Iran’s official matchmaking app is little more than an attempt to control women’s bodies through state-sanctioned marriage and childbearing, civil liberties advocates say.
“Hamdam,” launched last week, has been described as the only official “dating” platform in Iran by the head of the country’s anti-cybercrime police, who dubbed all other relationship apps illegal.
United4Iran, a US-based non-profit that is working to advance civil liberties in the country, said that the Iranian government had chosen the same name as a period-tracking app the organisation launched in 2017.
The original Hamdam app – the name translates as “companion” – was created by Soudeh Rad, a French Iranian gender equality activist, and launched through the IranCubator project four years ago. The Android app was designed to help women track their menstrual cycle based on the Persian calendar, and to learn about different contraceptive methods and women’s legal rights in Iran.
"We don't know why the regime copied the name, but it is already affecting our app,” said Firuzeh Mahmoudi, the founder of United4Iran.
She told VICE World News that while their version of Hamdam had seen 40,000 new downloads since last Monday, its star rating had dropped from 4.5 to 3.3. She said this was most likely due to "single conservative men" looking for a wife, but being asked about their last period.
"Our app gave women legal information to prepare them for more equitable marriage and to protect their rights once married; this new lookalike, copycat app, basically treats women like property, to be matched to the first single man with the goal of producing the next generation of Islamic citizens," said Mahmoudi.
Half of the 84 million people in Iran are below the age of 35, while 45 million people own smartphones. Dating apps are very trendy, but sex outside of marriage is illegal by law in Iran.
Iran has a low birth rate, and the regime blames a "modern" lifestyle among its youth for them having fewer babies and getting married later in life. The declining number of newborns every year has alarmed the clergy in charge. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has for years tasked the nation to make more children and increase the country’s population to 150 million without any set timeframe.
Tebyan Cultural Institute, an Iranian propaganda machine headed by Komeil Khojasteh, a close relative of the Supreme Leader, launched Hamdam last week, with ambitions to uphold Iran's "Islamic values" and facilitate "sustainable marriages."
The new app, available to download directly on Tebyan Cultural Institute's website and via the Iranian app store Cafe Bazaar, promises "lasting marriage" for young people who sign up.
In his launch speech, Khojasteh said that Iran has over 13 million unmarried people between the ages of 18-35, and that the growing divorce rate and decrease in the number of marriages were among the country's major problems.
The matchmaking app requires the user's national ID number and manual verification from a government official. It doesn't include the option for photos or messaging. Still, it does claim to use "artificial intelligence" while making matches. The app states that users would be supervised by family members from both sides and marriage counsellors throughout the process.
"It is just a bureaucratic matching app of single men to single women, under the watchful and constant eye of the state-sponsored counsellors," said Mahmoudi, of United4Iran.