Iran girls pepper-sprayed outside stadium: A country where women can’t watch football, travel alone

A few hundred women were pepper-sprayed outside the Imam Reza stadium when they tried to watch the Iran vs Lebanon World Cup Qualifier. The incident puts a spotlight on the various restrictions that women face in the Islamic republic

Iran girls pepper-sprayed outside stadium: A country where women can't watch football, travel alone

Iranian women wearing hijab walk down a street in the capital Tehran. Women have repeatedly protested Iran’s mandatory headscarves law. AFP

The issue of women’s rights in Iran was once again the topic of discussion after reports emerged that they were denied entry to a football stadium to watch an international match.

According to ISNA news agency and Al Jazeera, women were greeted with pepper spray at the stadium in the city of Mashhad where Iran was playing Lebanon in a World Cup qualifier match.

The issue has once again shone the spotlight on the issue of how women are treated in the country and their continuous struggle for equality.

The football fiasco

Before we take a look at the overall situation, let’s direct our focus on Tuesday’s incident.

On Tuesday evening, Iran took to the field to play Lebanon in a World Cup qualifier match at the Imam Reza football stadium.

ISNA news agency reported that some 2,000 females had bought tickets to see the match. But upon arrival the women were immediately refused entry before stadium security allegedly employed pepper spray to disperse the crowds.

Reacting to the news, Masih Alinejad, an Iranian activist and campaigner, has said that she wants FIFA to ban Iran from competing in the World Cup later this year.

She was quoted as telling Daily Mail, “As an Iranian woman, I call on FIFA to ban the Islamic Republic because we, the women of Iran, are banned from entering stadium for 42 years.

“If some Western countries banned women from entering stadiums, what would you do? Then what is different between us and Western women? This is hypocritical that FIFA ignore us.
This is a total betrayal that FIFA do not take a strong action against a gender apartheid regime!”

Iran has barred female spectators from football and other sports stadiums since it was established in 1979. In 2018, after facing pressure and threats of suspension from FIFA and international organisations, they began allowing women at international games. It was only in January this year that women were allowed to attend an international game for the first time.

The FIFA directive, according to an AFP report, came after a fan, Sahar Khodayari, died having set herself on fire in fear of being jailed after trying to attend a match in disguise.

She had reportedly been detained in 2018 as she tried to enter a stadium dressed as a male.

Iran girls peppersprayed outside stadium A country where women cant watch football travel alone

Early this year, women were allowed to watch a football match in the stadium. The Islamic republic has barred female spectators from football and other stadiums for around 40 years. AFP

Iran and women

The ban on women watching matches at stadiums is emblematic of the issue of women’s rights in the Islamic Republic.

Various restrictions are imposed on women, including the mandatory hijab and a ban on female singers performing for male or mixed audiences. Moreover, married women can’t even leave the country without their husband’s permission.

Shaparak Shajarizadeh fled Iran in 2018 after being arrested three times and imprisoned twice for defying Iran’s compulsory hijab law. In an interview to CNN, she had said that she was officially charged with encouraging prostitution, propaganda against the government and acting against national security, charges she was later convicted on.

She was detained in Gharchak prison — beaten up and brutalised during the investigation, and thrown into solitary confinement.

Women are considered to have half the value of men in various legal aspects, such as inheritance and testimony in court.

Discrimination against Iranian women also extends to other kinds of restrictions that are enforced by religious authorities for being “un-Islamic” or “against women’s values”. Running for president or riding a motorcycle are just two examples of the areas where women face discrimination despite there being no legal ban under the law.

But the nation has also encouraged education for women, who for years now have outnumbered men at universities — a development that has transformed expectations and overturned centuries-old traditions.

Women fight back

However, women in Iran are fighting back against this oppression. Through social media, mobile apps, weblogs and websites, Iranian women are actively participating in public discourse and exercising their civil rights.

Women have been resisting the morality police in Iran through social movements like ‘White Wednesdays’ and ‘My Stealthy Freedom’.

White Wednesdays is a social movement against the law forcing women to wear a headscarf in Iran. Participants post pictures and videos of themselves wearing white headscarves or pieces of white clothing as symbols of protest.

The idea is the brainchild of Masih Alinejad, founder of My Stealthy Freedom, an online movement opposed to the mandatory dress code.

Women continue their struggle for equality without caring about the repercussions, which range from paying hefty fines to even the death sentence.

With inputs from agencies

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