Every day at dawn, fisherwomen from the tiny island of Hengam in Iran nudge their daughters into small boats.
The currents are often overwhelmingly strong, but for these women, braving rough waves isn’t just about finding their catch of the day. It’s how mothers groom their daughters to face life in the community. Hengam is one of the only islands in Iran where women set out to sea without men.
One of Iran’s southern islands in the Persian Gulf, Hengam is home to about 500 families. Fishing used to be the main source of livelihood for most men on this island while most women sold local handicrafts or ran fish markets. But things started to change years ago.
As more and more men left the island in search of opportunities in nearby cities, fishing became the primary occupation for women.
These southern islands have a distinct culture and were used as a pit stop along silk and slave trade routes for centuries, leaving behind a legacy of Tanzanian art, music and cuisine on these islands.
Now, these fisherwomen are pioneering a movement to claim their space on the sea, and become the first women on the island to get a government permit for their profession.
“If we get government licenses to fish, we will get subsidies on fuel and insurance for our boats,” Khadijeh Ghodsi, a young fisherwoman, told VICE World News. For others like Ghodsi, a fishing license is essential. It gives them protection against boat damage and allows them to take tourists out to sea.
But procuring this government license has had its challenges. When the women first applied for licenses, the local Fisheries Department told them that two women had to share one license as a safety precaution. “They give one license, however our boats are different,” Mahfoozeh Arbabi, a local fisherwoman, told VICE World News.
After months of persuasion and letters to the governor, the department assured them in February 2021 that 30 fisherwomen would get individual licenses. But even a year after they first applied for these licenses, they haven’t received any.
“Fishing is important for me to find my independence, so that one day I can have a home of my own,” said Ghodsi. While they wait for their licenses, these women have taken matters into their own hands and established a collective of fisherwomen as a support system.
“We have these collectives for women who dye henna and make handmade goods, so we decided to have one for fisherwomen too,” she said.
Ahang Ahmadi and Sarah Eslamiyeh contributed to reporting.