Posted by: bahareiran | November 9, 2010

Being a woman is a crime

9 November 2010, Camelia Entekhabifard

In the Iranian society where I spent my childhood, the expression zan-e sighaei (a temporary wife) was an insult. If we asked our mother what it meant, she was extremely shocked.

Two kinds of women accepted such marriages. A long time ago, in the Qajar and the first Pahlavi’s era, when a poor widow couldn’t cope with the household expenses, she often became the temporary wife of another man.

Meanwhile, for a wealthy man who already had a wife and children and would find it difficult to take a second and maybe a third wife, temporary marriage was fun and permitted, allowing him a bit of slap and tickle.

There was another kind of woman who indulged in this sort of marriage. She was basically a flirtatious, old-fashioned prostitute, who could use this kind of marriage as a subterfuge in an Islamic country.

Today, some women in Iran, where prostitution is illegal, still use temporary marriages for business purposes. But these days the temporary marriage is very different from the way my grandma described it.

She told us that, in the old days, sighehi women would hang out at places like Imam Zadeh Davoud (the cemetery of descendants of the Imam Davoud, on the outskirts of Tehran), or near Imam Reza’s shrine in Mashhad and the Maasomeh mausoleum in Qom.

Such women offered themselves to pilgrims who came from afar. To distinguish themselves, they wore their chador (long Iranian veil) inside out, as a signal to their suitors.

Today, if any woman, whether a trendy one with a Mercedes from uptown Tehran or one from the poorest of neighbourhoods, will, if caught with a man they’re not related to simply claim: “We are temporary wife and husband.”

Recognition of sigheh (temporary marriage) is one of the hottest topics for politicians and women’s rights activists in Iran at the moment.

In parliament, there is a lot of debate over a bill which, if passed, would make such marriages legal. According to Article 22 of this bill, called ‘Protecting the Family’, registration of temporary marriage is optional; but it’s mandatory if the temporary wife becomes pregnant.

According to Article 23, the courts can permit men to marry other women without their first wife’s permission, if he has enough money and of course treats all his wives fairly!

Why am I discussing this with you? Because a well-known hardline newspaper in Iran, Kayhan, run by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, recently called France’s First Lady a prostitute!

This paper has repeatedly insulted Carla Bruni, because she’s joined in the campaign to save an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning.

Ms Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtinai has been sentenced to this medieval punishment because of what they call adultery, while Parliament is debating legalising prostitution!

In the eyes of many Iranians, temporary marriage is a kind of prostitution. Never in Iran has such a relationship between a man and woman been respected and recognised.

Legalisation of this shameful thing and open discussion about it in Parliament just shows the sexual desires of people in power.

They insult the First Lady of France like they insult and treat most of Iranian women, because of their open vision and their demand for a better life and freedom in Iran. They want women to wear shapeless outfits out of doors and at home, obey their husband and never stand up for her rights!

Now Carla Bruni has come under fire for standing with Iranian women who have been fighting for their rights for 31 years. Ms Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtinai is a symbol for Iranian women and human rights activists, and Carla stands with them.

In March 2008, the nation was shocked when General Reza Zareai, the former Commander-in- Chief of Tehran Police, was arrested after being caught with six naked prostitutes.

General Zaraie apparently claimed that they were all his temporary wives! But isn’t that adultery anyway?

What he did was never discussed on TV, because it was a matter of great shame for the hardliners. But not so with Ms Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtinai, a mother of two small children, who had to confess on TV that she’d committed adultery.

Is that just? If she has been sentenced to death by stoning for having a relationship with a man she wasn’t related to, what about General Zareai and his shameful bevahiour with prostitutes?

Why doesn’t he apologise on TV? In a maledominated society, being a woman is a crime.

*Published in the EGYPTIAN GAZETTE on Nov. 9, 2010. Entekhabifard is an Iranian journalist based in Dubai.

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