As the Founder of IranianPersonals.com, the largest dating site for the Iranian Diaspora, my curiosity was piqued when Iran recently announced plans to combat “immoral” online dating websites by launching an official online matrimony service. While there is no shortage of matchmaking sites across the globe (8,000+ websites according to Forbes), news of a government preparing to launch an official national matchmaking site is unprecedented.
With a population of 10 million people eligible for marriage and rigid social restrictions that hinder opportunities for singles to meet in public, there is strong demand among the youth to find outlets for meeting a spouse; hence the immense popularity of matchmaking sites and social networks. While Iranian internet service providers block access to most matchmaking sites, Iranians are adept at using forbidden VPN services to bypass these restrictions.
In recent statements made by Mr. Mahmoud Golzari, Iran’s Deputy Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs, 300 matchmaking websites in Iran work under the guise of “hamsar yabi”’ (spouse-finding). Mr. Golzari further says that such sites are unethical and illegally promote short-term marriages, and “to curb such illegal activities, the Ministry (of Sports and Youth Affairs) is designing a website to help youths find their ideal spouse, in collaboration with the Tebyan Institute.
Although there are strict prohibitions against premarital sex in Iran, they are increasingly circumvented by way of “sigheh” — a Shia tradition that permits short-term marriage. Mr. Golzari contends that casual matchmaking websites’ availability has promoted both pre-marital sexual relations — a taboo in Iran — and casual/dating relationships, each regularly condemned as Western/liberal values.
Marriage longevity has also become a serious concern for the government, particularly given their boastful attitude toward the stability of Iran’s families, which are said to be superior to the West’s. Mr. Golzari labeled the significant uptick of divorces in Iran as “worrying.” According to Mr. Golzari, “In Iran, for every five marriages there is one divorce…while in Tehran, [this ratio] is three to one. Eighty percent of people who get divorced in the country are under the age of thirty.”
Another set of government concerns include population growth and birthrate, which after a precipitous fall from 1980–2000 has steadied but remained flat for the last decade at around 1.92 births per woman (2012). Through Iran’s matrimony website, the regime hopes to promote marriage and in the process increase the country’s population.
What will the world’s first government-created matchmaking site look like? Moreover, will Iranians trust their government and use the service? Will this also serve as a catalyst for other Muslim nations, with strict gender segregation rules, to follow suit and launch their own matrimonial sites — one that fits within their respective religious, social and matrimonial norms? Having met my wife on IranianPersonals.com and as the owner of a matchmaking company, I know that software can empower people to make meaningful connections. Plans to launch a government-backed matrimony site reveal just how important the Iranian regime sees its role as a paternalistic, guiding force in people’s private lives. But software, like governance, is only as effective as the extent to which it meets the true needs of people. Good software development, therefore, requires a feedback loop that incorporates its users’ experience; it requires the developer to listen, learn, and adapt. With Iran’s matrimony site, we may gain the chance to see what type of software developer Iran’s government chooses to be.
(photo credit: AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)
A version of this article was published on IranWire