It is said that the family is the smallest unit of society. According to the most popular definition the family includes a male and a female and spreads with their children regardless of extended family. The marriage is usually the first step of setting up a family that is logged officially or religiously.
But in our modern world some reject such a definition, for instance homosexual couples adopting a baby or a man and a woman who start a family without recording it officially through marriage. But there are still countries that have a primitive attitude to the family. Iran is one of those.
While girls are educated in the same way as boys in Iran, they do not have the same opportunity, and are even dominated by men in the family. According to Iran’s law, which is derived from Islam, before a girl is married she is under supervision of her father – regardless of her position and level of education.
If her father is dead, a brother or grandfather or uncle can be her custodian. After marriage – which needs her custodian’s permit in exchange for a dowry consisting of money, gold or property – these rights are assigned to her husband. Needless to say, the virginity of a girl is the first and most important of her husband’s rights.
A married woman does not have the right to visit her parents or travel without her husband’s permit, however most Iranians do not pay attention to this seriously. There are no rights related to the children for mothers in Iran’s family law, and if she would remarry after a divorce she loses custody of any children.
A man is able to get a divorce but for a woman it is very difficult without her husband’s permission – even if he has been violent towards her. Similarly the wife can’t have a job – even if she is highly educated – without her husband’s consent. Although generally disapproved of and not widely spread, polygamy is legal in Iran and the government is drafting rules that will make it easier for men to take more wives without informing their first wife.
”My husband is faithful to his family. He wants me to repair my hymen, because he likes to experience sex with a virgin woman again,” 32-year-old teacher Zohreh said. She was extremely worried about the dilemma of whether to obey or refuse him, in the latter case giving him an opportunity to have another wife.
“Body ownership is like a dream,” she said. “We live in Iran and according to our culture and religion, a married woman cannot be the owner of her body.”
Mahsa, 16, a high school student, wants to complete her education and get married as soon as possible.
“I am tired of my father and brother’s orders,” she declared. Certain that her secret boyfriend can make her lucky, she said that her future husband would not order her like her father and brother.
”This will not happen, if he does so, I will get divorced,” she declared, probably not realizing how difficult getting divorced is for an Iranian woman.
Masoumeh, a 47-year-old housewife, said: ”I am not satisfied with my life. I have experienced domestic violence. Even my father and brothers did not support me to get divorced.” She believes that keeping the family is a must for her because of her three children.
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”I have to work seriously to save money for our marriage ceremony. Rana’s family did not allow us to go out without engaging, so we decided to get engaged. But now I cannot predict when I am able to celebrate our wedding,” he said.
“Yes, the law neglects women’s rights, but on the other hand men are responsible for supporting the family. I cannot earn enough money to have a standard life in this bad economical condition. I would not have any problem if my wife worked.”
But Rana says that that she has never thought about working outside the house. “My father has not allowed me to work. However, I think the husband is the financial supporter of the family even if his wife has a well paid job.”
However important the Islamic Republic considers the unit of the family, statistics show an increase in divorces and a falling marriage rate in recent years.
In the first five months of 2011 a total of 401,167 marriages were recorded in Iran – a decline of around 6 percent compared to the same period in 2010. At the same time, the divorce rate grew by 5.5 percent.
The conflict between old attitudes, often associated with traditional interpretations of Islam, and more modern views can cause many problems among families, and perhaps destroy some of them. As mentioned above, one such conflict has to do with the intellectual and financial independence of women.
Another issue is child marriage. Islam allows marriage of girls from the age of 9 years, but this is not acceptable by the majority of people in Iran. Farshid Yazdani, the spokesman for Iran's Association of Children's Rights, said that child marriages are more common in rural areas with high levels of illiteracy and drug addiction.
"Financial poverty of the families leads to children's marriages. However, cultural poverty and ignorance is also an element," he said.
Experts say that these young brides rarely continue their education and consequently have no choice but to completely depend upon their husbands' earnings. The life expectancy of these girls is cut exceedingly short, given the high mortality rate from childbirth injuries. Girls younger than 15 years old are five times more likely to die in childbirth.
The Union for the Protection of Children’s Rights reports that in 2010, at least 713 marriages of girls under the age of 10 were registered in Iran – more than twice as many as recorded in the three years before. The organization also reported that about 342,000 marriage contracts among adolescents under 18-years-old were registered, of which 42,000 involved girls between the ages of 10 to 14.
The statistics also show that these kinds of marriages not seldom result in early divorce; there were 37,000 widows and divorced women between the ages of 10 to 18 in 2010, according to official statistics in Iran. Every year during the period 2007-2010, around 800 girls aged 10-14 and 15,000 girls aged 15-19 were divorced.
Given Iran’s soaring divorce rates, which are strikingly high especially for a Islamic theocracy, it seems that the current Iranian law cannot solve the problem and is unable to answer people’s needs. This is primarily because it does not protect women rights.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of Your Middle East.