Bakhtiyari women's empowerment
Discuss About The Empire Margins Of Nineteenth Century Iran?
This paper is going to shed light on the two individuals i.e., the Bibi Maryam (a woman belonging from the Bakhtiyari tribe) and Abu Jamal (a Palestinian villager) from the reading of Struggle and Survival. It shall elaborate on how the changes in the economic and political scenario has changes the privileges, advantages and living of different genders in different societies, by comparing and contrasting the life of both of these individuals.
Thesis statement: Comparing and contrasting the life of Bibi Maryam and Abu Jamal in context to their genders and belonging.
Bibi Maryam’s story challenges the division of work between the genders in the Middle Eastern society. Bakhtiyari women are the mainspring of every- thing good that is attempted and done in the country. They have attained a position of themselves, without any effort on their part, which many of their suffragist sisters in the West would struggle for. Especially of late years, when the men of the tribe have been absent for months and even years at a time in Tehran, or governing distant provinces, the women have come to the front and administered the possessions of their husbands admirably.
Bakhtiyari tribe follows the culture of intermarrying of their women among the tribes. This depicts the status of women and the respect they yearned. In fact, tribal women served as mediators in disputes between the men. The major reason that caused this empowerment of women in the society was increase in status of bakhtiyari men from nomads to elite agents of government, transforming their lifestyle. This led the women to take responsibility of not just household but even the estates in the absence of men. These women (bibis) took all decisions about harvesting, sowing of crops and water distribution among various estates. Women also produced handicrafts.
Another, important thing to note is that women in Bakhtiyaris were literate. Many of the Bibis have a great ambition to learn modern languages. Even in the subject of arithmetic, bibis held an expertise. The Bakhtiari Bibis are great doctors and prescribe not only for themselves, but for their villagers and dependants. They also held great skill as chemist preparing the medicines with utmost care and utmost precision. The Bakhtiari men are very fond of their wives. They rely on their woman for advice. The women are consulted on every possible occasion, political or otherwise, and their advice is generally very good and to the point. When their husbands are away, letters are constantly passed between them by means of mounted messengers, and all important events were telegraphed to them. During the years of absence of the Khans, the bibis gained an economic independence, which was not known to the previous generations of tribal women. Bibis not only managed the estates but also developed them increasing their productivity. Some bibis owned grain mills and carpet factories. The labours at these factories are mostly the wives and children of the servants on the estate.
Changes in women's status in Bakhtiyari society
The money from the sale of the carpets are transferred to the bibis' private funds, and hence, most of the bibis accumulate wealth independently, rather than depending on their husbands for finance. This gave the women in the tribe economic security and more respect in the society. Every married bibi has their own accounting and nothing could be obtained without their permission, not even bread. The gardens and the stables were supervised by the Bibis. They used to look after the horses every two or three days in their husbands’ absence, to observe if they are kept in good condition. Therefore, women in Bakhtiyari society became equal partners and stakeholders with their male counter parts.
To sum up, Bakhtiari Bibi had a very enviable position. She was looked up to and respected by her children. She is of the greatest possible assistance to her husband in the management of his estates and all his multifarious business affairs.
Bakhtiyari women were also politically aware and concerned about the constitutional revolution. In fact, they wrote letters to the wives of uncommitted chiefs, in order to send their husband to defend the constitution.
But the position of women started to decline with the increase of British influence on the tribe after the discovery of oil. The roles of women as administrators and mediators tend to become less important. The land rents and revenues collected on the estates were no longer the predominant sources of wealth. The large amounts of foreign capital involved in the oil fields had altered the social and political conditions in the tribal lands forever.
The Story of Abu Jamal portrayed by Joost Hiltermann finds its relevance to the times after the Second World War. It portrays how the life of Palestinian people changed following the conflict, leaving them to live on the meagre.
This period witnessed the economic depression faced by the Palestinians due to iron fist policy used by the Israeli military in 1980’s. Through this story, author has portrayed how the peasants of Palestine rose up protecting their families and trying to find new jobs in the atmosphere where they were being downtrodden by the military might. Palestinian males are forced to take whatever job that they get. Abu Jamal works as a shepherd, a Red Cross relief worker, a soldier in the Jordanian army, a laborer, a waiter, the manager of a small café, a construction worker, and sometimes as a welfare recipient as well.
Israeli occupation has affected the peasants and their family in countless ways, drastically constraining their movements, possibilities for work and their access to services. Life has become increasingly hard. On the top of all these, authorities impose heavy tax on them, draining their savings.
The outbreak of the intifada in December 1987 was followed by worse living conditions for the Palestinians. The strikes and increased militancy of the Palestinians were a response to the brutal "iron fist" policies of the military authorities in the preceding years. This also lead to the emergence of Palestinian leadership. The resistance groups often organized strikes, with Israeli government imposing curfews further worsening the life conditions. This has lead to the development of informal sector of the economy itinerant peddlers, backyard gardens, chicken farms, etc.
Women's economic independence and security
The author mentions the condition portrayed by Abu Jamal is a common view in the Palestinian society. Families were forced to migrate from their village to cities and feed off from the crumbs it provided them without any job security or life security. People tend to work in any kind of job ranging from agriculture to industry services; anything that could earn them enough to feed their hunger. Not only employment, even housing was rare to find and they had to move from village to village in search of place to live. Compactness could be understood analyzing the situation that 20 families lived just in 1 square km of area.
Before the World War II, males used to go to catholic schools for their education but the scenario was changed right after that, as the country was submerged into the darkness of war. With the defeat of the Arab armies, an uneasy peace came to the area, and with it thousands of refugees expelled from their native lands. Before Israeli occupation, Abu developed considerable skills as comic orator and performed as clown at village gatherings. His success as coffee shop operator was short lived. Abu Jamal's career as a coffee-shop operator did not survive the war. “Although he reopened the café later in 1967, he grew increasingly apprehensive about his position in such a public area as a coffee shop, given the proliferation of collaborators, the scourge of the Israeli occupation, and the influence they had on the mind of his customers. He shut down the shop shortly thereafter and sold the business finally in 1971.
Marriages were a major source of friction here. The families were not able to muster a savings neither to get medical treatments nor to pay up for the hospital bills. There was also restriction on village women from moving outside their houses.
By the mid 1970’s, conditions of Israeli occupation were bringing dramatic changes to the life of the Palestinians. Arm struggle was launched by those living outside. A movement away from agriculture life took place. Inhabitants were left between two ways of life: of peasants or proletarians. But the struggle lacked any involvement to reduce gender inequality prevailing in the society.
Women have to struggle to avoid being marginalized by the political leadership and relegated to the roles of "mothers of martyrs" who should merely "protect, preserve and procreate.
By 1988, People tried to adjust their life-styles to the new realities of the uprising but, the condition of economy worsened, and men found it difficult to even make their ends meet.
While going through the readings of Bibi Maryam: A Bakhtiyari Tribal Woman by Julie Oehler, one could find that the Middle Eastern society was free of all the gender inequalities that are still faced by faced by most of the women in the patriarchal society. In fact, it is a society where the women plays a very important part in the overall activities and progress, right from being a part of occupational activities to being a leader and breaking family limitations. Julie Oehlar has portrayed the image of Bibi Maryam as a strong willed and independent woman who have attained such a position and power being a Bakhtiyari tribe, which many of the women belonging from the West would have envy, whereas in the story of Abu Jamal: A Palestinian urban villages, Joost Hiltermann has depicted how a man tries to save his family from the circumstances and living on the limited resources that he have. On one hand, Bibi Maryam is not only literate and skillful; in fact, she also acted as an advisor for her husband and sons. She was an equal partner and stakeholder in her husbands’ property. While, on the other hand, Abu Jamal is illiterate and unskilled. He worked as a shepherd, a soldier in the Jordanian army, a labourer, sometimes a waiter, a construction worker as well as welfare recipient. This inconsistency was because, unlike Bibi Maryam, Abu Jamal is not even independent enough to choose his own occupation. Education is of much more importance among the Bhaktiyari women than the people of Palestine. The Bhaktiyari women wanted to learn more, to know more and to educate themselves more, while in Palestine, the women were far not even allowed to move out from their respective houses. Bhaktiyari women want to learn more languages apart from their own mother tongue. They were economically secured as well However, they were not able to do so, as there were none to make them learn foreign languages. Furthermore, there women of Bhaktiyari tribe were so educated that some of them were teachers, doctors and even chemist, but this is not the case in the Palestine village. They were even interested in political speeches and had a desire to study history. In Palestine the view was completely different. Not even common male were able to educate themselves well, education for women was like a dream that could never come true. Where Bibi Mariyam, a women from the Bakhtiyari society is continuously thriving her society by taking part on each and every economical and political business; Abu Jamal on the contrary is struggling hard and continuously changing his profession to give his family a good life and to earn handsome of money to meet their daily bread. In contrast to Bakhtiyari tribe, where they maintained peace among themselves by inter-marrying their women among the men of their own tribes; marriages in the Palestine village was a major source of friction, with the whole can embroiled in minor disputes. With the same, unlike Bibi Maryam in the Bakhtyari tribe, the women in Palestine were restricted from moving outside their houses. On one hand, being a woman, Bibi Maryam has an enviable position in her society and is practically independent of her husband in regards to economy and property; the position and status of Abu Jamal, a man, on the other hand is reduced to low due to the occupation of Israel and the resistance that followed. Where Bibi Maryam is playing the role of an advisor and guide for her husband, Abu Jamal on the contrary is not even capable to his own decisions regarding his occupation because of the crisis faced by his land. So, on one hand, it depicts how the life of women in Bhaktiyari Tribe was so full of dignity, respect and happiness through portraying the life of Bibi Maryam. On the other hand, it shows how the men in Palestinian society abruptly changed with the changes that came post-colonization through portraying the life of Abul Jamal. The freedom of men was curtailed and the decisions they took to get their end meet were out of misery and helplessness.
Bakhtiyari women's political awareness
To sum up, we have witnessed how the wheel of time and the changes it brought along, drastically changed the life of different genders in their tribe. Bakhtiari Bibi is practically independent of her husband in regards to property and economy. They have their influence on their husbands, sons and the society. Bibi Maryam, lead her tribe and even forged alliance when needed. Bibis were of the greatest possible assistance to their husband in the management of his estates and all his multifarious business affairs. All these came about, when the tribe witnessed riches with increasing trade with foreigners and constitutional revolution. In fact, once these conditions were reversed with oil becoming more important and khans losing their status, the status enjoyed by bibis also declined. A reverse situation can be seen in case of Palestinian peasants, where the occupation by Israel and the resistance that followed, reduced the status of men to low. They were not even capable to take their own decisions regarding occupation, access to education, etc. due to the conditions that their land faced. In contrast to bibis of Iran, they had to fill their stomach on the meagre they earned. Even, there were restrictions on women, with only few circumstances (even in such pathetic economic condition), they were allowed to work and earn.
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Edmund Burke, David Yaghoubian, Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East: Second Edition (University of California Press, 2006), 103-116
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Edmund Burke, David Yaghoubian, Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East: Second Edition (University of California Press, 2006), 269
Edmund Burke, David Yaghoubian, Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East: Second Edition (University of California Press, 2006), 273
Rita Giacaman, Life & Health in three Palestinian villages(Ithaka Press, 1988),18
Joost R. Hiltermann, Behind the Intifada: Labour and Women’s movements in the occupied territories (Princeton University Press,1991), 202
 Edmund Burke, David Yaghoubian. Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East: Second Edition. University of California Press, 2006
 Joost R. Hiltermann. Behind the Intifada: Labour and Women’s movements in the occupied territories. Princeton
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