Women in Iran were thrilled to finally watch soccer in a public stadium on Tuesday, but government officials openly disapproved, and activists aren’t completely sold on what looks like a move toward gender equality.
Iranian authorities permitted 100 women to watch a men’s game between the country’s national team, known as team Melli, and Bolivia at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium. While soccer is the most popular sport in Iran, Tuesday was the first time women were invited to enter a stadium without issue in 35 years, the Washington Post reports.
Female Iranian soccer federation employees and members of the country’s women’s team were given priority to attend, but sat separately from the men in the crowd.
It is finally happening. Some chosen Iranian women are allowed to enter Azadi Stadium and watch an official match for the first time.— Alireza Ashraf (@AlirezaAshraf1) October 16, 2018
Clearly, it's an important step on the road to accomplishment of their justly wish. #IRNvBOLpic.twitter.com/kfeFrmls0e
Women have been barred from watching sports in stadiums and public spaces since 1975, when the country’s new religiously conservative government decided stadiums were inappropriate for women. Stadiums were viewed as places where people swear and athletes wear ‘indecent’ clothing. Religious conservatives also worried women would become romantically interested in men at sporting events.
There’s no written rule banning women from watching sports but they’re often turned away from entering stadiums, or arrested for trying.
It’s unclear if Tuesday was a one time deal or a step closer to officially lifting the ban.
Not everyone saw the event as progress for women’s rights in the country. President Hassan Rouhani has made it clear that he doesn’t support the integration. Other government officials mirrored Rouhani’s sentiment and said women won’t be permitted in stadiums again.
“I object to the presence of women in Azadi Stadium yesterday. When a woman goes to a stadium and is faced with half-naked men in sports clothes and sees them it will lead to sin,” Iran’s prosecutor general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said.
Brave women have tried to find ways around the restriction in the past. Some snuck into stadiums disguised as men wearing fake beards and mustaches. Certain restaurants have also put their businesses on the line by bringing women in to watch sports games with the opposite sex.
But while women can now technically attend some volleyball and basketball games, and were allowed to watch a livestream of Iran’s World Cup match against Spain, human rights activists aren’t satisfied with the country’s efforts.
Darya Safai, a women’s rights activist in Brussels, said in a statement issued to Voice of America, "As long as women cannot buy tickets, the stadium ban is not lifted. It is the same as what they do for [men's] volleyball — under pressure from activists, they pick some women who can enter [the stadium], but it is just a big show-off. As long as Iranian women cannot buy tickets and the stadium ban is still operative, we will keep on fighting."