Polygamists up for Public Scrutiny
By: Hoda Aminian
Wednesday 20 February 2008
Translated by: Sussan Tahmasebi
Change for Equality: As part of the International Fajr Theater Festival, a street play on the subject of women’s rights, specifically on polygamy, utilizing the interventionist model of Augusto Boal, was performed. This type of performance, which transforms inactive audiences into active participants and actors in the play, was well received by onlookers who gathered to watch the performance.
This street play was performed in several locations in Tehran, namely Azadi Square, Imam Khomeini Metro Station and in Park Daneshjoo (in front of the City Theatre) and addressed the issue of polygamy and women’s rights.
On Saturday February 9, 2008, the street play was performed in Imam Khomeini Metro station. The space allotted to performance, because of the large number of onlookers, was rather limited, but that did not stop the audience from taking on active interventionist roles as performers. Members of the One Million Signatures Campaign too were present to watch this play and because of the participatory nature of this type of performance, two Campaign members managed to intervene in the play and serve as actors. They used this opportunity to discuss in part their legal demands within the Campaign. They discussed several laws, including laws allowing for polygamy, which allow men to have up to 4 permanent wives and unlimited temporary wives, divorce laws, which gives men uncontested rights to divorce, while limiting severely women’s right to divorce, child custody laws, etc. The street play and the involvement of Campaign members provided a good opportunity to discuss the demands of the Campaign with the audience, in particular the issue of polygamy. Polygamy while allowed in the Holy Qoran, is allowable only if men can observe justice among their many wives. The Qoran, while allowing polygamy in cases where the restriction of just and equal treatment of wives is adhered to, makes the act of polygamy basically impossible by also specifically stating that the observance of justice and equal treatment of wives is not achievable by men. These issues were discussed in relation to polygamy by the audience during the performance, as well as other laws pertaining to women’s rights.
The reaction of the audience to polygamy was of special interest. Many expressed that through this play they had gained new information about the law as it currently stands. In essence, witnessing the inequities that are promoted in the law through a performance of this nature, which highlights the realities of the lives of thousands of women and men, and the search for solutions, worked to transform mere onlookers to active participants forcing them to think about these issues of importance. Utilizing this participatory approach, the play put the issue of polygamy up for public scrutiny and judgment.
On the margins of this same street play, which was once again held in Daneshjoo Park in front of the main building of the City Theater, on February 14, 2008, two members of the Campaign, Raheleh Asgarizadeh and Nasim Khosravi, were arrested. These two women’s rights activists, who had attended the play to take pictures and prepare a report, began to collect signatures in support of the Campaign’s petition once the play came to a close. After their arrest at the Park, they were taken to Police Station 129, then to Security Police 8. They spent 2 nights in Vozara Detention center, and taken to the Revolutionary courts on Saturday February 16, where they were charged with propaganda against the state. A bail amount of 20 million Tomans (rougly $22,000) was issued for each of these women’s rights activists. Unable to post this high amount of bail, the two were transferred to Evin’s public ward 3, where they still.
Given these developments we can claim that a play demonstrating the conflict between a polygamist man and his first wife, ended with the arrest of two women’s rights activists—a lead role played by police officers!