A Woman’s Right To Live Independently
Since my article “Girls Who Flee From Home Are Not Criminals” was posted I have been asked a legal question which I would like to address here below.
A 22-year woman from the countryside has written this to me:
“My family, led by my brother, has been preventing me from continuing my quest for higher education. Sometime ago, I earned and saved some money by teaching school girls at home and one day decided to flee my family home. I found a respectable widow and moved in, paying my rent by looking after her in the evenings as she suffers from heart problems. As I was making preparations to register at a university my family members found out and stormed into my rented house, insulting my landlord and me with words that I do not want to repeat here. My landlord stood for me and told my family members that all I wanted to do was study and questioned their reasoning for stopping me. When they failed to get me to return to their house, they went to the prosecutor’s office who issued a summons for me. I went to see him and explained my goals. He told me that as long as a girl was a virgin she had to obey her family members. I did not understand this logic because I was of legal age and felt my physical situation had nothing to do with the issue. When I asked him for the source of his guidance he presented everything except any legal justification. When I asked him about what the law said about it, the prosecutor got angry and said, ‘The law is what I said. You have no right to leave your house. You must stay in your family house until a suitor comes and with the consent of your parents takes you away to your husband’s house.’ I was adamant and asked, ‘What about my right to study?’ to which he responded, ‘Your right is reserved provided elders, your father and brother allow it.’
When I asked him for the specific laws on this, the prosecutor banged his fist on his desk and shouted, ‘You will go to your father’s house right now and end this disgrace.’ He then called my father and brother into the room and handed me to them, as if I was a piece of confiscated good. My father bent and kissed the hand of the prosecutor.
So I went to my parents’ home and they brought my small belongings from my rented place. I entered the house like a stranger, the place that I abhorred. But I was not going to give up. I waited for them to celebrate their accomplishment and then one day left the house again and went to Tehran. Till now they have not found my whereabouts. I will flee that house a hundred times if I have to just like a bird that flees a cage will never accept captivity again. I plan to leave Iran, work and study. I have already received acceptance from a foreign university and now must make the other preparations.”
“The question that I have for you is legal. When I asked a lawyer to defend my right to live where I want he refused to accept my case and tried to convince me to return to my family. I felt he was afraid to take up my case and have heard that attorneys have problems with such cases. Can you explain what the law says in this regard? Does the law give me the right to separate from my parents and live independently or not?”
Despite all the anti-women discriminatory laws and their shortcomings in Iran - which have received wide attention - in the specific area that you are dealing with laws defend your decision. Executioners of these laws of course do not like you to know of these laws.
According to the law, which is based on religious rulings, women and men are recognized as adults from the age of 18. They can go to a registry and sell or buy property in complete independence and without the presence of a guardian.
Women on the other hand, so long as they are virgins, cannot marry without the formal consent of their father, his ancestor or a court. Men have this right unconditionally from the age of 15 and can freely chose a spouse for themselves and get married without the presence or consent of a guardian or caretaker.
The law does not provide any restrictions on women or men who are not married to separate from their families and live independently. In situations that you have described, judiciary authorities prefer not to reveal the positive laws that are in favor of young women. They are driven by their own self-interest and style. A legal marriage decree for a virgin woman who desires to create an independent life after the age of 18 will be destructive, which is why a 40 year old virgin woman who separates from her family is labeled to have fled her home and is considered to be in disgrace. This is true even though the law, which is based on religious rulings, does not ban a woman or a man of over 18 years of age from leaving their parents’ home and live independently.
In addition, the passport law does not specify any restrictions for women and men of 18 years of age and above who apply for a passport and permission to leave the country. If they are not mentally disturbed, the permission of the father or his ancestors is not required to issue them a passport and leave the country.
In conclusion, even though the law is silent on the subject of women leaving their parental home without having been married, this silence does not translate into a ban. This right is implied in another provision of the law as well, including the passport law.
So how is it that the law can provide a passport to an 18 year old woman and allow her to leave the country whenever she chooses but does not allow her to separate from her family and create an independent life? Or consider this a criminal act?
The current judiciary system in Iran does not wish women or young women to be aware of their religious-based rights. Contrary to the law and the Sharia, the prosecutor that you mention and many other judiciary authorities force women over the age of 18 to live with their family members, even if they live under oppressive conditions at home, and justify their rulings to be legal in nature. In these cases, judges demonstrate a desire to issue their rulings verbally or in contradiction to the law while the actions of women who are victims and take action to free themselves, are legal and in accordance with the Sharia. The actions of these authorities are founded on pretexts and oppressive mentality who even distort the scant laws that are fair.