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Skyrocketing divorce rate in Iran leaves officials concerned

December 7, 2010 - New York

The skyrocketing divorce rate in Iran has left concerned officials looking at it as a national threat.

According to official figures, over a decade, the number each year has roughly tripled to a little more than 150,000 in 2010 from around 50,000 in 2000.

Nationwide, there is one divorce for every seven marriages; in Tehran, the ratio is 1 divorce for every 3.76 marriages.

While the change in divorce rates is remarkable, even more surprising is the major force behind it: the increasing willingness of Iranian women to manipulate the Iranian legal system to escape unwanted marriages.

In Iran, where a conservative Islamic culture that strongly discourages divorce is followed, the trend is striking, and shows few signs of slowing.

In the last Iranian calendar year, ending in March, divorces were up 16 percent from the year before, compared with a 1 percent increase in marriages.

"In May, a registry office I work with recorded 70 divorces and only 3 marriages," The New York Times quoted a lawyer who requested anonymity for fear of retribution by the Iranian authorities, as saying.

"The next month, a friend at another office said he recorded 60 divorces and only one marriage," the lawyer revealed.

Conservative commentators have called the problem a social ill on par with drug addiction and prostitution, while senior officials and members of Parliament have increasingly referred to the issue as a "crisis" and a "national threat".

But most experts agree that nothing has contributed as much as a deep-rooted awakening in Iranian women that is altering traditional attitudes toward marriage, relationships, careers and, generally speaking, women's place in what is still an overwhelmingly patriarchal society.

Twenty percent of Iranian women are employed or actively looking for jobs, according to government figures, compared with 7 percent in the first years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

"This economic freedom has had an effect on the behaviour of women in the home," Saeid Madani, a member of the Iranian Sociological Association, said.

But many experts say that it is not only simple economics that is causing the change.

"Women have found the courage to break with tradition and say no to the past," Azardokht Mofidi, a psychiatrist and the author of several books on psychoanalysis, said.

"They are no longer prepared to put up with hardships in marriage, and their expectations have risen to include equality in relationships," he added.


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