Iran’s Islamic regime may regard the West as morally decadent but trends in Iran are making them more alike. Take divorce.

Over the past decade, divorces have increased from 50,000 to 150,000. Nationwide there is one divorce for every seven marriages, but in the capital, Tehran, the ratio is one divorce for every 3.76 marriages, reports the New York Times. Marriages are also failing early — 50 per cent in the first five years. The authorities so concerned that they renamed Marriage Day this year No Divorce Day and banned the issuing of any divorce permits on that day.

What’s behind it?

Conservative commentators call the problem a social ill on par with drug addiction and prostitution. Senior officials and members of Parliament have increasingly referred to the issue as a “crisis” and a “national threat.” Explanations for the rising divorce rate vary. More liberal commentators emphasize factors like rapid urbanization, high living costs and a jobless rate that official figures put at close to one in four among 16- to 25-year-olds. Conservatives often point to what they say is growing godlessness among the young and the corrupting effects of the Western media.

By the way, the birth rate, with official encouragement, fell dramatically from the late 1980s and is now below two children per woman (1.89).

The greatest factor, however, might be changing attitudes among women. The number employed or looking for work has risen to 20 per cent, and they outnumber men in Iran’s universities two to one.

But something more is at work than simple economics, many experts say. “Women have found the courage to break with tradition and say no to the past,” said Azardokht Mofidi, a psychiatrist and the author of several books on psychoanalysis. “They are no longer prepared to put up with hardships in marriage, and their expectations have risen to include equality in relationships.”

In law, it is much easier for a man to divorce his wife than vice versa. But women are finding a way around that, too:

Facing such an uneven playing field, marital lawyers say, Iranian women have increasingly turned to leveraging their legal right to a mehrieh — a single payment agreed on before marriage that constitutes a kind of Islamic marriage insurance. Husbands are obliged to pay this sum to wives when they divorce.

Under what are known as “divorces of mutual consent,” a woman may forgo part or all of her mehrieh to provide a financial incentive to her husband to let her leave. In recent years, there have been exponential increases in the value of mehriehs, which now often reach the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars. Some conservatives have raised the idea of capping mehriehs to reduce the divorce rate. Clerics and government officials promote the idea of having a purely symbolic mehrieh, like a handful of gold coins or a Koran.

So, while Sakineh Mohammedi Ashtiani awaits stoning for adultery or possible hanging for alleged complicity in her husband’s death, her sisters in Tehran are buying their way out of unhappy marriages through the equivalent of the western pre-nup. Strange place, Iran.

 

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet