"Family Protection" Act and the Future of our Daughters
Thursday 27 December 2007
By: Jelve Javaheri
Translated by: SZ
The first measure taken towards changing family laws within the framework of Iran’s civil laws was Dr. Maehangiz Manouchehrain’s proposed draft of the family law. This document was first published as an addendum to a book titled "Legal Status of Women in the World", a book published by the Iranian Women Lawyers’ Association in February 1963. This proposed draft was published again in 1964 as a standalone pamphlet named "Proposed Draft of Family Law Based on the Equality of Women and Men." It was then published in the weekly women’s magazine "Etellaat-e-Banouvan" in four consecutive issues. However, at that time, because of the reactions of the religious leaders stating that the proposed draft was against Islamic jurisprudence and because the then Justice Minister (Dr.Ameli) opposed the idea, Manouchehrian was unsuccessful in gaining the support of at least 15 parliamentarians to take the bill to the Senate floor. The Justice Minister at the time announced that the civil laws of Iran would not change. He called Manouchehrian’s proposed draft of the family law "a product of her own conclusions of her research" and stated: "in the Judiciary, no proposed law which is deemed to be incompatible with the enlightened religion of Islam would receive any consideration." Manouchehrian, because of her answer to the Justice Minister’s comments, was banished to Tafrash for three months.
After Manouchehrian’s proposed bill, which was vetoed because of the position that the Justice Minister had taken, the discussions of the family laws came to a standstill. This went on until towards the end of 1965 when the issues concerning women’s rights once again received some attention, especially in women’s publications. Manouchehrian, despite all the problems and difficulties that had arisen, started laying the groundwork for bringing up the proposed bill for discussion in the Senate. On October 24, 1996, in her speech before the call to order in the Senate, Manouchehrian presented the proposed family protection bill. After the introduction of the family protection bill in the Senate, some publications started printing news about the proposed law. One of these publications was "Payghame Emrouz", which published the news about the introduction of the bill in the Senate and printed articles about the elimination of polygamy and temporary marriage (sigheh). But unfortunately, many publications, including women’s magazines chose to remain silent and some publications called the proposed bill premature and radical.
Manouchehrian’s proposed bill, even though it opened a new door to discussions of family protection measures and women’s rights in the press and in the society, did not ultimately get anywhere and as Sharif Emami said, it wasn’t examined according to appropriate standards. But all of a sudden, in February 1967, with much propaganda, a bill named "Family Law" appeared in government publications. In the presentation of the bill, there was no mention of Mehangiz Manouchehrian’s name whatsoever nor was there any acknowledgement of her efforts in starting the discussion of family laws. On the contrary, Manouchehrian’s proposed bill was labeled as hasty and immoderate. Women’s weekly magazine "Zane Rouz" reported of the passage of the bill in Majlis (the lower house of the parliament in Iran at the time) on May 27, 1967 and published a detailed explanation of the articles of that law. At last, after being passed by the Majlis, the bill was sent to the Senate for final approval. Finally, on June 17, 1967, "Zane Rouz" reported the final ratification of the bill in the Senate, after which it was signed into law.
At that time, even though the Family Protection Act had been signed into law and was enforceable, many of the old laws were still being upheld unless they were in stark contrast to the new law. In such instances, the court had to act on the basis of the Family Protection Act. Although this law had a lot of positive aspects which, compared to the previous conditions, were in favor of women, it had its shortcomings, too. This is to say that in comparison to Manouchehrian’s proposed bill, it appeared conservative. The Family Protection Act only modified the previous laws whereas Manouchehrian’s bill aimed at more profound changes. As an example, in Manouchehrian’s proposed bill polygamy was to be abolished altogether, whereas in the bill that was signed into law, polygamy remained unchanged. Even so, after the ratification of the bill, "Zane Rouz" reported that the gaining of new rights by women, however little those rights were, had caused men to react and raise the issue of dowry (mahrieh). Some men had written to the editor stating that in the light of the Family Protection Act and granting the right to divorce to women, dowry (mahrieh) was an old-fashioned tradition and a thing of the past that was no longer relevant.
Mehrangiz Manouchehrian, in critique of this law and the issues it had failed to address wrote a book titled "Inequalities of the Rights of Women and Men in Iran and the Methods to Correct them" which was published by the Iranian Women Lawyers’ Association. In this book, she addressed issues such as housing, divorce, permission to travel abroad, citizenship, custody, guardianship, trusteeship, inheritance, blood money (diah), employment, polygamy, temporary marriage and other cases of inequality in the laws, none of which had been corrected even by the revised Family Protection Act of 1974. She therefore proposed new laws correcting these inequalities. Not long had passed since the publication of Manouchehrian’s book and her critique of the Family Protection Act and the civil laws that with the advent of the Revolution in 1979, the Family Protection Act was abolished altogether. As it turned out, the minimum rights that women, in spite of the contempt of the powers that be, had gradually gained over the years, did not last very long.
Three decades have passed since then. Throughout these years, some of the laws have changed in minor ways, but no serious attention has been given to the damage done to women all these years by discriminatory laws. Children continue to be the victims of the contemptuous way in which their mothers are treated. If women had defended the bill unanimously to get equal rights when the Family Protection Bill based on equality was introduced in the Majlis and if women of every political orientation, belief or religion had unequivocally fought for upholding that law, after 30 years, we would not be witness to so much injustice brought upon innocent girls. The lives and childhood d reams of these very young girls are sent to the slaughterhouse at the will of their fathers. Now, after three decades another bill bearing the name of Family Protection is being sent to the Majlis. This bill not only fails to abolish or limit polygamy, it even removes the few obstacles (wife’s permission) that stood in its way. Our present situation is like 30 years ago when the Family Protection Law was abolished, or 40 years ago when despite a strong proposed bill, a weak law was passed by the parliament. Now is the time to become aware of what we are doing to our children. Alas, how we are burning the dreams of tomorrow’s women in the fires of our ignorant ways today!
The bill that some are trying again to pass in the Majlis now is a bill which will cost us the lives of today’s women and the women of many generations to come in our beloved country. It will cost us the destructed futures of the children who are burning in the fire of the polygamy of their fathers, and who, because of their shame and ignominy cannot hold up their heads fearing that they may make eye contact with others with their frightened and innocent eyes. These are the children whose lives may turn to ashes at the spark of a fire fueled by their fathers’ greed and lust, and thanks to the polygamy laws, their future hangs on a thin thread of jealousy and grudge.
What do we want now? Do we want to bring about the destruction of the lives of women and children by resorting to political and sectarian differences and positioning the bill in a polarized and adversarial environment? What we are bargaining for is not a simple matter. It is the life and fate of a woman, who after 30 years since her husband’s death, when she remembers how her husband married another woman and how he lashed her frail body with a belt, still sheds tears as wide as her face. The fate of the bill is the fate of a defenseless child who is killed by her father’s other wife, and her chopped up body is found among layers of sheets, mattresses and quilts. The discussion of the bill is the discussion of the life of a girl who, after her husband marries another woman, pours boiling water on herself and burns herself to death, even though forced marriage and not having the right to divorce had already burned her soul and spirit to death. Suffering, compromising and putting up with it all, that’s what women are expected to do under a law that is disguised under the cloak of a family protection law but says: "The only right you have is to remain silent."
Yes, this bill is the fate of thousands of women who are burning in front of stoves, but they tolerate and toil, and from the bottom of their hearts they imprecate. In contrast, their men, arrogant and exultant, every day find other women who are also burning in front of other stoves, and by the mere utterance of the words that legitimize an Islamic marriage, the lives of these women are set on fire in an instant.
Now let’s take another look at the thousands of cases that are open in Family Courts. Let’s take a responsible and careful look at these cases so that we can see that family laws have even tied the hands of lawyers, judges, social workers, etc. They cannot base their judgment on a law that is clear and enforceable, issue a verdict that is fair, present a defense befitting a human being, or even open a small window to a flicker of hope. They cannot shine a flicker of the light of hope to the pleading eyes of women who no longer even have the strength to climb the stairs of the court. Let’s demand justice for women to whom we will be accountable some day in the future.
Let’s stand together, whatever our ideology or political orientation may be. Whether we are a member of parliament, a member of the Women’s Commission of the Judiciary, a women’s rights activist, or even a mere passer-by, we must stand together because we know how the ratification of the bill can challenge the lives and safety of thousands of families in our country. Let’s all give each other a hand in an endeavor to correct this bill and other family-related laws in a rational and calm atmosphere, and in doing so, bring the gift of a just law to our lives and the lives of millions of other women.