“A lot of people still do not want to accept there is violence in our society and this is tantamount to denying the existence of a problem.” Shahindokht Molaverdi, the Vice President in charge of women and family affairs, made this statement and described the situation of violence against women in Iran as “worrying” and “serious”.
Violence against women is an issue that exists in all societies. In most developed countries, to a large extent this violence has been harnessed through building the suitable the legal and cultural bedrock, but this does not mean that violence has been eliminated completely in those countries, and in fact violence against women still manifests itself in different forms and shapes even in the developed world.
However, the situation in the under developed or less developed countries is completely different. In such countries, there is very little cultural program or cultural planning to counter the phenomenon of violence against women. On the other hand, the presence of discriminatory laws itself has become a tool for the spread of violence against women.
In this article, I would like to study the case of Iran; a place where, in the course of several years of struggle, the women have been able to have a presence on the social, cultural, economic and political arenas and find a place for themselves in the society. Although that presence is not all that robust and solid, it has bolstered the degree of influence the women enjoy. Also, Iran is a country where the percentage of educated women who have been to universities is quite high. Iran is a country with a young population; the young generation has created a link between the past culture and technology, scientific development and aspect of modernity. Furthermore, this young population, at least on the surface, considers itself as a modern and intellectual social group.
But the very same intellectual person, when it comes to the arena of violence against women, is likely to forget almost all its values and heritage, including a 2500 year old history and culture, a rich language and literature, and its acceptance of modernity as well as tens of other characteristics of which he is usually proud. What is even worse is that the same person will act wantonly like a man possessed in the arena of tradition and accepted norms, and will commit different forms of violence which at the present time can manifest itself in several different forms and shapes.
This is a kind of violence that in its traditional aspect used to be confined to mere physical violence but now the whole issue has gone beyond that point and it is likely to affect all aspects of the life of a woman. It looks as though violence too has evolved to become a modern phenomenon.
There are, for instance, verbal and psychological violence, various forms of violence at the work place, violence in terms of preventing travel, sexual violence and several other forms and manifestations of violence.
What it is interesting is that this kind of violence is not confined to Iran, where there are men for whom violence has become an institutionalized conduct and mindset, and as such, they have no fear or qualms about committing it. These men are carrying violence with themselves like a valuable commodity which underlines their masculinity and their “honour”. They carry this luggage on their backs throughout the world. This is an important fact which proves that institutionalized violence has now become a part of our culture.
What gives legitimacy to violence against Iranian women is the set of discriminatory laws that consider men as superior to women. These laws disregard women as a free and independent human being and then transfer the control of the women to another human being, namely a man.
As an example one can mention the passport law which gives Iranian men to ban their wives from leaving the country at any time they wish. Therefore, when the law allows men to prevent their wives from leaving the country, it is natural that these men should consider their powers and authorities as completely normal and legitimate. After all, this legal authority is tied to their dominant cultural milieu as well and therefore, it becomes an inseparable part of their characteristic and, they have to take it with them wherever in the world they may go.
These kinds of men can exercise their authority while they happen to be inside a country like Iran. This is because these men may decide to prevent their wives from travelling abroad and the Passport Department clearly delegates such a legal right and authority to them. Now, imagine these kinds of men in a European country; that is to say a situation involving an Iranian man and an Iranian woman who live outside of Iran and still have Iranian passports, but there is no Iranian Passport Department to support the man as he seeks to exercise his right. Therefore, he will hide his wife’s passport to prove that he is the boss of the house even in a country that the equal rights for both men and women have been officially recognized. It is correct that at the end of the day, there are legal ways to counter this “illegal activity” outside Iran but, what is important is the spreading of the culture of violence which is due to the discriminatory laws that give the men the right to control women without respecting her and recognizing her rights as a human being.
Another example is rape in the marital bed. This is not considered as an offense in Iran but is an offense in the West and only a single telephone call is sufficient to force the aggressive man out of the married couple’s home. At this particular stage, the woman does not really need to prove anything and if she is not happy to be under the same roof with his husband or partner, that is enough to allow the police to give a warning to the man and ask him to leave the house and not to approach the women until further notice. Then, if the whole case ends up in a court, the consent of the woman plays an important role in deciding whether an offense has taken place or not. This consent is assessed not by traditional means but by very precise criteria, so that the woman, who is the owner of her own body, will not have to forfeit any of her rights.
Molaverdi mentions a few strategies and formulas for reducing violence in Iran. Some of these include, “fundamental education during childhood and the inclusion of subject matters such as toleration and conciliation in school text books and also the ratification of new legal punishment for those who perpetrate violence against women”. Hassan Qazizadeh Hasehmi, the Health Minister, has said that the first solution for reducing violence is to teach people to have a dialogue and talk to each other. He believes that the people should practice the skill of talking to each other at all times at home, schools and in society as a whole.
These are some fundamental and infrastructural steps that must be taken and there is no doubt about their usefulness. But one should not forget that education, dialogue and conversation will produce a result only when both parties enjoy equal rights.
When a person is supported by the law when he is committing violence, then how can one expect this person to forfeit his legal rights? Therefore, in addition to cultural activities which should take place right from the very first few years of education, changing the discriminatory laws is also a very effective step towards the elimination of violence against women. This does not apply only to areas within the geographical borders of a country, but it also affects the hearts and minds of those Iranian men who have no qualms about perpetrating violence against women in any shape and form and in any part of the globe.
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