I was struck by this short piece about unmarried sex in Iranian "youth" in the Guardian yesterday.
You see it seems that Iran is sliding into the sexual abyss with greater numbers than ever committing the heinous sin of sex *before* marriage. I know that many of you will not have realised that such an act is even possible - but allow me to reassure you, it certainly is.
I think it's safe to say that Iran is what we call a "conservative country" that officially frowns on activities like drinking, homosexuality and sex outside of marriage - although these sanctions are not universally supported. Despite setting up a fund a little while ago (the brilliantly named Reza love fund, named after the Imam Ali al-Rida, pictured) to encourage young people to get married, the average age of marriage continues to increase. If the heady aphrodiasic qualities that the thought of the Imam must surely induce cannot stem the tide I do not know what could.
One in four young people admitted (to the state run agency) to sex before marriage and more than one in ten of these cases have resulted in illegal, backstreet abortions. By my calculations these figures (which I suspect are an under-estimate in the context) mean that comes to just under half a million abortions conducted in unsafe, illegal conditions.
There are too many ifs and hows connected to the survey, so I don't want to get hung up on the numbers, but what is clear is that the laws against abortion have not prevented abortions rather they simply shift where those abortions take place and serve to endanger the lives of women, although accurate figures on this don't seem to exist, understandably.
It's illegal for the medical profession to take part in abortions, for instance Article 624 describes the Islamic punishment for those who were involved in abortion:
"If the doctor, the obstetrician, the pharmacist, the surgeon, or anyone who claims to be a doctor, an obstetrician, a pharmacist, and a surgeon provide the tools needed for abortion or become involved in the act of abortion, they will face 2 to 5 years in prison and they should also pay the blood money determined by the law." [the fine is determined by the term of the pregnancy]Considering the context where having a child outside of marriage could have severe social repercussions the pressure to have an abortion is in fact massively *increased* by the social conservatism of society, rather than decreased. We know from Sarah Palin's tribe that abstinence only sex ed. isn't much use, combine this with injunctions against pre-marital sex and the illegality of abortions and you have a lethal combination.
What's to blame for this lamentable trend of women going about having it off willy nilly?
Hojatoleslam Ghasem Ebrahimipour, a sociologist, told Shabestan news agency that the trend was due to the availability of premarital sex, and feminism among educated women. "When a woman is educated and has an income, she does not want to accept masculine domination through marriage," he said.Well, that's clear then. Ignorance and poverty - the solution to the world's ills.
It's good to bear in mind that there have been attempts to legalise limited rights to abortions (such as in cases where the child might be born with severe disabilities) which the Iranian Parliament passed, but the Council of Guardians (which must approve all new legislation) refused to ratify the legislation, although early abortion is still legally allowable in cases where the mother's life is threatened by the pregnancy.
There's a real difficulty of promoting sexual health in a country where women's rights campaigners are jailed, their publications suppressed and even when bills are passed by Parliament can be binned by a council of twelve religious bigwigs. It should come as no surprise that in a modern nation like Iran people (of all ages) like to have sex with each other regardless of the law. When those laws end up endangering the lives of women, even leaving aside the other very important issues, they need to be reconsidered.
There are progressive voices inside Iran who seek change on these issues, but their struggle is an uphill one. They need to contend not just with the undemocratic tendencies of the regime but with a wide conservative consensus in the country that will be difficult to shift without broader access to what we might, for convenience, call free speech.