In Iran, women are now allowed in the football stadium. Tehran also wants to send an ambassador to Europe. A charm offensive against the loss of reputation? Experts see no reason to celebrate.
The news spread quickly in the international press: after more than 40 years, Iran wants to give women access to stadiums: in the future, they should also be allowed to watch men play football. On Sunday, July 9, Iranian Football Union chief Mehdi Taj said women will be allowed into stadiums in several major cities for the first time this season. The season starts in August.
“In view of what we experienced, I don’t know a single woman who would be happy to visit the stadium,” photographer Ghazal Abdollahi told DW. Ghazal has been living in Berlin since the end of 2022. She fled Iran during the current protest movement. Her mother, a photojournalist and women’s rights activist, is currently being held in the notorious Evin prison. “It’s ridiculous that the government thinks it can change the mood of the country by allowing women to go to stadiums. Do you know how many young people have been killed by state violence in Iran since September last year?”
According to human rights activists, at least 527 people have been killed in the recent protest movement. Demonstrators were shot dead or beaten to death by security forces. The trigger for the nationwide protests was the tragic death of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini in police custody. She was arrested for allegedly improperly wearing her headscarf. After a few hours, she was taken lifeless to a hospital, where she was later officially pronounced dead.
Women want more than stadium visits
“The government continues to crack down on women, who have long been asking for much more than just going to the stadium,” Iranian sociologist Azadeh Kian told DW. Kian is director of the Center for Gender and Feminist Studies at the University of Paris and has long researched the women’s movement in Iran. From their point of view, a cultural revolution has taken place in Iran. Women are fed up with being constantly patronized and no longer want to bow to the obligation to wear a headscarf. But women who refuse to wear a headscarf are being monitored and punished on social media and in public, whether at universities or in the workplace. They face fines and are denied access to infrastructure such as metro stations and banks, universities and even hospitals.
On Monday, July 10, President Ebrahim Raisi met with representatives of the judiciary, the police, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and the Ministry of the Interior, all of which are responsible for enforcing the dress code for women. Raisi urged them to strictly enforce the headscarf requirement.
“Protection” from the sight of male bodies
In this mixed situation, expert Kian expects that “the government will strictly control access to the stadiums”. It is possible that only a small number of tickets will be given to women. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, women spectators have been largely excluded from football and other sporting events, despite the lack of a law to do so. Clerics argued that women needed to be protected from the sight of “half-naked” male athletes. Under pressure from FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), this ban was gradually lifted.
Referring to some international matches where a small number of women were allowed to spectate in the stadium, sociologist Kian says: “The authorities will again ensure that as many women as possible sit in the stadium wearing long black chadors and are photographed by the press . This is the image they want to present to the outside world: women loyal to the values of the Islamic Republic and supporting the political system.”
First woman as Iranian ambassador
Conservatives also like to support these women. In early July, it was announced that Masoumeh Abad would become Iran’s new ambassador to Helsinki. This will be the first time the government has sent a woman as ambassador to the West since the Islamic Revolution. The news surprised many in Iran. Although Masoumeh Abad is considered to be well connected in religious conservative circles, he has no foreign policy experience. She was a member of Tehran City Council for one term (2013-2017).
“In the last thirty years I have observed how women in Iran were allowed to pursue political careers,” says Azadeh Kian, adding: “During the presidencies of Mohammad Khatami or Hassan Rouhani, who promised reforms, I met women who believed in them that they could make a difference. However, they quickly became disillusioned as this system does not allow for change. Hardliners like Ahmadinejad or President Raisi, on the other hand, promote women who don’t even think about improving the situation of women.”
Religious leader Ali Khamenei has the last word in all political affairs in Iran. He and conservative clerics see themselves as defenders of Islamic values, which they see threatened by Western influences. The conservatives fundamentally reject feminism or equal rights for women and men because that would violate their religious ideas and the laws based on Sharia in Iran.