There is a growing sense of anger amongst Iranian women. Next week, a number of women’s rights groups are planning to picket in front of the Majlis (parliament) to demonstrate against a new bill which, if passed, would allow Iranian men to take a second wife, without the permission of his first one.
Until now, consent of the first wife has been required by law. If the new bill is approved, this will be no more. All the man has to do is to prove that he can provide financially for his second wife, and he can legally marry her, no matter how vehemently his first wife objects. As Iranian law allows a man to have four wives, once this law is passed, all that stands in the way of anyone who wishes to be a bigamist is money.
Compared to some Middle Eastern countries, including U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Iranian women have more rights. Iran has female members of parliament. Iranian women play sports, attend universities in record numbers (higher than men), and participate in the arts and entertainment world, just to name a few.
In Saudi Arabia, women can’t drive. Ever heard of Zohreh Vatankhah? She is Iran’s female champion rally driver.
Clearly, compared to Western countries, women’s rights in Iran have a very long way to go. For example, the testimony of a female witness in court is officially considered half as credible as a man’s. There have even been cases of women being stoned for adultery. If a woman leaves her husband, she is likely to lose her children.
This new bill, even if it is not passed, shows that the rights of women under President Ahmadinejad (who refuses to shake a woman’s hand) are deteriorating. This stands in contrast to the time of Ayatollah Khatami as president, who had a female vice president.
The new bill also endangers the welfare of Iranian men from poorer income brackets who wish to get married (for the first time). They may find it more difficult to find brides from their economic class, because women who want to escape poverty could now find it easier to become the second wife of a rich man. So instead of helping the poor, as he repeatedly promises, Ahmadinejad and his government are giving more power to the rich.