chapter  9
29 Pages

Women and politics in post-Khomeini Iran: divorce, veiling and emerging feminist voices: Ziba Mir-Hosseini

In September 1993, a lawyer friend in Tehran arranged for me to meet the new president of the Special Civil Courts. These are the post-revolutionary family courts which I studied between 1985 and 1988, when they were located in an old building near the Bazaar. They had recently moved to a modern building in affluent north Tehran. My friend could not remember the name of the street, but told me, ‘Come to Vanak Square, you’ll find it: the entrance will be packed with women waiting for the door to open at 8.30.’ Near Vanak Square, I saw a women in a chador, carrying freshly baked bread, one of those so-called ‘traditional Iranian women’. I asked her for directions to the courts. She looked at me in horror, and said ‘Oh no! why you?’ Feeling defensive and somehow ashamed, I explained in an apologetic tone that I was just meeting a lawyer friend who would introduce me to the new court president. Disbelief showing on her face, she told me to come with her, as she lived in a nearby street. Taken aback by my own reaction, as we walked together, I tried to make a case for divorce, for women such as those whose court cases I had studied, women who shared my view that divorce is a lesser evil than staying in an unhappy and unfair marriage. My guide disagreed: ‘What makes you think you’ll find fairness in another marriage; divorce doesn’t change anything, the next husband will be just as bad as the first one; it is up to a woman to make the best of her life.’ I protested that there were surely standards and limits: ‘What if he takes another wife?’ I knew from my court attendance that this is where most women, and even judges, draw the line. She paused and said, ‘Too bad; but if she leaves, the children will turn against her; if she stays, she will keep them for ever; they matter to a woman more than a husband.’