A statement by equal rights defenders in protest against article 23 of Family Protection Bill: ‘Prohibit Polygamy!’

{{Fair Family Law}}: ‘Prohibit Polygamy!’ is the call from a group of women’s rights defenders in Iran who have started a petition against Article 23 of the proposed Family Protection Bill which defends polygamy. In a statement, while recounting the conditions under which article 23 makes polygamy permissible, they have warned against the negative

consequences of polygamous relationships be it full term marriages or temporary marriages. The signatures will be submitted to the representatives of the Islamic Consultative Assembly after it returns from summer recess on 25 September 2010.

The Statement reads:

{{Prohibit Polygamy!}}

The Islamic Consultative Assembly is debating the proposed Family Protection Bill. According to Article 23 of the said Bill – first presented to the Assembly in 2007 – the courts will allow men to take up more than one wife under any of the following conditions:

1. Permission from the first wife;

2. Inability of the wife to perform marital duties;

3. Continued disobedience of the wife following a court order;

4. Madness or incurable disease;

5. Confirmed conviction to a year’s custodial term or a cash fine the non-payment of which carries a year’s custodial sentence;

6. Addiction that according to the court’s judgment, impairs family life;

7. Unacceptable behaviour or relationships that cannot be tolerated by the husband leading to the irrevocable breakdown of the marriage;

8. Abandoning marital life for six months;

9. Barren woman;

10. Absence of the wife for one year.

These conditions not only make polygamy easy but actually give rise to the break up of families. An important point here is that according to Shari’a men do not need to observe any of these conditions and can marry regardless. This is reflected in the Court’s attitude once such application is made which in practice has made any challenge virtually impossible.

It should also be noted that the first wife does not have the right to divorce if her husband takes on another wife. Furthermore, despite amendments to the divorce laws in 2002 proving any of the above by a woman as grounds for divorce is extremely difficult which is a further sign of discrimination and inequality in the laws.

Therefore, as an Iranian citizen I am asking you, the representatives of the Assembly, to not ratify article 23 and to help encourage a secure future for the children in a warm peaceful environment free from hate and family feuds.

I am asking you to make polygamy illegal be it a temporary or a full marriage term.

Name & Family: ……………..

City: …………………………..


{{Background Information:}}

Iranian women’s groups and other rights organizations are fighting a much discussed proposed law which they say would encourage polygamy by allowing a man to take a second wife without the permission of the first in certain circumstances.

The proposal comes at a time when the country has been rocked by protests, in which women have played a major part, following the disputed re-election last June of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Although Sharia law permits a man to take up to four wives, polygamy is not widely practiced in Iran and women have enjoyed greater rights and freedoms than in some other Muslim countries. At present, an Iranian man needs his first wife’s permission to take a second.

A so-called Family Protection Law, proposed by the government in 2008, said a man could marry other wife (Until four wives) on condition only that he could afford both wives financially (Article 23). The parliament dropped that clause following a wave of opposition from women but is now reconsidering a different version of the provision.

With some changes in article 23, a man can marry other wife under ten conditions.

The new version still requires the first wife to give permission, though controversially this would not be required under certain conditions, such as if she is mentally ill, or suffers from infertility, a chronic medical condition or drug addiction, in which case the husband can marry another woman. Also if the first wife does not cooperate sexually, the husband can take another wife.

The change is being promoted by conservative members of the parliament as a move that supports Islamic law. A leading conservative deputy, Ali Motahari, said in parliament last year, “Polygamy is Islam’s honour.”
Iranian women still oppose the legalisation of polygamy, saying it weakens their role and status at home and in society. Shahla Ezazi, professor of sociology at Allameh Tabatabai University, conducted a survey in 2008 which showed that 96 per cent of Iranian women do not approve of allowing a man to take a rival wife.

The original plan was dropped after a group of intellectuals, religious, social and human rights activists created a movement to voice their opposition to the law. In September 2008, a group of 50 well-known women, including poet Simin Behbahani, politician Azam Taleghani and lawyer and Noble prize winner Shirin Ebadi, met representatives from the parliament to express their concerns about what they called “an anti-family protection law”.

Islamic organizations such as the Zeinab Association and the Women’s Organisation of the Islamic Revolution also supported the movement. In addition, organizations such as the One Million Signatures campaign, which opposes discrimination against women, played a significant role in mobilizing public opinion.

The law was also controversial among government officials and several reformists protested against it openly. Iran’s former president, Mohammad Khatami, called it “persecution”. Even a leading cleric, Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanei, stated, “If the first wife does not permit her husband to take another wife, the marriage will not be legitimate, even if a man can support both wives financially.”

A lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, “When a government imprisons the women who ask for a change of discriminatory laws, and it persistently proposes a law that encourages men to marry a second wife, it is only natural that women don’t trust such a government.”

Iran’s first law that recognized polygamy according to Islamic Sharia law was passed when Reza Shah, who ruled between 1925 and 1941, was in power. In 1970, women activists demanded the secular government of Mohammad Reza Shah outlaw polygamy but despite the government’s positive reaction to their demand, clerics prevented it. In 1975, an alternative was adopted that polygamy was permitted under certain conditions, such as obtaining the first wife’s permission.

Much has changed in Iran since the 1976, when only 36 per cent of women were literate. Now, according to the Statistical Centre of Iran, 80 per cent of women are educated, and almost 1.6 million are university students – half the total and compared to 46,000 in 1976. Women’s education has also brought about a drastic change in their demographic behaviour. A woman’s average age on marriage is 24 while in 1976 it was 18 and the birth rate has dropped by one third compared to 30 years ago.

In addition, despite government restrictions on women, the number of female professionals has increased at around six per cent a year, so that about 2.5 million women were working in 2006, according to official statistics. A large group of educated women – scientists, doctors, academics, writers, artists, cinematographers, lawyers – has shaped today’s Iranian society. For years, these women have demanded legal and social rights and equal treatment with men. They have resisted any law that weakens their rights or degrades their position in society.

They say the proposed new law on polygamy is intolerable, also in the light of other laws on, for instance, divorce, fixed-term marriage contracts for men (or Sighehs), and child custody. Under Iranian divorce law, men can split from their wives under any circumstance, whereas women must have a “valid justification” such as the man’s addiction to drugs. Married men can have as many Sighehs as they wish, whereas women are stoned to death if they have an extramarital affair. In most cases, men also get custody of the children.

While women are angry with the proposed new law, they have also been disappointed by the reaction of key figures of the opposition movement. A recent statement signed by a group of women activists accused defeated presidential contenders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi of ignoring women’s rights and even their existence in their political manifestos. “We believe that women’s issues are a major part of the current crisis and no solution will be achieved unless this issue is included,” they said.

Resource: Institute for War and Peace Reporting

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