Iranian Women Activists Fight Controversial ‘Polygamy’ Bill

An Iranian government bill which has been sitting on the back-burner of legislation for  years has resurfaced and if passed through parliament and enacted will only further impinge on women’s rights in Iran – a country which already regards women as second class citizens.

The Iranian government calls it the Family Protection Bill, but activists call it the “Anti-Family Protection Bill.” It would give men the right to take a second wife without the permission of the first, and it would enshrine a man’s right to have an unlimited number of temporary marriages, which can last from 10 minutes to 99 years. Those arrangements come from Shariah law and have always existed in Iran, but the Family Protection Bill would make them official.

Two groups – the International Coalition Against Violence in Iran, and the Association of Iranian Researchers – arranged a press conference in London last week to raise awareness of the issue.

Women opposed to the articles in the bill that pertain to polygamy went on a brave and creative odyssey more than a year ago to confront it, traveling around Iran to talk to women whose lives have been adversely affected by their husbands taking second wives.

The women wrote their stories on pieces of cloth; if they were illiterate, they had someone else write them down. Then they sewed the pieces together into a quilt.

The quilt is still in Iran, but a digital image was smuggled out.

“Most of the stories are from around Iran, not from Tehran. They are sad stories,” said Rouhi Shafii of the International Coalition Against Violence in Iran.

Here is

a translation of one of the stories:

“A few years after my marriage, my husband started telling me, jokingly, that I looked like an old woman. I was five years younger than he. He began beating me and broke my hands several times. When he talked of taking up another wife, I took it as a joke. He wouldn’t do that, I thought. We have two children. But one day he married a young girl and wanted to get a two story building to bring his bride to live with us. I made him swear on the Koran not to do that, and he took his child bride elsewhere. He forgot about us and spent all his earning enjoying his bride. I was providing for the children by working at people’s homes or hairdressing salons. My younger son says: ‘when I grow up, I will kill my dad.’”

A group of women activists also gathered 15,000 signatures from women opposed to the law – signatures complete with their addresses – a very brave action in Iran where so-called “dissidents” are often interrogated, arrested and jailed or worse. The activists brought the signatures and the quilt to Parliament last year, to try to stop the legalization of the polygamy articles as part of the new law. Parliament accepted the signatures, but would not take the quilt.

The ‘Chehel Tikeh’ banner tour is aimed at raising awareness about the discriminatory bill

The activists say they discovered that at least 65 male members of the country’s 290-strong parliament had two or more wives. This is despite the fact that polygamy contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Iran has ratified. Article 23 stipulates that states must ensure that men and women have equal rights when marrying or at the dissolution of marriage.

Unfortunately, the activists could not count on female Members of Parliament for support as many are as conservative as the men, and support the legislation.

At this point, the two articles of the bill that deal with polygamy are on hold, but they have not been canceled out of the bill. Shafii believes activism has kept those bills from being passed so far.

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