Here’s a bit of news that got buried in today’s Guardian (UK): Grand Ayatollah Sadeq Rohani issued a fatwah permitting hymenorrhaphy, the procedure where a woman has her hymen recreated from available vaginal tissue. This could have broad implications for women’s rights in Iran, where the government puts that issue perennially on the backburner.
"In a society where women can be imprisoned or executed for premarital
sex," wrote Janet Afary in the Guardian, "a high-ranking cleric has come to the defence of hymen repair.
Grand Ayatollah Sadeq Rouhani
(Qom), has issued a fatwa permitting the operation. He has also
recognised a woman’s subsequent marriage as legitimate. This means that
among followers of Rouhani a man can no longer claim divorce on the
grounds that he was duped about his wife’s virginity."
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Naturally, this procedure has come with controversy for some time, and in the context of Iran, the emotions are even more tense. So is this one step forward? Two steps back? Depends on who you ask.
Detractors say that this just reinforces the patriarchy, forcing women to maintain a vaneer of purity just to be accepted in society. These operations can also be costly, shutting out women from poorer communities who can not afford it.
The picture is, of course, more complicated than that. Islam, despite what many in the Western media say, can be very favorable for women, allowing for divorce and certain forms of contraception. Ayatolla Rouhani, who issues fatwahs on his website, upholds that much, and has even been a fairly liberal advocate of so-called temporary marriage to allow sexual intercourse. Part of the problem is structural, coming from mysogynistic men in power who radically over interpret women’s restrictions while glossing over their freedoms.
While this is not the most ideal option for women, this does move in the right direction. Women who follow Rouhani now have a degree of more power than they did before, and the effects could loosen up the patriarchical structure.
Iran’s next Presidential election is June 12 (where 40 women have registered to run!), and even though many moderate or liberal contenders will probably be disqualified, the timing of this is important. Let’s hope this is part of the political drumbeat and women everywhere won’t have to be forced to shell out money just to keep these religious pervesions applicable.