Iran's refusal to appoint an Arab head women's affairs in the Khuzestan provincial government and its suppression of Ahwazi civil society is helping to sustain honour killings of Arab women, according to the Ahwazi Arab Women's Network.
The claims come after Iran's Ham-Mihn newspaper reported the case of an Ahwazi woman who was buried alive by her father in April (both pictured above). Villagers had accused her of having an extra-marital affair after she divorced her husband, prompting her father to kill her for the sake of family honour. He admitted killing his 22 year old daughter Nejat, but claimed she agreed to be buried alive and even helped to dig her own grave. After Nejat's mother learnt of the killing, her husband threatened to bury her alive if she reported the murder to the authorities. Nejat's two year old daughter has since been taken to an orphanage in Ahwaz City.
Ahwazi women's rights activists condemned the murder, but laid the blame on Khuzestan's provincial government for failing to empower Arab women. It has never employed an Arab women to head the women's affairs, although Arabs are the largest ethnic group in the province. Most appointed to the role are middle-class Persian women from Tehran who have no understanding of Ahwazi culture.
One rights activist told the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS): "Nejat's story is heart-breaking, but is sadly a common practice due to Ahwazis' poor education and economic backwardness.
"The Iranian regime has forbidden any sort of civil society and NGOs in raising awareness of these kinds of crimes. Ahwazi culture is not barbaric, it is retarded by political oppression and economic marginalisation. Al-Ahwaz has been suffering from under-development since the Iranians imposed direct control from Tehran in 1925. For more than 80 years Iranian authorities haven't attempted to understand the Ahwazi society in order to combat these bad practices.
"Nejat's story is just one example of how women are being killed by their relatives due to baseless gossip. Honour killing should be challenged everywhere. It is even happening in the UK and all over the Middle East. Whereas the British authorities are tackling the problem, the Iranians appear to be encouraging it.
"An Ahwazi woman should be appointed to set up education programmes to combat this criminal practice and Ahwazi NGOs should be encouraged to assist in ending the practice. But so long as the provincial government discriminates against Arabs in government appointments and so long as it represses civil society, honour killings will continue."