|Type of paper:||Research paper|
|Categories:||Women Politics Feminism Asia|
Until the early 1930s, the Sharia law was used to govern almost all branches of law in Iran. The Judiciary system was monopolized by the clergy until 1925 when Reza Shah Pahlavi (1925-1941) implemented reforms in the legal system to create a secular judiciary. At this period, the Marriage Law was enacted in 1931 which subjected marriage to secular statutes. The Marriage Law required the registration of all marriages and divorces and stipulated the conditions under which a woman would initiate a divorce. However, Sharia law was heavily used to rule judgments (most of which favored men) apart from those pertaining to the legal age of marriage set at 15 years.
In 1967, major changes relating to family and marriage law happened. The changes were brought about by the enactment of the Family Protection Law (FPL) which was considered as the most radical change in the conventional marriage and divorce laws of the Muslim world (Afshar 60). The FPL created a more level playing field for women in marriage by eradicating the inequalities that are inherently reinforced by Islamic family laws. One of these inequalities includes the unilateral right of a man to divorce a woman. According to FPL, a divorce could only be registered if a Certificate of Impossibility of Reconciliation was issued by the Family Protection Court. Even though the FPL appeared to give women more autonomy in marriage, it borrowed provisions of the Sharia law which gave the impression that a woman's right to annul her marriage was controlled by her partner during the time of marriage. The last reform in marriage before the revolution in Iran took place in 1975 whereby the new FPL retained provisions of the 1967 law but made changes on the legal age of marriage. The 1975 FPL set the age of marriage as 15 to 18 for women and 18 to 20 for males. Also, the new law introduced changes in child custody and alimony for divorced women (Afshar 61-65). Essentially, the 1975 FPL removed Sharia law on marriage and gave courts the freedom to make decisions.
After the 1979 Revolution
Despite efforts to avoid complete separation from the Sharia law, the FPL was widely opposed by members of the clergy who termed it a violation of the holy scriptures of Islamic Law (Haeri 209-235). After numerous attacks at the beginning of the Revolution especially by the Islamic Republic, FPL was dropped and a return to Sharia law was announced. Seven months after Revolution was marked by uncertainty since the Family Protection Courts had been dissolved. It was until September 1979 that the Special Civil Courts Legislation (SCCL) was enacted. To this day, this is the only law relating to marriage and family that has been enacted since the Revolution. The SCCL in part retained the reforms of the FPL although it introduced several provisions of Sharia law (Haeri 209-235).
Since the revolution, the marriage institution in Iran can be described to have undergone changes in two phases. One phase spans from 1980 to 2000 and the second phase spans from 2000 to the present day. These two phases will be explained detailing how marriage and divorce have changed over time.
Phase One: 1980-2000
The period between 1980 and 2000 was characterized by low economic activity in Iran, high levels of corruption, and high levels of inequality. Given that Iran is a Muslim country, female education was not highly emphasized as boys were given priority. Indeed, there were laws that prohibited women from engaging in certain activities or working in specific jobs that were categorized as "man jobs". As a result, women became highly disadvantaged economically and socially. In marriage, women were highly dependent on men for the provision of basic needs and social protection. In Islam, divorce is highly discouraged. That coupled with low economic empowerment and the 1979 SCCL legislation that gave men the right to custody of children aged more than three years for boys and seven years for girls, many women often found themselves trapped in unhappy marriages with no recourse. As a result, the divorce rates were significantly low at about ten percent (Sanasarian 56-68).
In rural areas and among tribal communities, divorce rates were rare. However, the situation was different in urban areas where the divorce rate was noted to increase rapidly (Hojat et al. 19-31). Despite their limited chances of getting a divorce, a survey carried out in 1998 among educated women showed that only 24% thought that divorce should be made easier. However, the results showed that the rate of divorce among employed women was higher than among unemployed women (Hojat et al. 19-31).
Phase Two: 2000 to Present Day
In the recent past, there has been a trend of lavish parties for couples who are splitting in Iran. These parties have been interpreted to mean that the divorce rate is on the rise in Iran. According to Dehghanpisheh, the divorce rate in Iran has increased by more than half since 2006 to more than 25% in 2015. The high rate of divorce has not been received well by Iranian conservatives who view it as a mockery of the Islam religion. In 2014, the Iranian justice minister reported his discontent with the current trend which has seen more than 14 million divorce cases filed in the Judiciary system (Dehghanpisheh).
While Iran is not different from other countries, the common causes of divorce include financial problems, drug addiction, adultery, and domestic violence. However, a closer look at the situation reveals a unique situation that indicates a fundamental shift in Iranian society. In the recent past, individualism, especially among women, has grown significantly. Unlike two decades ago, modern women are now more educated and more financially empowered. When a modern woman is married and she is not happy, she will walk out unlike before when they used to get along. Divorce is no longer a taboo in Iran.
Despite the increase in divorce rates in modern Iran, the marriage law favors men than women. Due to the inclination of the law on men, many cases brought to court are usually a mutual agreement between husband and wife to divorce. However, in case the husband is unwilling to separate, the wife must prove that the husband is either abusive, unable to meet marriage responsibilities, or has mental problems (Dehghanpisheh). Alternatively, the wife could ask for dowry if it was paid. Where the husband cannot pay the dowry, the wife waives a certain proportion in exchange of divorce.
In conclusion, there has been a societal shift in Iran which has resulted in high divorce rates. That change has worried the clergy and the government, especially in a time when the birth rates are low. While the government and the clergy could attempt to implement legal and economic measures to limit the divorce rates, there are low chances they will succeed. It is important that Iranian society addresses the core of the problem which is inequality rather than implement superficial strategies.
Afshar, Haleh, ed. Women in the Middle East: perceptions, realities and struggles for liberation. Springer, 2016.
Dehghanpisheh. "Rise in Divorce in Iran Linked to Shift in Status of Women." REUTERS, 22 Oct. 2014, www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-divorce/rise-in-divorce-in-iran-linked-to-shift-in-status-of-women-idUSKCN0IB0GQ20141022.
Haeri, Shahla. Women, Law, and Social Change in Iran. Bucknell University Press, 1980.
Hojat, Mohammadreza, et al. "Premarital sexual, child rearing, and family attitudes of Iranian men and women in the United States and in Iran." The Journal of psychology 133.1 (1999): 19-31.
Sanasarian, Eliz. "The politics of gender and development in the Islamic Republic of Iran." Journal of Developing Societies8 (1992): 56-68.
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