Eight young women have been arrested by Iranian authorities for disguising themselves as men in order to watch a football match.
They were caught at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran as they watched the match between Esteghlal FC and Persepolis FC in February this year, and according to reports, will face legal action.
The women disguised themselves as men in order to gain entry to the game because, under a strict version of Islamic law to which Iran’s leaders subscribe, females are banned from such events if men are present.
Head security for the Tehran municipality, Alireza Adeli, confirmed their arrest, disclosing that other women have in the past been found dressed as men in order to attend soccer games.
Explaining the reason for the arrests, Adeli stressed that the ban was aimed at “preserving their honor, because the stadium’s atmosphere, commotion, and crowds are no place for them. Dear women who wish to watch the match can do so on TV, which broadcasts the games and gives everyone a way to watch them live.”
Since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, the Islamic law bans women from attending live matches in stadiums when men are present. More so, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei recently issued a fatwa banning women from riding bicycles in public, arguing that doing so attracts the male gaze and is therefore forbidden.
Women in Iran are also banned from uploading selfies in which they are not wearing a headscarf and from posting a video of themselves singing.
However, President Hassan Rouhani’s government wants to ease restrictions to some events, and women have been allowed to attend basketball and volleyball events, though it would be from a separate section of the stands.
Last year, Human Rights Watch called for Iran to be banned from hosting volleyball tournaments until women are allowed unrestricted access to stadiums.
Also, an Iranian activist, Darya Safai, protested at the Rio Olympics last year where Iran’s men’s volleyball team competed in the games for the first time.
Safai, who held up a banner stating: “Let Iranian women enter their stadiums”, argued that Iran’s restrictions were part of the regime’s “systematic discrimination of women” and the belief that they should “be marginalised”.
“The International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) should put pressure on Iran. They should find a way so that women can enter the stadiums and watch a game.
“I have written to the FIBV several times saying they should respect their own charter, that any kind of discrimination is forbidden.
“They said they are respecting the cultural paradigm of a country. That’s really not right. The Iranian women, until 2012, could attend the volleyball games. The culture of Iran has nothing to do with restrictions on women in stadiums. It’s not a political message, it’s about human rights,” she said.
In the Middle East, there isn’t exactly a stellar reputation for women’s rights. There, women are often subjected to marginalised treatment – sometimes banned from travelling, or prevented from attending sports events (let alone taking part).