Is there prostitution in Iran

Everyday, but secret

migrazine: Why did you care about time marriages? Did you know this phenomenon before working on the film?

Sudabeh Mortezai: The Shiite time marriage is a 1,400 year old tradition that was originally intended as a kind of legal "drive removal" for men who were on pilgrimage or in war and therefore separated from their wives, and at the same time as financial security for single women - ultimately religiously sanctioned prostitution. It is still very common in Iran today and is also used as a loophole for couples to have extramarital relationships. It is something everyday, but at the same time taboo because it is associated with prostitution and promiscuity. I am interested in temporary marriage as a symptom of how a society defines gender relations and sexuality.

With temporary marriage, the material aspect is explicitly in the foreground: It is a financial contract between a man and a woman. In contrast, this economic interest in a traditional heterosexual marriage mostly disappears behind the romantic image of the "love marriage" ...

Marriage, including “normal” marriage, is always a contract in Islam. The woman is entitled to the agreed bridal allowance and maintenance. In return, she is obliged to sexual and other obedience to her husband. She manages her own assets and income herself. The man is not entitled to them. So it is decidedly about the barter of sexuality for money.

But also in the West the romantic ideal of love marriage is a very new phenomenon. Up until the early 20th century, marriages were arranged in Europe and, above all, economic communities. Sexual obedience and having children were also considered marital duties of women here. In Austria, marital rape was only criminalized in 1989, in Switzerland in 1993, in Germany in 1996. Up until the family law reform in the 1970s, the man was legally the head of the family in this country too and could forbid his wife from working. Even in the West, the basic tenor in media, advertising, etc .: Above all, a woman has to be beautiful, a man has to have money and status.

The temporary marriage with its explicitly material character reveals mechanisms that apply to every patriarchal form of relationship, even if they are more subtle and therefore less visible here.

As you mentioned, time marriage is publicly taboo - it seems to be something of an "open secret" in Iranian society. How difficult was it to find the protagonists for your film?

It was very difficult and a long struggle to find women who were willing to appear in front of the camera and openly share their experiences. Because temporary marriage makes it clear that a woman exercises an active sexuality that is not controlled by a single man. This stigmatizes women who run out of time. Many women who enter into temporary marriages for financial reasons keep them secret from their immediate families. So it took a lot of persuasion to create a trusting atmosphere in which women would open up. But then they felt the need to talk about their experiences with discrimination, violence and exploitation.

As for clergy, however, it was not a problem. Most mullahs are very open and positive about the issue. Sexuality is generally not a taboo subject in Islam. It is talked about very openly and often explicitly. And the Shiite clergy see temporary marriage as a pragmatic solution, as an outlet for the sexual needs of men.

What does temporary marriage say from your point of view about the gender balance in Iranian society?

As is typical of a patriarchal society, there is a double standard that allows men far greater sexual freedoms than women. According to Iranian law, polygamy is allowed, even if it is only practiced very rarely. A man can have up to four "real" wives and enter into an unlimited number of time marriages at the same time. Women, on the other hand, have to be monogamous. And women who enter into time marriages are considered indecent because they often change partners and also make the time marriage visible.

There is a very active women's movement in Iran. How do Iranian feminists express themselves about temporary marriage?

The Iranian feminists and women's rights activists consistently reject temporary marriage, across all groups - in addition to secular women's groups, there are also strictly Islamic feminists who are trying to find new ways of reading the Koran. They see temporary marriage as another institution that perpetuates inequalities between the sexes. I agree with that in general, but I see it in a more differentiated way: The problem is not temporary marriage, but the discriminatory and repressive ideology behind it. Within this repressive system, temporary marriage can also give women certain freedom. According to Iranian law, a virgin needs her father's permission to marry. As a wife, she must obey her husband. Only as a widow or divorcee can a woman decide for herself about her sexuality for the first time. There is a whole generation of young women who have freed themselves from marriages with violent, drug addicted men and do not want to become dependent on a man again. For them a temporary marriage can also mean freedom.

The Iranian state watches over the sexuality of its citizens with numerous regulations of "Do's & Dont's". Could temporary marriage be seen as a kind of critical practice of over-regulation in state Islamic discourse?

Yes, the state interferes massively in people's private lives: the headscarf requirement and gender segregation are monitored by the moral police. Sex outside of marriage is a criminal offense under Iranian criminal law. Fornication is punished with 100 lashes, adultery with death. A couple who want to travel together can only share a hotel room with a marriage contract; women traveling alone do not get a room at all. The temporary marriage is therefore used subversively by many couples as a loophole, e.g. to travel together. So it is no wonder that the number of time marriages is steadily increasing, even though there is such resentment against it in public opinion. This is symptomatic of the deep rift within society, between the regime and its ideology and the population, which has led a double life for thirty years.

The title of your documentary suggests that gender relations are subject to constant negotiations. Under what conditions is this negotiation currently taking place?

I believe that the under-25 generation is going through a sexual revolution in Iran that is shaking society in all other areas as well. For me, the young blogger in the film represents this generation. It goes without saying that he calls for equality between women and men out of the pragmatic desire to be able to live a freer sexuality oneself: "What harms women, also harms men." This is a remarkable finding for a 20-year-old man who has never left the Islamic Republic and indicates an inner change in society. Young women are also much more self-confident and are no longer satisfied with traditional women's roles. Over sixty percent of university graduates are now women. The average age at marriage has risen to 26.

The images of the protests after the elections in the summer went around the world, and especially the many strong and courageous women made their mark on them. That was the manifestation of a movement that had been developing in Iranian society for years. The massive protests did not come out of nowhere. Above all, behind this is a very active women's movement and civil society, which is increasingly breaking up the power structures.


Interview: Vina Yun


Website "In the Bazaar of the Sexes"