By Mehdi Baghernejad, Tehran (Source: Mianeh)
Online college aims to prepare candidates for marriage with Islamic principles
Iran has launched an online "marriage college" to try to stem a soaring divorce rate that is worrying officials. The National Youth Organization, NYO, which is supervised by the government, will award graduates of the college a marriage license and plans to make this certificate compulsory before anyone can tie the knot.
"This license will show that the person has acquired the necessary skill and knowledge to maintain a stable family," said Mehrdad Bazrpash, head of the NYO and a close advisor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Statistics from Iran's National Organization for Civil Registration show that currently for every seven marriages one divorce is registered. In Tehran, that rises to a staggering one divorce registered for every 3.76 marriages.
The number of divorces in the Iranian calendar year just ended was 125,747, a rise of nearly 50 per cent from 2005, the year Ahmadinejad took office, when the figure was 84,241.
Mohsen Zanganeh, head of the Tehran NYO, said on March 13, 2010 at the launch of the marriage college (www.saj.ir) that the country presently has 24.5 million young people, which the NYO defines as aged between 15 and 29.
The minimum age of marriage in Iran is 18 for men and 16 for women and in the last year the average age when people got married was 26 for men and 23 for women.
The marriage college's course incorporates psychological pointers and Islamic educational principles and three sections cover the period before, during and after marriage. Registration costs ten US dollars to cover 16 weeks of classes before marriage and receive textbooks.
One book, detailing the required characteristics of suitable marriage partners, was cited by ILNA news agency. It said a man who wants to get married should be broad shouldered and strong, have sufficient social standing and "lack lasciviousness in sight, thought and deed".
He must also have the financial capacity to support his wife and possible child and pay alimony should they divorce.
A woman must possess "delicate eyebrows and hair and a melodious voice". She must have a good figure or be fit, the book says. She must be obedient to her man and be "at her husband's disposal" in private.
When her man is upset, the woman should not rest until she makes him content. A woman must be compliant and easy going. Virgins, seyyeds - descendants of the Prophet Mohammed - and women with a small bride prices are top priorities for marriage.
Both man and woman must be faithful and god-fearing and adhere to the principle of the rule of the Supreme Leader. Having "suitable" political views is another important quality couples must possess at the time of marriage.
A professor of sociology, speaking on condition of anonymity, said of the characteristics announced by the government for ideal mates, "Today the Iranian government announces criteria that will yield the generation that it desires," the professor said.
An Isfahan University psychology professor, who also preferred not to be named, said, "If everyone is to be broad shouldered men and shapely women to meet the government standards, the marriage rate will be lower and divorce rates will increase because everybody will expect his or her partner to be a Barbie girl or a Ken boy."
Dr Mostafa Eqlima, head of the scientific board of Iranian social workers, believes requiring the marriage license would be meddling in people's personal affairs, "No one has the right to impose on people how to decide on getting married. They can visit a consultant if they want, but there has to be no obligation."
One social analyst described marriage licenses as a "joke" and said, "Ahmadinejad really loves taking shortcuts. But there are no shortcuts in affairs such as marriage."
Illustrating the problem, Hassan Mousavi, the director general of the office for societal problems at the State Welfare Organization, said the life expectancy of a marriage has gone down from five years to three.
A study carried out by Shahid Beheshti University showed that poverty, unemployment, drug addiction and sexual incompatibility are among the most important factors leading to divorce.
Many Iranian officials and influential religious groups say that the reason behind the soaring divorce rates is a failure to adhere to Islamic values.
Javad Sabour, a member of the presiding board of parliament's social commission, said, "The most important reason for divorce is people becoming distanced from the wholesome Iranian-Islamic culture due to western teaching and negative propaganda that is spreading along with satellite TV in society."
photo from Divorce Iranian Style film
Zahra Sharaf-o-din, a member of the presidential office's centre for women and family affairs, puts it down to women exercising new-found freedoms, "Women not being bound by the principles of chastity, having extra-marital relationships and sending dirty text messages to male colleagues are the main reasons for the soaring number of divorces in society."
He said that if women stuck to being homemakers instead of working the divorce rate would fall. According to data from Iran's 2006 census, 83 per cent of women who seek divorce are employed.
In other words, women who have a source of income lose one of the most important reasons for dependence on men and their move towards demanding or accepting divorce is quicker.
Reflecting this attitude, a saying in conservative Iranian society has it that a woman should go to her husband's house in her white wedding gown and leave that house in her white shroud.
One women's studies expert mocked Sharaf-o-din's opinion, saying, "Forcing women to stay at home is not the solution to the divorce problem. It is like asking people to ride horses again to avoid the dangers caused by driving cars."
A study carried out by Shahid Beheshti University found that 80 per cent of divorces that took place within the first five years of marriage were instigated by women.
Sexual dissatisfaction is cited as one of the main reasons behind divorce in Iran, something that society and the government, for social and religious reasons, denied for a long time. However, in December 2008, Mohammad Javad Haj-Ali Akbari, an Ahmadinejad deputy and then head of the NYO, acknowledged it for the first time at a news conference.
The dean of Allameh Tabatabai University's faculty of psychology, Ahmad Borjali, recently named sexual problems as the reason for the majority of divorces in the country, adding, "This shows the importance of sex education before marriage."
Borjali is one of those who have supported the marriage education courses. However, in the educational program proposed by the government there is as yet no chapter on sex education.
It is not only conservative religious interests that reject sex education before marriage; many traditional families object to the notion as they believe it will only contribute to the spread of promiscuity in society.
Societal factors are a major element in the high divorce rate, according to Dr Amanollah Qarayi-Moqaddam, a professor of sociology at the University of Tarbiat Moallem, "The conflict between the disintegrating traditional structure and the modern structure taking form in Iran prepares the grounds for identity confusion among men and women.
"Without a doubt a society with such soaring divorce rates is a weak one and in crisis."
About Mianeh: Mianeh is a new independent web-based initiative run as a project by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (iwpr.net) the award-winning non-profit media development organisation that works across the globe to platform local voices and promote international learning and engagement. Mianeh aims to be an open space for ideas, news and debate where writers in Iran can reach out to each other as well as to those outside the country who are interested in learning more about the vibrant and dynamic society that is Iran today.
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