GLOBE AND MAIL
Thursday, July 4, 2002
Ali Akbar Dareini
Desperation driving wives to murder husbands
Restrictive divorce laws lead some Iranian women to kill to escape abusive spouses
TEHRAN Married at the age of 13 to a man 18 years her senior, Ferdows was the wife that Iranian society expected her to be: obedient and silent, despite beatings and humiliation.
But after 30 years of marriage, she had had enough. She arranged to have her husband, Hedayat, killed, authorities say.
Ferdows, who has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death, is one of at least 20 Tehran women accused of murdering their husbands since February. Initially, the reports of the slayings were largely unnoticed. That changed as the number rose and Iranians began to see the killings as signs of social stresses.
"Husband killing is a new phenomenon in Iran's male-dominated society. It means economic hardships and social crises are reaching a crisis point," sociologist Mohammed Ahmadi said.
He cited a number of problems in Iranian society that lead to frustration and desperation: forced marriages, philandering husbands, impotence, poverty and no healthy entertainment in a country where Islamic laws ban socializing between men and women who are not closely related.
Others blame restrictive divorce laws that leave women feeling that murder is the only way out of a bad marriage.
Ferdows accused her husband of abuse. "During 30 years of matrimonial life, Hedayat always beat me. He was a doubter and skeptical of everything and didn't trust me. He had made life hell for me," she told authorities, who have identified her only by her first name.
Ferdows paid a man the equivalent of $8,700 to stab her husband to death three years ago, prosecutors said. The crime wasn't exposed until this February, when police found her husband's remains in an abandoned building. She had told people her husband abandoned her.
Both she and the hit man were convicted and sentenced at a closed trial in April. Word of the outcome leaked out a few weeks ago.
The punishment for women who murder their husbands is death. Some have already been convicted and executed.
Others are on death row and some are awaiting trial. They come from all social classes.
"Divorce is the first solution for women to get rid of an undesirable, troubled life. But why did these women ignore this option and resort to something that carries the death sentence?" the monthly magazine Zanan (Women) asked.
While Iranian men can divorce almost at will, a woman who wants a divorce must go through a legal battle that can take as long as 20 years, lawyer Sara Irani said. Even then, she added, the marriage may not be dissolved.
Under Iran's Islamic laws, a man is allowed to keep four wives at one time, a right that has no equivalent for women.
Even if a husband is having an affair, he can claim to have undertaken a sigheh, a temporary marriage. It is a contract under Iranian law that allows a man and woman to be "married" for any length of time they choose. Critics call it a form of legalized prostitution.
A wife trapped in a violent marriage has little recourse against her husband. "A woman has to bring four [male] witnesses confirming violence against her by her husband," Ms. Irani said. "How is a woman in Iran expected to keep four men in her bedroom to witness her husband beating her?"
Ms. Irani, who is also a writer on women's affairs, said that husband killing is the "outcome of humiliation and discrimination against women" and that the recent surge in cases should put pressure on the country's leaders to improve legal protection for women.
Mr. Ahmadi, the sociologist, said that in a country where there is virtually no sex education, unhappy marriages and domestic violence also can arise when husbands and wives don't know how to please each other.
Abdosamad Khorramshahi, a lawyer, sees social changes contributing to the killings.
"Previously, we had a socially closed society. Women were not allowed even to get out of the home without the husband's permission. Now, things have changed. [Women] are more outspoken and courageous. [They] have become aware of their rights and are fighting for equality," he said.
According to official figures, 44,000 Iranians were divorced last year, a 12-per-cent increase from the previous year. At the same time, registered marriages were down 4.5 per cent.
Created: July 9, 2002
Last modified: July 9, 2002
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