“I was no longer “marriage material”
My name is Ati, I am 28 years old. I studied economics at University, I hold a Bachelor’s degree. I have four brothers, three older and one younger than me. I am currently living with my parents in Iran. I was engaged in Aghd . After one year of being married I found out that I had cancer, ovarian cancer. I had to get my ovaries removed, I will never be able to get pregnant naturally. I was going through chemotherapy when my husband tricked me into getting divorced.
He told me that he had to go to Dubai. He told me that in order to get a visa for Dubai, he had to be single, that it was the rule to be granted a visa. It was supposed to be temporary, just an administrative formality. Of course, that was a lie. It was impossible for me to question my husband’s loyalty, so I believed him. So, we got divorced and he didn’t get any visa, that’s when I understood it was all a lie.
After 15 days, I had realized it was a lie and he tried to explain himself. He came back and told me that his parents had forced him to do this, because I was sick, so I was no longer “marriage material”. It is possible that parents in Iran force someone to break the Aghd because one is sick, they have a lot of influence on these decisions. his parents were always telling me that I was like their daughter, but since he broke the engagement, they never contacted me again. I never saw them again, not even during the divorce. I had the lawyer handle it all.
I am not the kind of girl who wants money, and I would have understood if he had come to me to say that he couldn’t marry me because I am sick. I didn’t need all the lies. In Iran, men who want to marry a woman must pay some money. In the case of a divorce, the woman gets the money. But I refused to take it, I didn’t care about that. I loved him. I wanted to prove my love to him. That’s why he tricked me, I didn’t have to take the money since all of that was just temporary and we would be together again soon. At least that’s what I thought.
Ever since all of this that happened with my ex-husband, I cannot trust a man anymore. I cannot connect easily with men anymore. Since this happened to me though, I realized that I was important too, and no men should hurt me that much anymore. I won’t let any man control me anymore.
“Women in Iran are alone”
A lot of women face the same situation than me, it is not just me. Some face even worse situations but we don’t talk about it. Women in Iran are alone. We cannot even go to our mothers to talk about it. In our households, women must be discreet. Women are shy, there are things they don’t want to talk about, even with their daughters. My mother for instance didn’t even tell me about menstruation. She avoided the topic because it made her uncomfortable. It was awkward for me at the time, because my mother didn’t explain to me anything and there was no one else I could ask because I only have brothers. I felt alone, excluded and different.
Now I think if things had been different, if I could have spoken openly with my mother, everything would have turned out differently. I could have said something when I first noticed that I had complications during my menstruation. I would have spoken to her and perhaps the doctors could have done something. Maybe then, I would not have had cancer and had my ovaries removed.
“When we got married, he told me that I shouldn’t work, so I quit”
I think all girls and women in Iran must gain their independence. They must free themselves from that belief that only men can do what they want. The situation for girls and women has been hard for a long time here in Iran, but now is the time for us to challenge this situation. There is no other way and women must help each other.
In Iran, men have the power over women. For example, women here are not allowed to work if their father or husband says so, women must obey their father and husband. A woman in Iran passes from the authority of her father to the authority of her husband.
Before, I was hard working, I had a job, I earned a salary. When we got married, he told me that I shouldn’t work, so I quit. He took everything from me. After only a few weeks I saw his real face, he was not a good man.
If a woman does not work and depends solely on her father or husband, she can’t be independent. Women can’t even rent a house or an apartment without her parents or husband’s approval. Nobody here will ever rent a house or apartment to a single girl. It is not forbidden by the law, but it is frowned upon.
“They think I need protection. But I think that I am independent and strong”
My father is not an open-minded person, he is conservative. However, my father was not against the idea of me pursuing my studies abroad or in another city here in Iran. But if I want to work and live by myself in my own apartment, then he won’t allow it, even if I am financially independent and I don’t need my parents them. They will argue that it is not safe for women in Iran and that it is too dangerous to live alone, and that women should not have direct contact with men. They think I need protection. But I think that I am independent and strong.
For instance, when we went on this trip to Kashan , I felt at first that it was hard. It was the first time for me to be in another city without any family member. It was the first time that I was traveling with friends somewhere in Iran. I was alone, and a little scared. It was scary because unfortunately we are not used to do these kinds of things on our own. But in my mind, I thought that traveling alone for the first time at 28 years old was very late. This trip made me realize that I want to do this more often and be relaxed about it. When I was a little younger, I was more adventurous, more fearless. For the future, I want to study abroad and then build my career.
“We are more than what you think we are”
For women in Iran, it is hard to find a job in our country, our only option is to study and then work abroad. It is not easy either, but it is worth the try to have another life than the one we are destined to have here. Some women even go to greater extent and marry foreigner men to get out of here. However, I believe it is a bit easier now for women than it was back in my mother’s time. Girls and women nowadays are more educated, they are more aware of their rights and their possibilities, they are more active in their social life. They are stronger.
Iranian women live with a lot of stress, their mind is busy with what they can or can’t do all the time, they always worry about whether they are dressed properly, if they behave right and so on. Not all women in Iran want to change the situation for girls and women here. We are raised to hope to get married, that’s our main goal. But then, most of the time, after we get married, we realize how bad the situation is for us. Unfortunately, it’s often too late, we are stuck. So, they stop hoping.
I want the world to understand that Iranian women are kind, honest and always put other people’s needs before their own. I want people to know that Iranian women are strong. The situation of our country might make people have negative judgments about Iranian women, but we are more than what you think we are. It is not easy for us to show you who we really are because we are cut off from the outside world.
“Islam is not a bad religion”
I don’t like wearing the hijab. I don’t like it when men look at me, but I don’t see what’s wrong with men seeing our beauty. I don’t believe that wearing the hijab protects us from bad men. You can wear the hijab and still get abused. Men are so not used to seeing women without a hijab or with fancy clothes that they just behave very badly when they do. In other countries, men are used to it. In Iran, some men think women are just things, they use them. It is really hard to change their mentality. A lot of people are conservatives here, and religious. Plus, our government is very conservative. Religious leaders control the government and thus, they control us.
Religion is inside all of us, we don’t have to show it. But our government wants us to express our religion publicly. In our government all the powerful people are Mullah and they mix religion with politics. And of course, they use their power to restrict the rights of women.
Islam is not a bad religion, but in too many countries, Islam is used in a bad way. Islam is a religion that wants peace for everyone. In Islam, it is said that a woman is really important, she is valued. And for that reason, religious leaders decided that we should cover ourselves, so men will not be tempted to hurt us. I don’t know why the burden of preventing men to hurt women falls on women, probably because those rules were set up by men…Most religious leaders, and most men, think that women are weak and need protection. In the Quran, there are also rules for men to follow but the measures to make men respect them are less strict than for women, and they don’t face the same punishment if they break the rules as we do.
“I made it through and that’s what matters”
Now I understand that my ex-husband abused me. That’ll never happen again, I am stronger now. What happened was a big wake-up call, I went through a horrible situation, but I made it through and that’s what matters. He left me at the worst time of my life, he made it even worse. I was going through so much physical pain and because of him I was also hurt in my heart. I couldn’t sleep, even with sleeping pills. I was deprived of sleep and I became too weak to fight the cancer. All the memories I have with him, even the good ones, are just bad memories now. But this experience taught me a lot of things and it changed my mind on what a woman should and should not accept from men.
Now I just wish I can inspire girls and women, so they can avoid this kind of situation. I talked to my girlfriends, my cousins and even people like you that I meet randomly and tell them that they have to meet and get to know a man before they jump into marriage, because not all of them are good people. I also tell them that they don’t have to wait to be loved by men, they must love themselves first. And eventually, I try to make them understand that marriage should not be their ultimate goal in life. I don’t want them to fall into the same trap as me.
“I want people to know my pain”
When I first met you, you were from a foreign country and came to Iran to speak about women’s situation, that really inspired me. Now, I want to find an organization or association that aims to empower women in Iran. I want to get involved in their work, share my story and help other women to get strong, independent and empowered. I want to say to other women that they can’t count only on men. Even if you know him for years and gave him everything you could to show him your love, your money, your virginity, your heart, everything…he can change suddenly and betray you. I believe the wheel will turn and he will get what he deserves. It is painful right now, but I know deep in my heart that I am better off without him. I have nothing to be ashamed of, I did everything I could when we were married to make him happy. I satisfied him in every way possible. I know it is better to suffer now for a while than if I had to spend the rest of my life with someone that is evil.
I think that you two coming into my life, at this particular time, was a sign. I think God wanted me to meet you and get inspired to heal my wounds and move on with my life. Thanks to you I can share my story with others, with the world. I think we were meant to meet.
Too many women in this world have more terrible stories to tell than me. Some of them may not have the support of their family like I do.
But this is my story… I want people to know my story, I want people to see my face, know my name if that can help another woman not to go through what I have been through. I want people to know my pain.
I think now I must focus on me and get a degree, get a job and another better start in life. It is not impossible, right?
Ati passed away in 2018 from a cancer relapse. She was a kind, generous and good-hearted person that we feel honored to have met. Her wish was to tell her story in the hope that it could change the lives of other women, we hope to have fulfilled her wish by transcribing her story.
We will miss her greatly.
 The sofreh aghd is a traditional wedding ceremony spread where legal marriage and ceremonial tradition is exchanged.
 Ati, one of her friend, Camille and Noemie went on a three-day trip to Kashan and stopped mid-way in Abyaneh – one of Iran oldest village – to explore the beauty of this part of the country. It was the first time for the two Iranian girls to go on a trip like this and to be allowed to travel alone, without any men.