Where is my Vote? No, Where is my Family?
Days When the Islamic Parliament(Majles) Comments on People’s Private Lives
One year after the elections the people are still traumatized about what went on in their cities and neighborhoods and continue to suspect that at any moment a strange looking person—a government agent—with a stick would chase them. They are still dreading the possibility of being kidnapped in a car, taken to unknown places and facing an unjust fate. And yet they should also worry about a proposed law that supposedly is related to the health of the “institution of family”.
This time around talk of the town is not about where our votes went. Instead, the majority of the members of the Islamic Parliament have targeted the institution of family and private life through their recent debates.
More than forty years have passed since the day the latest family protection bill became law. Three years ago the judiciary made some changes in this bill and sent the revised bill for the review and consideration of the Majles. However, articles 22, 23 and 25 resulted in debates, turmoil and the objection of women from various schools of thought.
In Article 23 it was stated that men were allowed to remarry (while married to another women) if they man could fulfill the financial capacities required by the court. Article 22 does not state any obligation for the official registration of temporary marriage and Article 25 necessitates taxation of dowries. And yet this bill was sent back to the Majles for approval. Even the new version did not change much from the previous versions. In the new bill only Article 23 was slightly revised. In this articles ten conditions that, according to women’s rights activists, do not really improve the bill in favor of women were amended to the bill.
In the new bill that became known as the “anti-family” bill a man could remarry without the permission of his wife if he meets just one of the ten conditions. Among those conditions are some of the followings: if the wife is an addict of any kind that harms the family, if the wife misbehaves or has interactions that would make the continuation of family life impossible for the husband, if the wife leaves the family life for six months, if the wife is unable to bear a child and if the wife leaves the shared residence for one year.
Could One Still Remain Muslim?
In an interview with Gozaar about the ten stated conditions in Article 23, Fariba Davoudi-Mohajer, women’s rights activists, explains that “The question is that if a woman faces one of these conditions in regards to her husband could she also remarry? For instance, if her husband is an addict, sexually inept or if he has left the home for months could then the woman also remarry?”
It is now quite some time that many Iranians are engaged in a debate about the new family protection bill. However, only rarely has anyone addressed the need to eliminate this law as it pertains to the legal permission of men to marry more than one woman (polygamy).
Safoura Nourbakhsh, professor of women’s studies, mentions that Iranians abroad should bear the responsibility of facilitating discussions about the elimination of this law and states: “Naturally those activists inside Iran have no choice other than showing only minor reactions to this law. They try to facilitate debates to at least prevent this bill from being passed. In the meantime, activists abroad should discuss and challenge the foundation of this law. Whether or not we like it the concept of polygamy for men and temporary marriage are from the Koran and other Islamic texts. The Koran has defined womanhood within the system of slavery. All the laws related to marriage, divorce, inheritance and etc. revolve around the concept of woman being the property of man without having agency of her own.”
Nourbakhsh continues to explain, “Feminism and religion have always been far from one another. Unfortunately, women’s rights activism has always been divided into the two separate camps of secular and religious. I believe that we cannot make any substantial changes in our favor before moving beyond this separation of the two camps. We have to bring religion into our discussions. Our laws are deeply rooted in Islamic thoughts and the essence of any foundational change is to challenge its very basis. I do not really know if it is possible to find different interpretations of the image and role of women in the Koran and Islamic texts. I do not know if we could pull the image of woman out of this pre-defined system of slaver. I do not know if it is possible to still remain Muslim.”
Furthermore, members of the Majles also have their own opinions about this bill. Hassan Vanayee, the representative of the people of Malayer in Hamadan province, says, “the family protection bill could truly harm the head of the eighth Majles and the entire body of the eighth Majles. People tell us that the main challenges of our country are the economy and livelihood. Does the family protection bill take into consideration the political, economic and cultural protection of family?”
Contrary to the aforementioned member of the Majles, Yahya Zadeh, the representative of the people of Taft and Meybod, defends this bill in an interview with the Jaras website and calls the opponents of the bill “political”. He says that “We cannot forget this bill just because of those who politicize the debates in their favor. We cannot make a decision based on these political pressures. Some claimed to be defendants of women and attempted to create a political environment in opposition to this bill.”
Fariba Davoudi Mohajer, who considers Article 23 a favorable law for wealthy and powerful men , says, “ I am surprised that the Majles would devote ten days of its time to discuss matters of sexuality of the people. They do not ever consider joining the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women and instead call it anti-sharia and against the norms of an Islamic country. Why should the parliament speak about people’s private life and their sexuality with the excuse of the law? I believe this is an excuse for them to remind the people that the government has the right to interfere in citizens’ private life.”
She continues: “Parliamentary discussions on this bill have a controlling message for the people and another message for women. The government wants to keep the people quiet and oppressed. Through these ten conditions set for men’s legal polygamy they bring the image and value of women to nothing but a used object. This means a body, an object, which till today did not have the right to work, leave the country and choose her residence without her husband’s permission has to face even more disadvantages. Women who were scared to speak an extra word and losing their allowance from the husband have to also worry about having to share their lives with another woman and watching their husband chop the family life into pieces.”
In a time that the marrying age has increased and economic challenges have noticeably escalated to the point that young people cannot even afford to get married at all how could this bill really help? In a situation that the government comes up with various proposals and policies to encourage easy marriage how could this law help facilitate the youth in forming healthy families? What is the use and contribution of this law? What percentage of men in our society could even afford to get married once let alone affording the economic responsibilities of polygamy. More than 70% of the society is under 35 years old and the rate of unemployment is currently at 21.8% in this age group.
Ali, 23 years old and a bank employee, calls Article 23 one of government’s many stroke of policy and states, “ We cannot even afford one woman let alone four wives. A few years ago I really wanted to get married. But how could one get married with a salary of about $600 ? I am not thinking of marriage anymore. I wish instead of these laws they would improve the economic situation so that we could make more money and would let people decide about their personal lives.”
Mehdi, 55 years old and the owner of two commercial offices (hojereh) at the Bazzar and somebody who is wealthy enough to afford more than one wife, says, “ What do these parliamentarians think? If I want to remarry while still with my wife I would keep this matter totally away from others. How could I stare into my wife’s eyes and my family’s eyes and tell them that I want to have another wife? We don’t have enough nerves and a happy heart left for yet another woman. It’s bad. It’s unethical. Even if my father wanted to get a second wife he would not ever look at us and tell us this. What are these people saying?” Mehdi adds, “Nowadays it’s fashionable to have sexual relationship outside marriage. Not many men would bother to agree to enter another marriage. This is the age of modernity!”
Shahram, a university student with a major in painting, believes, “This is just sexy talk that you cannot really find in any other country’s parliament. A man in today’s Iran has done a lot if he could simply afford his own life. It is hard enough to obtain the economic and social status for the one wife let alone multiple wives. Having multiple wives would be possible only in the dreams of today’s men and honestly most men do not even have such a dream.”
Fariba Davoudi Mohajer concludes, “These days, inside Iran and abroad, there have only been discussions about amending the family protection bill and Article 23. However, nobody has seriously spoken about the necessity to eliminate the right to polygamy for men in our laws. Even if the men in our society could not have multiple wives due to economic problems, such a law institutionalizes the inferiority of women in relation to men in the family and society. Women have to always fear that their men have full control over their lives and that their family life could shatter into pieces at any moment. Iranian women are worried about their future and the irony is that their worries stem from the very law that is supposed to protect the family.”