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Protests Continue Over Ban on Iranian Women's Presence at Sporting Events: Rouhani's Deputy on Women's Affairs is "Conservative"


By Niusha Saremi (source: Rooz Online)

While the ban on women’s presence at sporting events continues in the Islamic republic, a group of women gathered at the building of the capital’s provincial center building to display their unhappiness where they signed a petition and submitted it to the governor of Tehran in which they demand the authorities to provide a justification for banning women from watching volleyball at the country’s largest stadium complex, the Azadi Stadium.

Woman = Man

“Representing half the population of the country, we as a group of Iranian women protest being denied the basic women’s right of going to a sports complex to watch a volleyball competition,” the letter read. Banafsheh Jamali, a women’s rights activist and a signatory of the petition told Rooz, “The deputy governor of Tehran, Mr. Adeli expressed ignorance over the issuance of the ban and said that the act was not taken by the city security council.” According to her, the official pledged to pass the petition to the government and said that the issue would be discussed in the future meeting of the council.

In a related development, some 130 civil and women rights activists sent a letter to the international volleyball federation - which is monitoring the volleyball games between Iran and Poland - asking it to support their demands for the recognition of their right to go to pubic stadiums to watch sporting events. This petition, which was also signed by Iran’s only Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, along with those of many other prominent activists, refers to the recent restrictions placed on Iranian women to watch volleyball games in public stadiums and reads, “We demand the end of gender discrimination in stadiums and believe that Iranian society is not an island separated from other parts of the world and Iranian sports federations must end their practices which are not inline with the rules governing world games or with the culture and wishes of the Iranian people.”

Some people have said such demands on the government results in double pressure on the administration and is not prudent. But Jamali thinks differently and says, “The deputy in women’s affairs is set to investigate women’s demands. This is a requirement for Iran when participating in international games. But various agencies refrain from accepting this responsibility and do not take action against the ban.”

Promises are Only Words

This is not the first time women have presented their demands through demonstrations in front of Azadi Stadium as they tried to enter the arena. But they have been blocked from doing this and in at least one instance the confrontation led to violence where the protesters were beaten.

Following that event, wider complaints emerged against the vice-president on women’s affairs. Banafsheh Jamali said the government’s response to the violence was merely at the level of words. “Mrs. Molaverdi is more conservative than I personally expected,” she later said. She added that Molaverdi has promised to pursue the perpetrators of violence but had not taken any practical steps.

Zahra Eshraqi, the granddaughter of ayatollah Khomeini recently said that the vice-president on women’s affairs had joined her to go watch a volleyball match in a stadium, but had been prevented from going in. She added, “I think the difference between this vice-president and previous ones is that the current one would like to present the idea that she is trying but that it is others who are preventing her from accomplishing her goals. It is clear that it is not the police that is preventing women from entering stadiums but the government and those unwritten laws in this regard.”

She continued, “I believe we should not expect the government to do anything. Now is the time for women themselves to become active. The government or the women who are part of it cannot push our agenda ahead. My greatest complaint goes against the vice-president on women’s affairs. They are not doing anything at all and have even defined some red lines for themselves that they will not cross. The previous administration acted in a similar way.”

She demonstrated her resolve by saying, “This discrimination must end, but through active women and not some government or state agency. They should advance the issue in a non-political fashion.”

But she also seemed sympathetic towards the government. “If we throw all our expectations at the government, there certainly will be no results. This is because the government is now focused on foreign policy and the economy and they must deal with the Majlis on a daily basis and respond to them. The work of the government is so complex and huge that we should not expect it to get involved in everything,” she said.

Support from the International Volleyball Federation

Iranian officials continue their defiance despite women’s protests and those of the international community. The international volleyball federation, FIVB, has stressed on the rights of women to participate in sporting events. Mahmoud Afshardoost, the secretary of Iran’s volleyball association had earlier openly said that international rules were being circumvented. “The absence of Iranian women in stadiums is a negative point for Iran’s Volleyball Federation and we should not do that as is required by the established rules. Which is why we occasionally allow some women to go to stadiums to watch sporting events.”

But despite the current determination of Iranian authorities to deny women the right to go to stadiums, Jamali is hopeful and says, “Perhaps this discrimination will not end in the short term and we shall have lost watching the world league games, but with the perseverance and pursuit of the issue I am hopeful that ultimately the ban will end not only for volleyball games but for all games.”

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