A year of Experience for the Drafters of the Family Support Legislation and Nothing Learned!
Tuesday 25 September 2007
By: Zohreh Arzani
Translated by: Roja Fazaeli
Approximately a year has passed since the start of the One Million Signatures Campaign to end gender discriminatory laws. In this past year thanks to the impressive effort of the campaign members and others who are concerned with women’s rights, the issue of gender equality has become a public concern. The campaign has been publicized all over Iran thanks to these tireless efforts and many have signed the campaign to demand changes to these discriminatory laws. These issues have even reached official circles where maters as equality in ascertaining blood money has been discussed. The latter was encouraging for many, as one may have thought that the responsible officials have realised the principle problem of our society namely unequal rights of man and woman enshrined in law and hence will try to reform them. After hearing that the Family Protection Bill was sent to the Majlis (parliament) and when friends asked me to write a piece on the Bill, on my arrival in Tehran I started to read the Bill. I was extremely optimistic and was hopeful that discriminatory laws on marriage, divorce and custody will be resolved once the Bill has been codified.
However, my optimism did not last long, as the drafters of the “Family Protection Bill” have merely gathered all of the laws concerning marriage and divorce which have been enacted in the past 80 years and put them all in a bill. The bill would have been noteworthy if it encompassed the gender equality demands of the society. As it stands the drafters have included much of the same discriminatory laws which already exist in the bill. They have ignored the objections of the society and in particular those of the signatories of the Campaign and many who attended the legal workshops, who demand to reform unjust laws. It is incomprehensible as which or if any of our demands have been included in the bill and if tomorrow in the workshop I am asked about it I do not know what the answer will be.
In the past year marriage and divorce have created the most debate among matters discussed in the workshops. In particular when discussing temporary marriage and polygamy, I received the most reactions from the participants. In reality the society has a very negative view of these two issues and really no woman who seeks equality is prepared to agree with these laws. In these workshops, I never once witnessed anyone to agree with such issues. Nonetheless, the proposed bill endorses both temporary marriage and polygamy in Article 22 (temporary marriage) and Article 23 (polygamy). It is surprising as to how the officials do not realise that one of the reasons that women apply for divorce is their husbands’ second marriage and how this second marriage causes the breakdown of the first.
Regarding the minimum age of marriage the drafters have emphasised 13 years of age for girls and one can not see a proposal to increase the age of marriage. It is interesting to note that in the workshop the participants have noted that while the age of marriage in society is high, the legislator in vain choose the age of marriage as 13 years. This bill has stayed quiet regarding laws pertaining to women’s work, their place of residence and permission to leave the country amongst other civil laws and hence these laws remain in power. This bill, therefore, does not help me or any other women in our society. As we say in the workshops any woman who works outside the house could await her husband’s disagreement and as we witnessed examples where women were not allowed to work outside the house due to their husband’s disagreements.
The issue of divorce also remains in force. By ratifying this bill nothing will change regarding divorce laws, once again men can divorce their wives by paying a financial settlement. Women will still have to wear their iron shoes to prove the reasons for them wanting a divorce.
This bill has however saved men from paying high Mehrs or dowries to their new wives. According to the bill women will be liable to pay heavy taxes on the Mehr. But the drafters did not think to include anything on women’s right to the shared accumulated wealth after the wedding and to see even if women have any rights to this or not?
Nevertheless, the drafters have attempted to propose some positive changes and this will show after analysing chapter after chapter of the bill. However, such a bill for someone like me who is a member of the Campaign and the training committee, who has years of experience as a family lawyer and carries around flipcharts and markers for different workshops…if I open the flipchart and ask the participants to put a red mark through those gender discriminatory laws that this bill will change, I have to say that there will be none?! It might be a good idea to ask the drafters of the family protection bill to attend some of our workshops.