"Free Pass for Polygamous Men"
For just over a year now the bill "Protection of the Family" has become a topic of public discussion in Iran. The Iranian Council of Ministers passed the bill last June. Since then the Iranian parliament, the "Majlis", has been debating it.
Iranian women rights activists are outraged. They are criticising the bill, which they see as hostile to families. "This bill damages the institution of the family", says Nayere Tavakoli, lecturer for social sciences at the University of Tehran. "It further weakens the position of women within society. In the case of inheritance the second or third wife as well as women from temporary marriages and their children are financially disadvantaged."
Criticism from numerous women rights activists is primarily directed toward Article 23 of the bill. This article allows a man to marry up to four women without the consent of his first wife. The man merely has to guarantee the financial security and fair treatment of all his wives.
The needs of the women are not taken into account
Prominent female critics such as Nobel Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi warn that such a law promoting polygamy grievously violates women's rights. This by far most controversial article of the bill is a kind of "free pass for polygamous men".
For years lawyer and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi has fought for women's rights in Iran. In 2003, she was the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize
The article lacks any clear definition pertaining to the financial conditions and fair treatment, claim critics. Women's needs are reduced to financial concerns. Their emotional and mental well-being in a multiple marriage is not taken into consideration. The bill only serves to reinforce existing patriarchal and archaic societal structures.
Dr. Nayere Tavakoli also shares this view. "According to the view of government representatives, which I believe is false, the stronger the position of the man and the weaker that of the woman within the family, the greater the protection of the family. Men will increasingly pursue their own desires and no longer satisfy themselves with one partner. Polygamous partnerships will develop into a tradition."
Other points of criticism are the planned taxation of dowries, restrictions in women's employment, as well as stricter dress codes. In addition, the bill also intends to eliminate the registration requirement for temporary marriages.
A joint offensive
Last year a wide protest movement developed in Iran. Women rights activists as well as secular and even religious-conservative women's groups are demanding not only that the law be prevented from going into effect but also that the legally weak position of women be improved.
In Iran it is dangerous to hit the streets for your rights. On June 12, 2006, women and men peacefully demonstrated in Tehran for equal rights. At least 70 protesters were arrested
As part of the campaign "a million signatures against misogynist laws in Iran" women are going door to door, informing the population, and collecting signatures against the bill.
Numerous women rights activists have already been arrested. Religious fanatics fear their protests will endanger national security. Tehran female journalist Sanaz Allahbehdaschti, a member of the campaign, regularly reports on the public battle against the bill.
This misogynist bill has helped bring women of different views together to form a strong counteroffensive", explains Sanaz Allahbehdaschti.
But women rights activists in Iran are still far from their goal. Whether their massive pressure in the public will ultimately bear fruit, remains unknown.
© Deutsche Welle / Qantara.de 2008
Translated from the German by Nancy Joyce