Iran women activists see victory on polygamy bill

Thursday 4 September 2008

By Fredrik Dahl

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s parliament has indefinitely delayed a vote on a bill on families, a move women’s rights activists said on Tuesday was a victory in their drive to block legislation they fear would encourage polygamy.

The conservative-controlled assembly had been due to vote on the government proposal known as the "Family Support Bill" last Sunday but it was sent back to its legal committee for more work, an Iranian newspaper reported this week.

Sussan Tahmasebi said she and other activists had lobbied against the measure, which they said would allow a man in the Islamic Republic to take a second wife without the agreement of his first wife. The bill also covered other family issues.

But she cautioned that the bill, put forward last year by the government of conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had not been withdrawn and may be sent back to the legislature.

"It is a huge victory ... but the threat still looms and it still exists," Tahmasebi told Reuters.

There was no immediate comment from the government, which rejects allegations Iran is discriminating against women.

Under Iran’s Islamic law, men can have up to four wives, but polygamy is not widely practiced and is seen by many Iranians as unacceptable.

Women’s rights activists seek an end to polygamy and last month said in a statement the bill would reinforce women’s lack of legal rights in Iran.

"It in fact encourages polygamy by placing on men who wish to take on additional wives the sole condition of financial capacity as the deciding factor by the court," they said.

The Farhang-e Ashti daily on Monday said the proposed law had caused controversy and was removed from parliament’s agenda.

"In view of the fact that the above-mentioned bill needed more expert work ... it was felt as necessary to send it to the legal and judicial committee," a member of parliament’s presidium, Hamid Reza Hajibaba’i, was quoted as saying.

The newspaper said Hajibaba’i expressed hope that the committee would improve the draft law but did not give details.

Tahmasebi said activists also objected to other aspects of the proposal, including imposing taxation on money the husband agrees in a marriage contract to pay his wife upon her request.

She is involved in a campaign to collect one million signatures in support of improving women’s rights in Iran.

Campaigners say dozens of them have been detained since the drive began in 2006, in what Western diplomats see as part of a wider clampdown on dissent. Most were freed within days.

The activists say women in Iran face institutionalised discrimination that makes them second-class citizens in divorce, inheritance, child custody and other aspects of life.

Iran’s ruling clerics say Iranian women are protected from the sex symbol status they have in the West and that the country is implementing divine law.

(Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari)


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