My Share, Half of Azadi: Let Iranian Women Go to Stadium

Iran-Brazil volleyball matches, part of FIVB Volleyball World League, held on June 13 and 16 in Azadi Sports Complex in Tehran. In both games, Iranian women were absent in the audience while a few of them, holding national flag, had gathered outside the complex hoping to receive permission from authorities to attend the match. But, once again their request was denied.

Since 1979 revolution, Iranian women have lost their right to access certain public spaces including many of sport stadiums. But, it was not until 2005, that a group of women's activists launched a campaign to retrieve their right. In two occasions, in 2005, they succeeded to enter Azadi, first to watch Bahrain vs. Iran and second Iran vs. Korea soccer matches. The second could only happen by assistance of Korean women in Tehran who did not suffer such prohibition. This was the last presence of Iranian women in men's soccer game.

However, Iranian women's activists did not stay silent and formed a campaign called "Defense of Women's Right to Attend Stadiums" which its members became known as Rousari Sefid-ha (those with white scarves). In their first statement published in April 2006, they demanded unconditional permission to enter stadiums. They also called for elimination of all types of discrimination against women in public spaces. "My Share, Half of Azadi" (which also means freedom) was written on their white scarves when they marched in front of Azadi stadium. This was an incredible strategy, they wrote their slogan on their scarves and were sure police could not remove them due to compulsory hejab policies. Roosari Sefid-ha also became the subject of Jafar Pahani's film Offside which narrated the stories of six female football fans who disguised in men's attire to be able to attend a soccer match. They get arrested at the same day that Roosari Sefid-ha were protesting outside Azadi stadium. Jafar Panahi dedicated the film to Iranian women's rights movement.

The white scarf campaigners have tried faithfully to attend sports stadiums, though, they have not succeeded yet. Albeit there is no legal or religious sanction against women's presence in stadiums, officials use the pretext that male-dominated atmosphere in sport stadiums is not appropriate for women. In response, women argue that men would watch their behavior in women's presence and eventually stadiums would turn to more healthy spaces.

While, they are still deprived of their civil rights by morality police and security forces, Iranian women have not stopped asking authorities to grant them permission. Their efforts, was not completely futile. Recently, they could attract the attention of some of Iranian officials. In their last presence in front of Azadi stadium on Monday June 16, they were accompanied with a member of Iranian Center for Women and Family, which is under supervision of Shahindokht Molaverdi, Hassan Rohani's vice president. Subsequently Molaverdi announced in an interview that: "The president has called for further explanations regarding this matter; therefore, the Minister of Sports and I are charged with investigating."

Simultaneously, a group of Iranian women's activists wrote a petition addressing International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), International Federation of Volleyball (FIVB), and International Olympic Committee (IOC) along with Iranian officials to attend their request. In this petition they criticize gender segregation in Iranian society and identify it as the main reason pertaining to discrimination against women in attending sports stadiums. They believe their right to enter stadiums should not be denied under any circumstances.

On Friday, Iranian volleyball team has another match against Italy in Tehran and Iranian women hope to be able to join their countrymen and support their national team. Would Iranian government grant them this opportunity? Let's cross our finger for it.

* Author is a member of Rousari Sefid-ha.
**Hashtag #letwomengotostadium is also created in twitter to support this cause.