BY AILEEN ZANGOUEI
Iranian women were left feeling “humiliated” and in tears when the ban on women participating in public sporting events had them protesting on the streets, while everyone else watched the game.
On Tuesday, Sept 5 Iran’s Azadi Stadium hosted the 2017 FIFA World Cup match between Iran and Syria. Spectators came from all across Iran and Syria to enjoy the spectacle. Tickets were being sold online, and there was an option allowing Iranian women to purchase tickets. Officials said the website had a “technical glitch” and on Tuesday night, Iranian women were refused entry to the Azadi stadium. Ironically, Azadi means freedom in Farsi. Women began demonstrating and were later threatened with arrest.
Meanwhile, Syrian women, some of who were not wearing a hijab even though it is mandatory for all women in Iran, including foreigners, were allowed to enter the stadium and cheer on their team. Iranian women stayed outside on the streets, protesting the ban. The signs the protestors held read: “I, too, want a seat at Azadi – let women in”.
The following day, the front pages of a newspaper in the capital city of Iran, Tehran, brought light to this issue. The Bahar newspaper published a piece complaining that “the host was left outside behind doors, while the guests went inside the stadium.” Since the fight for an end to the discriminatory rules began (it’s been going on for a long time), this is the first time this ban has been given substantial coverage in national newspapers.
Iran has banned women from attending men’s soccer matches on the premises that women hear male fans swear and curse. However, women aren’t buying this argument when it comes to their ban on volleyball games as well. Volleyball games have historically been noted as “family-friendly games” and one Iranian activist who goes by the pseudonym Mina, asks how it can be a family without women? “Excluding women from stadiums is part of excluding women from society,” Mina says.
Iran hosted a major international beach volleyball competition in February, 2016. Mina travelled to the games in hopes of entering the Azadi stadium. However, she was refused entry at the front gates. Iran has banned women from watching men’s volleyball (a national obsession) in stadiums since 2012. “Iran has to see the consequences for not letting women go the stadium,” Mina says. In 2006, Iran’s soccer team were playing the qualifying match against Bahrain to qualify for the World Cup in Tehran. With the ban on women in place, this event was the first time after the revolution of 1978 that women showed that they want entry to the stadium.
According to Mina, during protests, police would tear up the women’s billboards or posters. Women began writing their protesting slogans on their hijab knowing the police would never pull those off. Iranian authorities have punishments in place for women activists. Mina knows two girls who were caught by security guards for wearing boy’s clothing to try and enter the stadium. Their punishment was a phone call to their parents, however Mina says that “not everyone gets off so easy.” In 2014, Iranian-British woman, Ghoncheh Ghavami, along with 20 other women were arrested by authorities when they tried to attend a world league volleyball match. Everyone was released, however Ghavami was rearrested and charged with ‘propaganda against the state’. She was in solitary prison for nearly five months.
Women resort to disguising themselves as men to enter the stadium. However, according to a source who’s name cannot be mentioned for safety purposes, Iranian women held Syrian flags as an attempt to get into the stadium: and it worked. It’s one thing to change the appearance of your gender to get in, but to change your nationality is just outrageous. A reformist MP from Isfahan tweeted this: “the most deplorable part of yesterday’s match at the Azadi stadium is that a new discrimination based on your nationality is being added to the gender discrimination already in place. Syrian women were allowed but Iranian women were absent.”