprehensive and multidimensional concept of “Women Empowerment”, which could be defined as “promoting women’s sense of self-worth, their ability to determine their own choices, and their right to influence social change for themselves and others” (World Vision, n.d). The concept was officially promoted for the first time by the United Nations during a conference held in Mexico in 1975 (U.N. Women, n.d). Women empowerment could also be referred to as a process from being disempowered to becoming empowered through empowering every aspect of women’s life. Hence it ought to be viewed from various perspectives. Therefore, this study required deep research and analysis and accordingly applied a three-dimensional model as a tool to encompass all of the aspects.
The mentioned model consists of three distinct but related dimensions: 1- the macro-level: relating to large-scale issues related to the society (e.g. government, rules, regulations, policies, economics, sociocultural), 2- the meso-level: analysing issues related to connection and interaction between certain groups of a society (community, schools, universities, and workplaces), and 3- the micro-level: relating to smallest levels of interaction; even in some cases, just “the self” alone. It also includes one-on-one interactions between family, relatives and friends [Al Tamimi et al., 2021). There are different barriers identified at each level; however, all of these barriers are related and hinder women’s ability to gain empowerment.
Furthermore, the study used significant sociocultural and political theories to analyse Ahwazi women’s condition from different perspectives, including Colonialism, Ethnocentrism, Social Interdependency Theory, Social Conflict Theory, Patriarchy, and Forced Assimilation. These theories help to answer the question of this research and provide the basis for analysing the barriers women face.
Barriers Faced By Ahwazi Women
1. The Macro-Level
This section concerns various social, cultural, political, legal and economic norms constraining women’s empowerment. The major factor behind the barriers Ahwazi women are facing today is the Iranian regime’s colonialism and its ethnic oppression. The successive regimes in Iran have created the foundation for injustice and inequality for almost a century. However, it is helpful to provide a brief background about the colonised region of Ahwaz before going into more detail and shedding light on women’s position before and after the domination of successive Iranian regimes on the Ahwaz society.
The Region of Ahwaz
Geographically, Ahwaz, with a total area of 324,000 (square kilometres), is bordered from the west by Iraq and from the southwest by the Arabian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula (Hamid, 2018). It has a population of above 8 million Arabs, known as Ahwazis (Kamil Alboshoka, 2023). The region enjoys great economic importance, as Ahwaz oil constitutes 87 %of the total Iranian oil exported, and natural gas in the region constitutes 100 %of the gas owned by Iran. Additionally, eight rivers flow into the region, making 65 %of the arable land in Iranian political geography concentrated in this region (Sky News, 2018).
Historically, Ahwaz was home to the Elamite Civilisation, which is considered one of the greatest and most influential civilisations in human history. It existed roughly between 3000 and 600 BC before the emergence of an empire called Persia. Elamite women’s sociocultural and economic conditions show how “Equality” was recognised as one of the most important principles in society. For instance, historical documents related to economic contracts reflect how Elamite women had unlimited opportunities and could be involved in legal contracts. Thus, they could participate in various activities such as sales and purchases, loans, rent, leases, renting and etc. (Meyer et al., 2019). As a result, women’s empowerment may not be considered a new concept.
The region had also been ruled by Ahwazi tribes during different eras. It was considered an independent Sheikhdom and accordingly enjoyed full independence. However, the Persian Pahlavi Regime invaded and subsequently annexed it through a military invasion in 1925 (Youha, 2019). Notably, Ahwazi women in rural and tribal communities played a significant societal role. They could participate in various professions such as wool spinning and weaving, grain milling, animal husbandry, farming and herding sheep. Although the Ahwazi women were victims of traditions and customs compared to men in terms of status and social role, their condition worsened after the Persian invasion, especially after the Iranian revolution in 1979 (Hassan, 2023).
After the annexation of Ahwaz, the overthrown Iranian monarchist and the current clerical ruling regimes have promoted a radical Persian nationalism to control every aspect of people’s lives. The Ahwazi people have been under political, social, cultural and economic subjugation by the mentioned colonial regimes for almost a century.
This inhuman colonialism has dominated Ahwaz for decades through political centralisation and has specifically targeted Ahwazi women to satisfy its selfish political interests. Colonialism is defined as the practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another (Longley, 2021). Accordingly, the colonial regimes have promoted marginalisation, discrimination, racism, suppression, oppression and violence against them. Above all, they have deprived women of their most basic human, civil, cultural, legal and political rights. Some of the major issues that Ahwazi women have experienced due to this colonialism include; Forced Displacement, Lack of Legal Protection, Economic Issues, Sociocultural Issues, and Imprisonment.
The colonial regimes have attempted to conduct ethnic cleansing in Ahwaz by applying colonial policies to displace the Ahwazi people. Accordingly, since the annexation of the Ahwaz region, tens of thousands of Arab Ahwazis, mostly from Muhammarah, Abadan, Sus and Tester, have been forced to migrate from their homeland. This forced displacement has mainly increased after the current Iranian regime came to power in 1979 (Hamid, n.d). The regime has conducted this colonial project by diverting Karun’s river, confiscating lands and establishing settlement projects.
The regime’s project of diverting the Ahwazi rivers’ main courses to Persian regions, such as Yazd and Isfahan, has been the major cause of water scarcity and increased a variety of diseases among Ahwazi rural and urban communities(Hamid, n.d). Ahwazi women and children are the main victims of this man-made drought, as they are facing many problems in terms of personal hygiene and care due to a lack of drinkable water and frequent water cuts (NCRI, n.d.). According to U.N., women and girls without properly managed water are more susceptible to abuse, attacks and diseases (United Nations, n.d). The water shortage has also caused desertification and negatively impacted the agricultural economy in the Ahwaz region. According to Ahwazi environmentalists, almost 1.2 million were dependent on agriculture (Dialogue Institute for Research & Studies, 2022). Thus, they have been devastatingly impacted by this crisis and, accordingly, have been facing forced displacement. The regime’s other method to displace Ahwazis is land confiscation, especially lands belonging to the Ahwazi farmers. It has developed many settlement projects to attract Persian settlers from other regions like Isfahan and Yazd.
The Iranian governments have also offered these economic Persian settlers the best job opportunities, facilities, and economic positions. Nevertheless, indigenous Ahwazis have been deprived of all their civil and political rights (Hashemi, 2022). As a result, many Ahwazi women have been victims of this deliberate displacement and, thus, have been forced to migrate from their homeland to Persian regions, where they face double ethnic discrimination and oppression.
Lack of Legal Protection
Women in various societies face challenges and feel unprotected due to a lack of legal protection. The discriminatory laws and practices applied by the misogynist regime of Iran have created an unsafe environment for Ahwazi women. Basically, everywhere in the world constitution may be known for preserving and protecting the rights of its citizens. However, the Iranian Constitution is completely different, as the law provides the green light for violating the rights of people, especially women with immunity (Mohammed, 2021). Some of the harmful laws that are issued by the Iranian regime are mentioned below.
- Article 1105: The husband is the exclusive holder of the “head of the family” position.
- Article 1117: Man is allowed to prevent his wife from studying and working.
- Article 301: If the father or grandfather commits murder against the daughter and granddaughter, he will not be punished by the law.
- Article 1014: Marriage of girls under the age of 13 is legally permitted. (Azimi, 2022)
This Constitution is the fundamental factor behind the existence of a patriarchal social system that allows men to control all aspects of women’s life: from politics to morals, economics and even their actions. Consequently, many women have been deprived of participating in their households and society as a whole. This severe restriction has prevented many girls from studying and women from being economically empowered. The regime’s negligence of women’s rights has also caused numerous cases of honour killings to be perpetrated all over Iran’s political geography. Based on a report published in the Lancet in 2020, at least 8000 honour killings are recorded annually in different regions in Iran (Parsa, 2021). It is important to highlight that there are many other cases of honour killings that have not been recorded by the regime. Hence, it is impossible to present precise statistics in this regard. The regime’s violation of children’s rights has also caused hundreds of cases of child marriage to be witnessed in Iran. Between 2021 and 2022, at least 27,448 female children under 15 were married in different parts of the country (VOA, 2023). Due to the Iranian regime’s unjust and discriminatory laws, girls and women continue to face gender-based barriers. Especially Ahwazi girls and women who face double discrimination due to their Arab ethnicity.
The social phenomenon of poverty has been one of the main drivers behind the economic disempowerment of many Arab women in Ahwaz. The Iranian colonialism that attempts to destroy the Ahwazi society has intentionally spread poverty all over the region.
As highlighted earlier, the desertification of agricultural lands due to man-made drought and the confiscation of farmers’ lands have damaged the agricultural economy. The local environmental activist Nasser Abiyat stated that the drought of the Hor Al Azim wetland alone has resulted in the unemployment of 20,000 Ahwazis (Young Journalists Club, 2021). Notably, many Ahwazi women have depended on agriculture to secure their livelihood. In 1998, Engineer Hussein Gheysi Pour, the director of Agricultural Research, Education and Development of Ahwaz (Khuzestan), admitted that 93/60 %of Ahwazi rural women in the Ahwazi areas were active in the agricultural sector (IRNA, 1998). However, over the past years, the majority of Ahwazi women farmers have lost their jobs and have faced huge losses due to the regime’s colonial policies. The regime has also encouraged non-Arab settlers to live on lands confiscated from Ahwazi farmers (Hamid, n.d).
Additionally, to change the demographic composition of Ahwazi residential areas, the Iranian regime has constructed exclusive Persian settlement projects, attracting an enormous number of non-Arab settlers to permanently reside in Ahwaz. This injustice has caused all jobs as well as facilities to be granted to the settlers; however, Arab Ahwazi people have been deprived of accessing any of the available opportunities. According to reliable sources, the unemployment rate in Ahwaz is 15.6 % (Fars News, 2022). Thus, many Ahwazi women have been forced to work as street vendors, selling goods such as bread, dates, fruits, vegetables, handicrafts, etc. However, they often get attacked by the regime forces for not obtaining the unaffordable trade licences demanded by the government (Hamid, 2020).
The patriarchal social system that aims to disempower women could also be another reason behind Ahwazi women’s lack of economic empowerment. This social system is fundamentally supported by the Iranian Constitution, as it serves the regime’s political interests. The previous section indicated that based on Article 1117, a man is allowed to prevent his wife from working (Mohammed, 2021). This Institutional misogyny in the regime’s laws has provided the right to many men to restrict their wives and prevent them from participating in society. It is essential to mention that Jamila Alamolhoda, the wife of Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, in her interview with Venezuela State T.V., reflected this bitter reality. She said, “We want women to remain women. Why should we be like men? Why should we study, work or live like men? This is a form of violence” (Iran International, 2023). The regime systematically promotes misogynistic beliefs that violate collective civil women’s rights. All these factors have contributed to spreading poverty throughout the region; hence, Ahwaz (Khuzestan) is ranked the third poorest region after Baluchistan and Kerman. Consequently, the phenomenon of extreme poverty in the Ahwaz region has resulted in different social issues such as; society disintegration, suicide, increased diseases, negative feelings, depression, widespread drug abuse anxiety, divorce, low level of education, Malnutrition, Child labour, Violence and conflicts (Mohammed, 2023).
Women play a key role in shaping any society’s social and cultural structures; therefore, their empowerment is crucial as it moves societies forward. Consequently, it is imperative to adapt to the right sociocultural norms and values that help to empower women and enable them freely participate in society. In Ahwaz, Ahwazi women encounter multiple challenges due to various sociocultural issues that have blocked their progress and improvement. Some of these issues are Cultural Assimilation, Patriarchy, Religion and Tribalism.
The Iranian colonialism that has promoted Ethnocentrism in Ahwaz has created many sociocultural barriers for women. Ethnocentrism is an attitude that one’s own group, race or ethnicity is superior to others (Evans, 2023). For example, the Pahlavi Regime established many cultural projects in the Ahwaz region to promote Persian culture. It attempted to disseminate the Persian culture, eradicating the Arab identity in Ahwaz. Although the Shah Pahlavi regime was overthrown in 1979, the ethnic persecution and multifaceted discrimination against Ahwazi people continued in Ahwaz under the current clerical rule (Hashemi, 2022). This has caused Arab Ahwazis to face forced assimilation and imposition of Persian culture for nearly a century. As a result, Ahwazi women have been deprived of enjoying their culture, traditions and customs for decades. They literally have been prevented from wearing their traditional Arabic costumes in formal sectors, studying in their mother tongue, and even choosing Arabic names for their children.
The regime of Iran, through its ethnocentric policies, confronts any individual or institution that aims to promote the Arab cultural identity in Ahwaz. The Iranian regime persecuted Many cultural activists due to their peaceful cultural and civic activities. For example, the young female poet and social activist Maedeh Amouri was imprisoned due to her poets in Arabic (begoonah, 2018). Other female cultural activists, such as Fatima Tamimi, Maryam Ameri, and Zahra AlBoughobaish, were similarly incarcerated for weeks due to their peaceful cultural activists (Dehkardi, 2020). Ahwazi women have been subjected to double oppression for their ethnicity. This unfair discrimination has created obstacles for the Ahwazi women, although Ahwazi women have been resisting and rejecting the regime’s ethnocentric policies. Consequently, despite their challenges, the Ahwazi women have been able to preserve their cultural identity and mother tongue after decades of Iranian monoethnic policies and continue wearing their traditional outfit that symbolises their Ahwazi identity. Hence, the fascist regime of Iran has actually failed to accomplish its fascist project of eradicating the Arab Identity of Ahwaz.
Ahwazi women have been suffering for decades from the patriarchal system that has accordingly relegated them to an unimportant and powerless position within the Ahwazi society. Patriarchy is defined as a social system in which men dominate women and control all aspects of their lives. The four main characteristics of patriarchy are “Male Dominance, Male Identification, Male Centeredness and Obsession with Control” (Gray and McCallister, 2022). The misogynistic policies applied by the Iranian regimes have promoted patriarchy and built the foundation for lowering Ahwazi women’s status to the ranks of 2nd and 3rd class citizens. As it was discussed earlier, Article 1105 states that the position of the “head of the family” is the responsibility of the “male” (Azimi, 2022). It is crucial to mention that the Iranian culture is traditionally considered patriarchal, as it enables the father or husband to take charge of the household fully. Although a process of modernisation took place in the 20th century, the social class differences remained the same (Price, 2006). This patriarchal culture has been reflected in the political and social system that has been promoted by the successive Iranian regimes. Accordingly, it has negatively affected the whole of society in Ahwaz.
The roots of the Ahwazi patriarchal system also extend back to the tribal system. The control of Bedouin culture over socio-economic and cultural life through the tribal system was an alternative to the state and its administration as a social organisation. This social system has strengthened the position of men in Ahwazi society and has created social class differences that have allowed men to control the fate and affairs of Ahwazi women. However, the situation worsened after the Iranian occupation (Hassan, 2023). It cannot be denied that Ahwazi women used to face gender-based issues before the Iranian colonisation, yet they enjoyed a better position in the tribal society of Ahwaz. As indicated in previous studies, it was normal for Ahwazi women to work and participate in society. For instance, many Ahwazi women have been working in farming, wool spinning and weaving, grain milling, etc. This shows that the system of tribal society during that era did not restrict Ahwazi women from participating in society.
The historical story of an inspirational Ahwazi princess, Alia Bint Salman, could also prove women’s influential position in society before the occupation. During the mid-eighteenth century, the region was ruled by the Bani Kaab tribe and its most powerful ruler Prince Salman Al Kaabi. According to historical sources, Prince Salman faced many battles during his rule. Although, the most tragic and dramatic battle that remained ingrained in the memory of Ahwazis was the battle of Abu Touq with the British Forces. Since an inspirational woman could change the equations in favour of her nation and bravely turn failure into victory. It was narrated that Princess Alia could courageously influence her father, Prince Salman, and the Ahwazi soldiers through her powerful speech. She was actually considered the Leader of the Abu Touq Battle. Thus her story has been passed down from generation to generation (Jaber, 2022). It is noteworthy that during that era, the tribal social system had its positive and negative effects on Ahwazi Arab society. However, the Iranian colonial policies have negatively affected the Ahwazi communities. Hence, what is observed today in Ahwaz is somehow the negative and dark side of the tribalism that is deliberately promoted by Iranian colonialism for self-serving its own goals. Consequently, many Arab Ahwazi women have been victims of this negative tribalism.
Religion plays a large role in Ahwazi society, naturally impacting their beliefs, norms and values. The majority of Ahwazis are Muslims; hence, Islam greatly influences Ahwazi society, especially since the society is governed by the current clerical regime. However, the extremist ideology promoted by the regime’s clerics is not related to the true religion of Islam. The regime has basically misused the name of Islam to achieve its selfish political interests. Additionally, it has promoted extremist ideology to control women and move society backwards. Therefore, Ahwazi women have been victims of this religious extremism and have been deprived of their most basic rights. The Iraqi Social Scientist and author, Professor Sami Zabaida, stresses that Iranian “political Islam” is not the ideal Islamic model and that the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran is not the Qur’an, nor is it Islamic law (D.W., 2012).
Threats of arrests and imprisonment could be another major factor behind the lack of women empowerment in Ahwaz. As many Ahwazi women have been unjustly imprisoned in notorious Iranian prisons. For instance, women who have been held in jails due to their human rights, educational, cultural, political and environmental activities. The female cultural activist Fatima Tamimi, who participates in cultural activities by documenting the traditions and customs of the Ahwazi Arab people, reflects this bitter reality. She was arrested on December 9th, 2020, in front of her children and transferred to an unknown location; however, she was later released on bail. The other female activists who were similarly arrested by the Iranian Intelligence Agents are Maryam Ameri, Zahra Al Boughobaish and Zeinab Sawari (Dehkardi, 2020). For example, Zahra was arrested after teaching deprived children in rural areas (AHRO, 2020). Ahwazi rights groups reported that all these women were forced to make false confessions against themselves. It is worth noting that these Ahwazi female activists also played a vital role in supporting victims of the flooding that happened in 2017 in Ahwaz. (Dehkardi, 2020).
It is also important to highlight that are many other Ahwazi female prisoners whose cases have not received any coverage attention from the local and international media. Nonetheless, the Iranian female Political Activist Sepideh Gholian, who had been imprisoned in Ahwaz, revealed some hidden grave human rights abuses that were perpetrated in Sepidar prison. The painful eye-witnessed accounts that convey the voice of detained Ahwazi Arab women screaming and moaning under brutal torture have shocked the Ahwazi people. In her book entitled ‘Tilapia Sucks the Blood of Hor Al Azim’, Sepideh exposed the regime’s racism against the Ahwazi Arab women prisoners. She detailed how Ahwazi women prisoners were subjected to double oppression for crimes and fabricated charges they never committed. According to Gholian, the discrimination and verbal and violent mistreatment that Ahwazi Arab women went through in the notorious prison of Sepidar in Ahwaz are shocking and can not be comparable to those of female counterparts imprisoned in other regions. Gholian reported that the Ahwazi Arab women in the Sepidar prison have been unjustly deprived of their most basic rights. For example, They were not even allowed to meet their husband or children, yet such discrimination rarely occurs in Tehran prisons.
Furthermore, she referred to stories of several Arab women arrested during their pregnancy, such as Sakina Segur and Samiyah Hardani. She added that one of these ladies suffered a miscarriage under brutal torture. Sepideh confirmed that most of these Ahwazi female political prisoners were detained with their families, meaning they had no support outside prison. (Alavi, 2020)
She also narrated the story of three Ahwazi detained women, including Sohba, Kholoud and Zahra, who were arrested after creating a group in telegram for promoting civic and cultural activities. In this telegram group, they basically were writing short articles explaining the importance of preserving the cultural identity and the Arabic language of the Ahwazi people. According to the Iranian intelligence agency, this activity is considered a ‘motivated separatist sentiment’. Moreover, she stated that in some cases, Ahwazi Arab women were taken hostage due to their husband’s political and human rights activism. Makiye Neysi, who had been taken hostage for a long period and kept in solitary confinement cells, died in prison due to torture and denial of medical treatment during covid-19 pandemic, is one of the cases. Sepideh counted that during her detention, she witnessed how brutally Ahwazi Arab women endured severe physical and psychological torture due to discrimination and racist verbal attacks daily basis. Above all, they are forced to confess against themselves and admit to crimes they never committed, such as being terrorists, separatists, etc. She reported a case of a young Ahwazi Arab activist tortured for 20 days, day and night, to confess falsely that she was in connection with a number of Ahwazi opposition groups in exile for carrying out terrorist acts. In simple words, Sepideh referred to the Ahwaz Intelligence Centre as a “Torture Centre” (Alavi, 2020). These painful stories reflect how the misogynist regime of Iran attempts to suppress and terrorise Ahwazi women into silence and deprive them of their most basic rights.
2. The Meso-level
The meso-level is concerned with analysing the Ahwazi women’s position in society by using a relational approach. It demonstrates the racial discrimination they go through in schools, communities, and workplaces. Furthermore, it sheds light on the importance of relationships in building women’s empowerment, especially in collectivist societies where relationships are extremely important and they affect people’s well-being (Huis, 2019). The social interdependence theory states that “the outcome of individuals are affected by their own and other’s actions”. It is hence essential to study women within their social contexts. According to the Social conflict theory, there are many societies in which people struggle for dominance, and various social groups compete for scarce resources (Hayes, 2022). Persian settlers in Ahwaz, who attempt to gain power and control society, are a case in point. Iranian colonialism has built a social system based on discrimination, inequality, and Persian supremacy. This colonial policy attempts to strengthen the non-Arab settlers by dominating Ahwazi Arabs’ lives in all aspects and practising racism against them. Thus, Ahwazi women have been negatively affected by toxic relationships and inter that have held back their empowerment.
Their journey of suffering begins in their childhood, as they get rejected by their non-Arab friends. Later they face rejection in their universities and workplaces due to their Arab identity. They are literally not permitted to express their Arab identity in formal and governmental places such as schools, universities etc., and thus, are forced to distance themselves from it. Furthermore, they get ridiculed and insulted when they speak Farsi with their own Ahwazi Arabic accent or wear their traditional Arabic attire (Hussein Khah, 2020). The female Ahwazi Civil Activist Leila Forat, who is a well-educated Ahwazi woman, in her article “Anti-Arabism in Iran”, also revealed this bitter reality. According to Forat, Ahwazi Arabs face racial discrimination due to their ethnicity, colour, language, etc. She stressed Ahwazi children get mocked even when they mention their parents’ Arabic names in schools. Forat also expressed her personal experience with racial discrimination in her workplace, as she has gone through discriminatory comments by her non-Arab colleagues. For example, whenever she introduces herself as an Ahwazi Arab, they get shocked and humiliate her by saying, “You Do Not Look like Arabs” (End of Monoling, 2022). Therefore, many Ahwazi women have been struggling to achieve empowerment as a result of the rejection they face in their social environment. They have lost the opportunity to build positive social relationships that could help them grow and be more empowered in their society.
3. The Micro-level
This section presents the issues that have hindered Ahwazi women from advancing their personal empowerment. It highlights the vital role of the “Family” in supporting women’s rights. Additionally, it highlights the importance of Self-Esteem, Education, and Awareness for achieving true personal empowerment.
Women empowerment is about women’s ability to convert their intention into action. It is crucial that women have positive perceptions about themselves and, thus, possess personal beliefs that help them enjoy stronger personalities. This will certainly help them to enjoy more self-confidence and be able to control their own destiny. One of the most important personal characteristics that are favourably linked to personal empowerment is “Self-esteem”, as it helps women to achieve personal empowerment. Previous studies indicated that discrimination has a negative effect on self-esteem (Yang et al., 2019). The Iranian regime attempts to destroy women’s self-confidence and self-esteem through a Patriarchal ideology and aggressive social system that practices gender and racial discrimination against them. Nevertheless, Ahwazi women have been resisting this unjust discrimination and have been struggling for their dignity for decades.
One major factor that has made gaining personal empowerment challenging for Ahwazi women is sociocultural and tribal patriarchy. This social system has caused some Ahwazi women to face gender discrimination within their families. It is noteworthy that the role of “Family” in women’s empowerment is crucial, as family support helps women to enjoy more self-confidence and a stronger personality. Fortunately, amid the increasing awareness of the necessity of supporting and enhancing women’s role in society, the number of families and civil and human rights groups supporting Ahwazi women is growing greatly in the Ahwazi society who fight against misogyny and defend women’s rights. However, it cannot be denied that there are still social classes and families who have been negatively influenced by the Patriarchal ideology of the Iranian regime. The Iranian government has built the foundation for gender discrimination by promoting patriarchy. It was mentioned earlier that the Iranian Constitution violates women’s rights and supports patriarchy. Accordingly, the regime has built a social system which is based on male dominance, male identification, male-centeredness, and obsession with control.
The social norms that govern interactions among individuals within a society affect women’s ability to achieve empowerment. In societies where patriarchal norms are promoted, women have less access to power. One major factor that indicates women’s ability to achieve personal empowerment is their access to power and decision-making. Studies revealed that men’s coercive behaviour affects women’s empowerment Since it has a direct relationship with “Self-Esteemto ” as years of abuse can erode women’s self-esteem and force them into depression (Huis, 2019). The Iranian Constitution clearly supports domestic violence and, through its Article 301, allows men to commit murder against their female family members without being seriously punished. This law sends a clear message to the society that violence against women is permitted. According to Iranian human rights groups high percentage of women from different regions in the political geography of Iran have gone through domestic violence by their own families. Although, there are no precise statistics regarding domestic violence in Iran (Shojaie, 2016). The regime avoids documenting many cases of domestic violence that occur in the country. It is assumed that Ahwazi women, like many women counterparts in this political geography, have been experiencing domestic violence. Thus, based on the factors mentioned, some Ahwazi women have been facing challenges to achieving true personal empowerment due to poor and low self-esteem, lack of insufficient family support, and the violence they endure within their own families.
Lack of Education
Education is critical to women’s empowerment and advancement in a variety of disciplines. It is a legitimate human right that enables women to better themselves and enjoy a better life. One of the most significant challenges that some Ahwazi women face today is gaining access to education. This section addresses the underlying causes of the problem. First, some regions of Ahwaz need more schools, particularly in villages that need more educational infrastructure, such as potable water, a heating and cooling system, and clean bathrooms. Some families in Ahwazi Arab rural communities want to send their girls to school. However, young Ahwazi girl students in rural regions confront several problems, including transportation issues, forcing Ahwazi children in rural villages to walk 12 miles to school. They must travel considerable distances, often in perilous situations, to obtain an education. Because of poor infrastructure, the roadways in those places are dangerous. Their energy has worn off by the time they arrive at school three hours later—and they are fully aware, while they do their best to pay attention in class, that they will have to repeat the trek at the end of the day.
Without a safe, dependable means of transportation to school, Ahwazi children and young students’ learning ability suffers, and education’s promise of a better, more equal future falls short. Because of the challenging commute to school, many affected Ahwazi Arab students quit before finishing elementary school. Some Ahwazi students in Susa, Falahiyah, carry their shoes and walk barefoot on their way to and from school to avoid their shoes wearing out too rapidly.
During the rainy season, students wrap their textbooks in plastic to keep them dry. After travelling for hours in the rain to go to school, Ahwazi Arab teenage ladies students recalled arriving soaked, freezing, and unable to stay focused. They experience tremendous heat waves in the summer, and the schools lack cooling systems and cool water.
This is not a trivial matter. As a result of this failure to act, the Iranian government is failing to fulfil a fundamental right guaranteed by its Constitution: the right to a basic education, while simultaneously keeping Ahwazi rural and urban areas impoverished and underdeveloped, resulting in high rates of illiteracy among Ahwazi girls and women.
Thus, many young girls lose their opportunity to study and are forced to work from their childhood (Asriran, 2015). Notably, many Ahwazi teachers tried voluntarily teaching these children, although they get punished by the Iranian regime. For example, the young Ahwazi teacher, Zeinab Sawari, was imprisoned after teaching underprivileged children in impoverished Ahwazi areas (AHRO, 2020).
Second, generations of Ahwazi people have been deliberately disempowered and marginalised as a result of the Iranian Educational System. The discriminatory practices and racist policies promoted throughout this educational system have made underprivileged Ahwazi children not enjoy opportunities that are available to their Persian peers. For instance, they do not have access to appropriate educational services, facilities and infrastructure. Additionally, they are deprived of studying in their mother tongue. The right to education in the mother language is a basic right that everyone should enjoy. As it improves learning, leads to better results, and enables development in socio-emotional aspects (UNESCO, n.d). The abovementioned issues have caused many Ahwazi children to quit school, as only in 2018, more than 12,000 Ahwazi primary students dropped out of school (Hamid, 2019). The same issues observed in universities have also led many Ahwazi girls to quit education. Third, the Iranian patriarchal system that aims to control women has prevented many women from accessing equal education. Earlier, it was mentioned that Article 1117 allows a man to prevent his wife from studying and working (Mohammed, 2021). This restriction has caused many women to be victims of social norms that deprive them of being educated and empowered. Fourth, there are a massive number of women who may have lost their motivation to pursue education due to the high unemployment rate in Ahwaz. It was stated earlier that even highly educated Ahwazis face racial discrimination whenever they apply for jobs matching their educational qualification (Forat, 2022). Therefore, all these factors have made personal empowerment difficult for many Ahwazi women.
Lack of Awareness
Raising awareness for women’s rights is also essential in gaining more empowerment. All civil society members are responsible for joining hands and contributing to raising awareness. The terrible condition observed today in Ahwaz is due to a lack of awareness regarding women’s rights. This regime does not allow activists and institutions to participate in raising awareness. The saddest part is that many women are unaware of their own rights and, thus, are unable to defend or protect themselves. Thus, silence and tolerance have been their only solutions against violence and injustice.
This section analyses the United Arab Emirates, which is considered one of the most developed economies regionally and globally. It aims to analyse Emirati women’s role in improving society through enhancing human, sociocultural, economic, and environmental development. The goal of this case study analysis was not to make a comparison between the Ahwazi and Emirati societies, as Ahwaz is a colonised region and suffers from tremendous difficulties. The aim was to consider U.A.E. as a successful model of advancement.
Human development can be defined as the process of expanding people’s freedom, civil rights and opportunities, as well as improving their well-being. The true privileges that enable people to decide who they are, what they do, and how they live are at the heart of human development (Measure of America, n.d). This concept is about improving the human element without restriction and ethnic and gender discrimination. Women represent half of the human resources and are capable of boosting human development in any society. They play a significant role in their family and can influence the social structure. They are also considered a powerful driver of social change, and based on social studies, women’s participation in the social, economic and political fields contributes to the development of societies. Thus, the progress of any society is closely connected to the degree to which women progress and develop their abilities (Al Zaid, n.d). Therefore, gender equality is considered a crucial element in human development (The World Bank, 2013).
The United Arab Emirates, as an advanced country in human development, could be a great example to study. This modern and newly founded federal state has witnessed rapid development over the past 50 years. Since its formation in 1972, the U.A.E. government has emphasised the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment. It has empowered women and provided them the necessary support in all areas, such as health, education, social life and the economy. It is important to highlight that based on a major study done by Georgetown University, the U.A.E., globally, has the highest percentage of women who feel safe in their communities (Patterson, 2021).
Furthermore, it is ranked first among Arab countries and 26th internationally, based on the Human Development Report issued by the U.N. Development Programme (Wam, 2022). Therefore, Gender equality is an extremely important factor in the U.A.E. Based on the country’s Constitution, women are treated equally to men and enjoy the same rights and legal status. Hence, their equal access to education, employment, health, family and welfare services has made U.A.E. one of the region’s pioneers. The U.A.E. government has always attributed society’s advancement to women and their ability to enhance human development (Embassy of the U.A.E. Washington DC, n.d).
The development of societies is highly related to social-cultural norms and values that influence the whole of society. In any society, the sociocultural environment is a tool to describe trends and developments related to changes in society’s attitude, behaviour or values. It strongly connects with the lifestyle, culture, tastes, customs and traditions (Nasrudin, 2022). According to Mubarak Al Nakhi, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Culture and Youth in the U.A.E., promoting culture is the main driver for socio-economic growth and societal progress. Regarding culture, the U.A.E. has been highly dependent on its Arab and Emirati Identity and openness to diversity (Wam, 2022). It focuses on promoting diversity and a culture of equality that allows everyone in society to enjoy equal rights. Thus, based on the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gap Report, the U.A.E. regionally was ranked as the top leading country in gender parity. This success is strongly related to the country’s core belief that women and men must be treated equally in society (Embassy of the UAE WASHINGTON DC, n.d).
The U.A.E. government has been committed to women’s empowerment and gender equality since its establishment. Hence, Emirati women have been able to strengthen their position in the country’s cultural sector as intellectuals, writers, poets, historians and artists. Accordingly, the government has attributed the sociocultural development in U.A.E. to women’s active participation in shaping the sociocultural environment (Al Khaleej, 2011). Thus, women, specifically mothers, have been provided with the best facilities required to fulfil their role in passing dawn traditions, preserving cultural heritage, and instilling values of respect in society. According to Shaikha Fatma Bint Mubarak, wife of Sheikh Zayed Bin Nahyan, women, through developing moral values and principles, play a vital role in persevering the Emirati identity and raising generations of Emiratis who accept responsibility (emaratalyoum, 2021). Therefore, women are known to be at the forefront of society’s governance by virtue of their role as “guardians of society”. According to UNESCO, women are the significant driver behind the transmission of intangible cultural heritage. They are able to influence their children through education and could play vital roles in their upbringing (V.O., 2020).
Economic development is a major driver behind the advancement of any society. It is basically referred to as “programs, policies or activities that seek to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community” (British Columbia, n.d). It is strongly related to women’s empowerment and their ability to participate equally in society. The United Nations stresses that empowered women are capable of boosting the economy through participating in various activities. They are able to enhance productivity, economic diversification, and income equality (U.N. Women, n.d).
Today the U.A.E. enjoys a great position regarding the economy, and based on the 2022 IMD World Competitiveness rankings, the U.A.E. is ranked 1st among the Arab countries. It is also ranked 8th in Europe, in line with major economies such as Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, Finland, Norway and Ireland (Issac, 2023). The main secret of this success is that women are allowed to equally participate and enjoy equal economic rights, such as equal pay and other kinds of financial facilities. Notably, 23 Emirati women are listed among the “Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Arab Businesswomen” (Embassy of the U.A.E. Washington DC, n.d). The government has provided many initiatives to empower women in the economic sector through the development of qualified female cadres. According to the Ministry of Economy statistics, 25 thousand businesswomen generate investments worth more than 60 billion dirhams within the country. The share of women working in leadership and supervisory positions reached 46%, education 69%, health 72%, administrative jobs 46%, diplomatic corps 30%, professional and specialised 34% and banking sector 37.5%. Therefore, officials and experts in the U.A.E. believe that women’s participation in the finance and business sector has been a great accomplishment for the country. Hence, they refer to Emirati women as the “best partner” in supporting economic development (Al Bayan, 2020).
Protecting the environment is a duty that requires every member of society to participate, as it helps to sustain the planet, community and economy. According to the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP, n.d), gender equality is key to creating sustainability, overcoming poverty and supporting human rights, especially since women comprise more than half of the world’s population. Their participation in sustainable development is essential, as it contributes to the well-being of societies and nations. The U.A.E. Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, Mariam Almheiri, claimed that part of the country’s sustainability journey includes the participation of women. Women continue to inspire and play a major role in building a sustainable future for the U.A.E. They have led the process, making important contributions to sustainability-focused projects and initiatives. They have also played an important role as mothers in educating new generations about the issue of sustainability and preparing environmental guardians capable of making responsible decisions (Wam, 2022).
Recommendations & Conclusion
This study revealed that “Women Empowerment” is key to developing a successful society. Therefore, it is necessary to provide proper solutions supporting Ahwazi women to be empowered and influential in society. First, it is important that Ahwazi people develop “National Unity” to raise awareness and eliminate negligence against women. Without the participation of every member of society, creating women’s empowerment is unattainable. Second, Ahwazi women personally need to take action to achieve self-empowerment and convert their intention to action. They should become conscious of their rights and avoid tolerating any violence they face.
Additionally, learning the life skill of saying “NO” will help them reclaim their power and positively affect their well-being and resilience. Furthermore, improving their self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-confidence would help them build powerful personalities. Third, moving from blame to accountability and encouraging everyone to be influential in society. Blaming men for issues Ahwazi women face today will never help to solve the problems. Fourth, building a bridge between human rights activists, inside and outside Ahwaz, is crucial. This would help them establish institutions that raise awareness and convey the voice of Ahwazi women of Ahwaz internationally. Fifth, a specific civic and cultural project should be designed to encourage and support Education in Ahwaz. For example, Ahwazi activists, specifically those in foreign countries, are able to create a free educational website that provides online classes on different subjects. Furthermore, there should be a specific educational project for deprived people in Ahwazi rural communities who have no access to the Internet. Activists could distribute books and notes in those areas and specifically educate children forced to work from an early age.
Sixth: pursuing creative methods in supporting women’s economic empowerment through developing organisations that allow Ahwazi women to enjoy decent work. This includes, for example, empowering rural women who make handicrafts through selling their products. Seventh: developing a charity organisation that supports impoverished Ahwazis, especially women without financial support. Eighth: having female role models that help them believe that women empowerment is feasible. There are great examples of empowered women in Ahwaz who could be great role models. For instance, Princess Alia Bint Salman is considered one of the most inspirational women in the history of Ahwaz. This is in addition to Ahwazi singer Mina Derris, who is known as an ambassador for freedom. Moreover, Fatima Tamimi, the Ahwazi civic and cultural activist, has never given up and continued her activities despite the barriers she has faced. It is also necessary that Ahwazi women support and empower each other in order to defend their human, cultural, civil, legal and political rights.
Considering all of these points, “Women Empowerment” is definitely possible despite all the mentioned barriers. It is possible to eliminate injustice by building an umbrella of unity and creating a social system that respects women’s rights. As women’s rights are human rights and empowered women create empowered societies. Today, the society of Ahwaz requires revolutionary changes in every aspect; hence it is a national duty that every Ahwazi individual participates in moving the society forward.
“The lotus flower is a reminder of the beauty that comes from change, the magic that a new beginning brings, and the seed of potential that is buried in the most unlikely places”- Jennifer Williamson. So Be Like the Lotus Flower…
By Saba Salman, an Ahwazi human rights researcher at Dialguge Institute for Research and studies.
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