The effect of the polygamy laws on the lives of women
"I Worked Very Hard to Prove Myself"
Interview by: Mariam Zandi
Wednesday 18 June 2008
Translated by: SZ
Monir is the resident of a town where the cold spells far exceed the warm spells and its shivers are more frequent than its fevers. She has gotten her life back together after going through a separation brought about by her husband. I talked to her about herself and her life.
Mariam Zandi: Greetings. Hope you’re doing well. Tell me about yourself.
My name is Monir. I am 45 years old. I have a high school diploma. I have two children. I still can’t believe that the long and hard winter is over. But it is a fact that the winter is over! I live in a town that has a cold climate. The passing of winter seems like a miracle. I was in fear and shivering all winter.
Why was that?
It was winter. I was alone. I was afraid of becoming lonely after so many years of married life. One morning my husband left home and never came back. He had lately become bad-tempered and aggressive. He no longer had any consideration for anything. He had decided not to get along with me anymore. He no longer had to be considerate because of our children. Both of our children had passed university entrance exams and had gone to different cities to continue their education. I was terrified of being alone, especially because I soon found out that he had married another woman with whom he had had a relationship since much earlier! His action had made me the talk of the town and family. I felt very humiliated and lonely.
One day when I returned home, I found it empty with no furniture in it. My husband had taken everything. The only thing that was left was me and the empty house. The situation even made my neighbors cry, but I decided to stay alive for my children. My husband was of course gone. It was an intensely cold, icy year. I was afraid of snowfall. I was terrified not to have a man in the house. I was worried about not having money. At last, I dressed warm and got up on the roof. I shoveled the snow on the roof on several occasions and found out that it is not that hard of a job and found out that I can do it too.
How was your relationship before he left?
The first few years weren’t like that, but later, there was a big difference between the way he treated me at home and the way he treated me in front of other people. If there had been a hidden camera in our house, it would have shown how cold and dark our relationship was. Our relationship was at the level of saying hello and how are you. There was no respect. And verbal abuse had become the spice of our life.
How did you provide for yourself and your children after your husband left?
I was very afraid. I was scared of being alone. For years, I had been used to getting our day to day expenses from my husband. He paid erratically as he pleased and he behaved differently from day to day. Now I had to provide for myself and my children on my own. I had frequently thought about what would happen if this man one day stopped providing for us. This was a nightmare for me!
I had no choice but to work. Because my family is well-known and has a good reputation, they were against it. We argued for days on end because I did not want them to provide for me. They were finally convinced. They helped me for only a few months.
The only thing that I could do was to buy a car on installments. Because my family was well-known in that town, I was able to contract with several schools and institutes that teach foreign languages to transport their students in my car.
How did the people of the town accept you, especially in a small town where families are very harsh on divorced women?
It was probably unbelievable for me. I worked very hard to prove myself so that the families and children would accept me. I treated them all with respect. I listened to what they had to say and I even had to read a few books on psychology (after all, I was going to major in sociology when I quit in my freshman year at the university to get married). The children found my knowledge and life experiences fascinating. They told me about their problems. And I helped them to the extent that I could.
After you went through that initial period, wasn’t it difficult for you to work, keep your job and deal with your new circumstances?
I tried very hard to keep my job. The thought of the car freezing at night and not starting in the morning kept me awake at night. I used to get up two hours earlier in the morning so that I could start the car to pick up the students on time. I tried not to have any accidents on icy roads of this cold town. Every day that I dropped off the children safely, I would call my father because I knew that he would be worried about me. I used to say: "I had another accident free day!" To tell you the truth, I get tired, but I like getting tired this way. Fortunately, because of the confidence that people have in me, during the last few months, they have asked me to transport the disabled children as well. I like this job very much. It gives me satisfaction. When I hug the children in the morning and seat them on the car seats and listen to them until they get to their destination, I feel a sense of relief. They say: "Madam, we prayed for you all night last night so that you would always be with us." These comments give me satisfaction. Being positive, being useful and loving people is my life.
You deal with young girls. How do you see their world?
The circumstances of the young people in high school are not good at all. They almost never read any books other than their school books. Their goals and hopes are limited to what the society has prescribed for them. Studying and marrying a rich man!
How have your separation from your husband and his remarriage affected your children?
My husband forgot me and the children very fast. The separation was only between me and him but he stopped supporting the children altogether. He even took a few trips abroad with his new wife. He has made a very comfortable life for his new wife. When he was in our house, he did not give much thought to buying new things for the house, but in his new life, he has gotten a new house, a new car and new everything. He has put all his assets in his new wife’s name.
My youngest son, who has finished his studies and has returned home, has become very irritable. He has become very vindictive after the incident when his father emptied our house and has become very spiteful of him. I try to calm him. The first few days after he came back, he used to constantly say: "Mom, if you did not have this house, where would we live? We would have to be on the streets." He used to wake up at night and ask: "Mom, where can I go if you marry too and go away? What can I do?" My son’s morale and psychological well-being have been very negatively affected.
Are you thinking about remarriage?
It is very hard to be lonely. However, I now have a strange sense of security. I am lonely, but I am not afraid!
During this time, I have received strange and bizarre marriage proposals directly or indirectly despite the fact that I am 45 years old. Finally, out of curiosity, I agreed to meet with one of these gentlemen to find out why he wants to have a second wife! I asked him: "Do you have any problems in your married life?" He answered: "No!" I asked: "So, why are you after me?" He said very nonchalantly: "I love my wife and children. I just want us to be together a couple of nights a week to have some variety in life. If you accept, we can go to Dubai or travel abroad a couple of times a year." I said: "Thank you very much!" In my mind I wanted to say: "I have just gotten out of a relationship with someone like you. I no longer want to have to beg any man to provide for me."
I was thinking to myself whether our mothers ever allowed themselves to think of variety or having an escape from the daily routine of their lives by having private moments with other men. Usually women cannot even imagine such a thing in their mind.
Do such men allow their wives to have this variety in their lives as well?
Or no, if a man even imagines that his wife might be having an affair with someone else, he has the right to kill her without any fear of retribution!
Have you heard about the One Million Signatures Campaign?
Yes. I know about it through one of my friends and I have signed the petition. I get revitalized whenever I come to Tehran. I feel very pleased especially when I see all the activity that takes place in Tehran. It was hard for me to believe that anything could be done about women’s issues. A great number of people are trying to change these unjust and unequal laws. I too believe in this movement and want to take part in helping women and achieving the goals of the Campaign.