May 21, 2020, a heinous crime happened in a village in Talesh County, Gilan, north of Iran. Five days later, the news circulated on social media and from there almost all big media outlets were reporting about it. Each narrating different versions of the tragedy! Romina Ashrafi became a well-known name and a symbol for a specific type of crime, mainly seen in Muslim countries and prevalent in developing world these days. However, “honor killing”, referring to a male member of the victim’s family would kill the adulterous wife or unmarried sexually active daughter in order to retain the honor and dignity of the family. The first cases date back to Roman times and then early Jewish law in Europe medieval time which mandated the stoning of an adulterous wife.
While honor killing still may happen anywhere in the world, it’s mostly related to Islam and/or other religions. In Iran, more specifically, Islamic laws and unspoken rules in tribes in specific parts of the country play a huge role in more than 400 honor killings. However, the base of it all is the “ownership” male relatives (father, brother, husband,…) feel about the females! They would comment on how a female should dress, how she should speak with the opposite sex,… This “feeling” is transferred to boys from their childhood by giving them some authority over their sisters.
The laws of the country which are based on “Sharia Law” make the matter worse. Technically, there is no minimum age of marriage set, as long as the father or paternal grandfather allows the marriage. There are girls marrying at the age of 9 or even lower with the “permission” of their father. The wife doesn’t have the right to ask for divorce. If a husband sees his wife engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with another man, he has the right to kill both of them! If a father kills his daughter, he may get up to 10 years in prison as maximum punishment.
This list is not exhaustive, but all point to the fact that women’s rights don’t exist in Islamic Republic’s world. As usual, after the horrendous act by Romina’s father, Islamic Republic propaganda machine went to overdrive. Kayhan daily newspaper, run by Khamenei’s representative, blamed “reformists” and activists for shaming “child marriage”, claiming if that wasn’t made so shameful for families, Romina could have married Bahman Khavari and none of this would have happened. Jaam-e-Jam daily newspaper took it even further and didn’t have mercy on her photo after her death! They manipulated the picture so much as she looks with more “acceptable cover” on her body. It is unbelievable how pity and small some people really are.
Zohreh Lajevardi who has just started her term in Islamic Republic’s parliament has such a low opinion about women that is astonishing. In response to a question about representatives’ priorities, she said, “Women’s rights is not our priority. This parliament is consistent of revolutionary people and would try to resolve economical problems. Women are most respected in Iran and west is in our debt, we should be asking them to respect their women more!” She continues saying, “Child marriage is not an issue. Islam believes marriage in any age is allowed as long as it’s not with force.” Many questions come to mind, such as, how a minor could make a life changing decision like marriage when can’t decide about anything else?!
Lajevardi, the daughter of Asadollah Lajevardi, added, “We consider women within the family and the main bearer of strengthening the family’s foundation , and since Islam has given importance to women’s rights, there is no place for us to follow Westerners, so those who look for documents such as the 2030 that the Westerners are presenting, either are not familiar with the principles of Islam, or are the foreigners’ hands to diminish Islam in this country in order to achieve their evil desires.”
Mojtaba Zonnour, another parliament representative from the same faction as Lajevardi, reacted to the bill to increase the minimum age of marriage to 16 for girls and 18 for boys, saying, “This is against Sharia law. In Sharia, if someone is old enough to understand, is ready get married.” According to that bill which went to the floor about 2 years ago, and became known as “child marriage bill”, marriage under the age of 13 would be absolutely prohibited. But it never got anywhere!
The bill on “protection, dignity and security of women” has been in limbo for more than 12 years between different administrations and Judiciary branch. Judiciary sent the “completed” bill back to Rouhani’s administration to be sent to the parliament about 255 days ago! But, it hasn’t been sent to parliament yet. Assuming after Rouhani’s pretend order to expedite the process, the parliament seems to be sending it to the back burner! This is how much women’s right is important to Islamic Republic. Romina Ashrafi may have become a symbol for “honor killings” but she should be the voice of “women’s rights” instead. Let’s not add this horrifying incident to the ever growing list of miseries we forget.
Cover: Ryan Parker