Over 2000 Equal Rights Defenders Object to Proposed "Family Support" Legislation

Sunday 9 September 2007

Change for Equality: In a statement issued today, 2000 equal rights defenders have objected to the Family Support Legislation submitted to parliament by the executive branch, earlier this month. The statement asserts that while lawmakers have claimed that the Family Support Legislation intends to address shortcomings in the law and bring it up to date in accordance with the needs and realities of today’s family, it has in fact pushed back family legislation and the status of women by 42 years.

The statement reads: "at a time when Iranian society, more than ever before, insists on the adoption of just and humane laws, and while equal rights defenders are working collectively in the form of efforts such as the One Million Signatures Campaign, to change existing discriminatory and unequal laws, such as blood money, inheritance, and testimony and are seeking equality for women in their rights to divorce, child custody, nationality, travel abroad, and are demanding an abolishment of polygamy, not only does this proposed legislation not adhere to these demands, but reverses existing rights from women. This legislation has not only in its totality disregarded the dignity and humanity of women, but in Article 23 it proposes to eliminate a women’s say in her husbands right to take on a second wife, a right currently accorded to women by law. The proposed legislation in Article 23 shifts the final decision in cases of polygamy to a court and bases that decision at the discretion of the judge. The only requirement which men must meet in taking on multiple wives, based on this new legislation is financial and based on their ability to support more than one family. The condition of "justice", in cases of polygamy is also subject to the discretion of the court." The statement goes further to question how the court is to verify and prove that justice can actually be adhered to by a polygamous man, when the consecutive marriage is yet to take place and when no evidence of just or unjust treatment of wives can be proved.

The statement also claims that this legislation should aptly be named as the Male Support Legislation, instead of its current name, as in all its provisions it does nothing but seek to destabilize the family unit and promote desires on the part of some men to do as they see fit, without regard to how their actions impact their wives, families and others.

The statement also criticizes several other provisions in this proposed legislation, including a provision in article 25 which calls for the Ministry of Finance to specify a ceiling for dowry rates that must be adhered to by women entering into marriage. This article imposes a tax on dowries which exceed this official amount. The statement criticized this proposed provision, by claiming that "while women still have no rights to divorce and can no longer even object to their husband taking on a second wife, you are asking new wives to pay a tax to the government on a dowry which they may not have even collected or may never collect." The statement also condemns a provision in Article 2, which calls for the presence of three judges in family court and has not required these judges to be female, but rather states female judges should be present only if possible. The statement criticizes this provision on the basis that it does not provide a friendly environment for women to air their grievances, giving them a distinct disadvantage in family court. Further, the statement criticizes article 22 of this proposed legislation, which states that the official registration of temporary marriage or Sigheh is no longer necessary and postpones regulation of temporary marriage to a directive to be issued in the future by the Minister of Justice. The statement in this regard reads: "we don’t yet know what this directive will entail, but surely until its issuance we will be witness to increased numbers of women, who cannot legally prove that they have a husband and we will be witness to the birth and suffering of children resulting from temporary marriage, who will not be allowed to obtain birth certificates."

The statement goes on to claim that "unfortunately under the current legal system in our country, the human unit is a male unit, and women’s human and legal rights are assessed at half of men’s. These discriminatory laws have cast a shadow on our society and impact negatively women from different ethnic and religious groups, creating crisis and disrupting the foundation of family life, especially for women from lower socio-economic sectors. Despite all this, government officials instead of offering logical and just solutions for the improvement of the status quo, have proposed legislation which is inhumane in its treatment of women and offers men with power and the financial means to do so, the opportunity to take advantage of these inhumane practices….As if the current law, allowing for polygamy which is in and of itself humiliating for women, was not enough, government officials have decided to take up the task of making the situation worse for women. The news about this proposed legislation was indeed alarming and frightening for the public and especially for families, forcing all Iranian equal rights defenders to take a stand and to object."

In its final paragraph the statement boldly calls for the unconditional reversal of all discriminatory laws especially laws which allow for polygamy and temporary marriage. "We announce that should the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Parliament) not remove this proposed legislation from its agenda, we will be forced to employ more serious measures. Should this proposed legislation be introduced to the full parliament, without doubt we will make voice our demands for justice and our MPs will not get through the day, without our presence in [in the form of public protest] in front of the Parliament."

Earlier in the week a seminar was held by the public relations committee of the One Million Signatures Campaign to analyze the proposed Family Support legislation. Analysis was provided from a legal, social and psychological perspective. The speakers included, Ms. Farideh Gheyrat, lawyer, Ms. Nasrin Sotoodeh, lawyer, Dr. Shahla Ezazi, Sociologist and Dr. Shiva Dolatabadi, Psychologist, with panel chairs, Zohreh Arzani, lawyer, and Shahla Entesari, Social Worker. Without exception, all presenters found the proposed legislation and the practice of polygamy in particular as extremely damaging for families and for women. A special guest speaker also shared with participants her story and discussed the emotional and financial devastation she experienced when on her thirtieth anniversary she discovered that her husband had taken on a second wife 10 years earlier. This statement objecting to the proposed Family Support legislation was first read at this seminar. A report of this seminar will be translated and made available on this site in the future.

The text of the Statement follows:

Petition of more than 2000 Equal Rights Defenders in Protest of the Proposed Family Support Legislation: Get this Bill off the Table.

Parliament! Take this Law off the Table.

September 9, 2007

With the start of the third year of the activities of the ninth government, its council members proposed a bill under the banner of “Family Support”, for review and approval to the Islamic Parliament. This law has been submitted with the suggested motives of “the need to match current law to today’s issues” and “the removal of defects in current laws of family nature”, while the material in the Bill rejects the statements above. Not only does this bill not have any matching to the reality of the lives of today’s Iranian women, on the contrary, the bill proposes to move back women’s status 42 years.

This is at a time when Iranian society now more than ever has an emphasis on the need to establish fair and humane laws; while justice seeking men and women are involved in collection action (including the 1 Million Signatures Campaign) to change discriminatory laws and are demanding the abolishment of oppressive laws such as unequal blood monies, inheritance and testimonies for women. Additionally male and female equal rights defenders are demanding equal and fair laws in marriage, divorce, child custody, citizenship, equal rights to leave the country and the removal of laws sanctioning polygamy. Unfortunately article 23 of this proposed bill, not only disregards the dignity of women and does not ban polygamy, but has taken a step backward in a bizarre fashion by taking the right of a wife to give repeated marriage permission to her husband away from her, which is existent in the currant Iranian laws. The new bill only requires the establishment of the marriage to depend on the security of a husband’s financials and a legally nonbinding vow from the man that he can establish fairness amongst the wives. (Current Iranian marriage laws requires a legally binding Taahod (marriage vow) given to the bride and her family.)

In reality, the authors of the bill have written this piece of legislation for men, not for women. In the event that the Islamic Parliament passes this proposed bill, opportunistic men can easily obtain another wife after paying the Mahrieh (Portion of money that by Iranian law belongs to the wife) and giving a legally non-binding vow. A marriage can simply not have taken place yet, and it is unclear how a judge is to learn of the intentions for equal treatment of the wives from the man.( Under Islamic custom a man can marry multiple wives as long as he can demonstrate that he can treat all the wives equally and fairly). This is while already in small towns and far away villages, due to the dominance of men over women and low Mahriehs in those regions, men can conveniently pay the Mahrieh and these women without the right of divorce or the right of objection, are required to submit to this forced humiliating lifestyle. Based on which rational have government officials decided that this bill is a step towards “the strengthening of the foundations of the family” and of “bringing the legal code in line with the realities of today”? In truth, this bill assesses the value of human beings by the measurement of the financial assets of men and instead of decreasing the unequal plight of women, for instance their not having the right of divorce; a bill has been proposed to further increase the rights men!?

The bill which in actuality is for “support of the men in the family” has many other defects. Article 25 of the bill, requires the Finance Ministry to annually declare a suggested amount of Mahriehs and such marriage nuptials that exceed that amount are subject to taxation during its registration. This means that young brides who do not have the right to divorce and will not have the right of giving permission for the husband to get another wife, without any legal agreement whatsoever, are faced with paying taxes on a Mahrieh that they may never receive.

Article 2 of this bill requires the presence of 3 male judges in family court and has rejected the mandatory presence of a woman judge, stipulating that a female judge be present if feasible. As a result a victimized and suffering woman would be required in court to discuss the various pressures she has been subjected to in her marriage as well as her most personal matters to three male judges so that perhaps these male judges would defend her rights. The question that begs to be answered is in the face of all of the unfairness with this bill, should it become law, how can a woman count on the justice of the court?

According to article 22 of this bill, the registrations of Seeghehs (temporary marriages) are not required and are subject to the review by the Ministry of Justice in an unknown future. A regulation where the content is unclear and which waits for review of the legal status of temporary marriages, will in fact lead to increased in the number of women that will never be able to prove that they have a spouse as well as increases in the number of children born of these marriages who will denied birth certificates and identification cards. Of course with the sanction of this new law, we will be witness to the merciless destruction of women’s lives, by men who feel they have the right to take full advantage of the legal rights accorded to them.

Unfortunately in the current civil rights framework of our country, the unit of humanity is defined as being male and the rights of a woman are half of a man’s. The shadow of these discriminatory laws can be seen in the lives of the women of various ethnicities, languages and religions in our country. The current discriminatory laws have created multitudes of crisis and have destroyed many families, especially in the disadvantaged tiers of our society. Instead of seeking rational and fair solutions to these chaotic situations, with proposing inhumane bills they allow men of political and financial means to take advantage of unjust but legal privileges. It is as if male lawmakers are determined to take away the dignity of the women and mothers of their land and to humiliate them as much as they can. It appears that the law sanctioning multiple marriages in not humiliating enough and our lawmakers have pushed their sleeves back in determination to further this degradation. The publication of such a bill has created fear and confusion amongst families and has sounded alarms for every free thinking defender of equal rights in Iran.

Due to this bill, we signatories of this petition, while announcing our extreme protests with the current discriminatory laws, especially with the multiple spouse law, are demanding the unconditional annulment of this Bill and we announce that should the Islamic Parliament not remove this proposed legislation from its agenda, we will continue with more serious actions. If the time comes that this bill is introduced in the Parliament, without a doubt the members of Parliament will have to endure our presence in front of parliament and hear our cries of justice.

Read the statement in Farsi

Read the report of the seminar in Farsi


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