February 17, 2010
People of Iran, men and women
The Legal and Judicial Commission of the Islamic Consultative Assembly of the Parliament, has recently re-introduced the so-called “Protection of Family Bill” to the parliament with changes to articles 23 and 25 and rushed it through parliament for ratification among the political chaos in the country. This bill is ineffective to support the institution of family and is far behind the bill that was ratified some 35 years ago in 1974.
According to the new bill, polygamy is legalised and men are given further powers to re-marry without the consent or even the knowledge of the first wife. According to the new amendments if a woman contracts a terminal disease or is away from home for 6 months or is imprisoned for a bounced cheque, her husband can take a new wife. On the other hand, women’s right to divorce is very limited.
In July 2007, a draft of this bill was introduced to the parliament for the first time but faced with widespread objections by women activists and other civil rights groups. The objections focused on articles 23 and 25, where the first was given further rights to men and the second introduced tax on women’s Gift Money which is allocated to her on marriage and is women’s only guarantee and safeguard in case of divorce and maltreatment. The new bill has omitted the tax but has divided the Gift Money into ‘conventional’ and ‘unconventional’ without setting a standard for this, thus restricting the only legal mechanism women had within the institution of family.
In the first instance in 2008, an alliance was formed with the participation of women activists and equal rights advocates who organised mass protests against the introduction of the bill which they called the “Anti-Family Bill”. They distributed brochures, leaflets, released statements and wrote widely about the dire implications of the amendments to the already discriminatory family law. The formation of the “No to the Anti-Family Bill Great Alliance” attracted the biggest number of women from among women’s activists inside and outside the country. They campaigned vigorously; collected signatures, sent text messages on mobiles, sent postcards “no to the bill”, assembled at the parliament corridors en-masse until articles 23 and 25 were removed from the bill.
Recently, in the atmosphere of chaos and tensions created after the 10th Presidential elections, once again a group of parliamentarians have taken the opportunity to re-introduce this bill once again. In the political situation where the smallest protest on part of women, students, teachers, journalists or any Iranian citizen is met by intimidation, arbitrary arrest, unfair trial and long prison sentences, the ratification of this bill will be another blow to the peace and harmony of the institution of family.
Dear Iranians, fellow countrymen and women
We believe that on the sidelines of the current political crisis, patriarchal and totalitarian tendencies have seized the opportunity to hammer the nail on the coffin of relative peace and harmony which exists within Iranian families.
To look back, the 1979 revolution was in many ways a setback for the Iranian women. Women were forced into veil and a universal dress code was imposed on them. The family law which protected women to some degree was annulled and women judges were removed from their posts. Although the country was declared a republic, women were not allowed to run for presidency. The archaic law of stoning people to death was re-introduced and many women were stoned to death for adultery. Honour killing was permitted under the same archaic laws. The 8 year Iran-Iraq war provided an ample opportunity for the state to use women and their labour in various areas when needed but on the other hand seal their lips to any objection when deprived of their rights and driven out of job and into the kitchen.
Strangely enough none of the informed or unconscious efforts and policies of the Islamic state to corner women and keep them as second class citizens has worked as expected. Gradually, and over years a new generation of women has emerged from the rubbles of the old generation with higher expectations and aspirations. Thousands of women, daughters of revolution who saw the world moving ahead leaving them behind, entered universities and higher education, pushed their way into the society and opened debates and challenged the very foundations that tried so hard to keep them silent.
The state has done all it can to keep women in their ‘place’ and the re-introduction of the omitted articles 23 and 25 regarding unconditional polygamy and the clouding the issue of the Gift Money indicates the spitefulness and vindication of a group of men against women of Iran. These two issues; the right of men to re-marry without the first wife’s knowledge and consent and the creation of ambiguities in the case of Gift Money give men a free hand to abuse the system and deprive women from any right within the institution of family.
We wish to once again reiterate that women have played a great role in the current political situation created after the June presidential elections. They are one of the distinctive agents of the Green Movement as well as independent agents with their own identity and their own demands. Women universally follow the path of non-violent struggle against the wide-spread inequalities imbedded in the patriarchal social, political and legal systems of Iran. Women are well aware that they are being punished for the great role they play in shaking the foundations of the system but they no longer accept the inequalities forced on them either in public or in private spheres.
It is with these considerations that we call on those who in the name of the people have occupied seats in the parliament and who are expected to safe-guard the rights of all citizens to prevent the ratification of the bill which will be another stain in the record of the state against women of Iran.
We, a group of women’s rights activists, human rights advocates and civil society activists declare our strong objection to the ratification of the “Family Destruction” draft bill; particularly articles 23 and 25 and demand the recognition of women’s human rights through gender equal laws in the parliament which its main responsibility is to protect men and women on the same equal grounds.
We also call on men and women who seek justice to show their objection and opposition towards the ratification of the bill by signing this statement and prevent yet another blow to the institution of family and women within that institution.