Jul 09

Citizens Angry the Government Backs Away from Supporting Women’s Attendance at Sport Stadiums

Rouhani’s Vice President for Women’s and Family Affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, has come under increasingly direct criticism by Iranian citizens after her flip-flops—and now backing away—from her earlier support for women’s attendance at sports events in Iran.

Molaverdi, after forcefully advocating for women’s presence at sports events, said on July 1 that the government had ended its plans to allow women inside sports arenas “out of respect for the Grand Ayatollahs.” ,

It was only on June 19 that Molaverdi, noting that women’s presence in the stadiums had never been banned until two years ago but now was seen as a “vice,” wrote a forceful criticism of the ban on her Facebook page noting the hypocrisy of policies that ignored the greater issues women face.

A female sports reporter in Tehran, who spoke with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran on the condition of anonymity after women were turned away from the Azadi Arena in Tehran to watch a volleyball match between Iran and the United States men’s national teams, said, “In the next elections Ms. Molaverdi should collect votes from those Grand Ayatollahs because we are not going to vote for her team again. Her team only says nice slogans but does not act.”

In response to Molaverdi’s statement that the ban on women’s attendance would probably be revisited by the government in the future, the reporter was skeptical. “Next year they will probably make a big hype a few months in advance of volleyball matches. A few women will get excited and hopeful but in the end women will not be allowed into the arenas because once again the religious leaders will not allow it.”

In her interview with the ILNA state-run news agency, Molaverdi also took a swing at opponents who accused the government of focusing too much on women’s presence at sports arenas. “We have said many times that we don’t consider this issue to be on top of women’s demands. It is only one demand we were trying to address,” she said. “Our goal was to come up with a defined framework and infrastructure to ensure a healthy and secure environment for women and girls who want to watch volleyball or any other sport in the arenas,” Molaverdi added.

In an interview with the Campaign, a medical student in Tehran had a different take on the issue. “We know well that this government is not able to make a move if its opponents hide behind the religious leaders. I think Ms. Molaverdi did the smart thing: She threw the ball into the court of religious leaders and made them answer to the public.”

This student added: “It is encouraging to see the government, in this Islamic state, supporting the presence of women in sports arenas. But this cannot easily happen in a multi-voice society. More sacrifice and patience are needed.”

A law student told the Campaign: “I was really looking forward to watching the volleyball matches in the arena. I thought the government was able to deliver on its word to have separate sections for men and women while keeping the atmosphere secure. It really was not a big deal. It could have been done. When hundreds of police are stationed throughout Tehran to control women’s Islamic clothing, they could have also been used to keep order in the sports arena.”

Vice President Molaverdi first announced on April 6, 2015, that the government had approved the presence of women in arenas for volleyball matches. Three months later she reiterated the new policy in a meeting with police officials and representatives from the Interior Ministry and the Sports Ministry.

Within days, Ansar-e Hezbollah, a shadowy semi-official group known for its physical attacks against citizens who question ultra-conservative dictates or criticize the Islamic Republic, issued a statement calling on people to participate in a bloody confrontation to prevent women from entering sports arenas. Additionally, Friday prayer leaders in various cities across Iran publicly condemned the presence of women in arenas as un-Islamic.

On June 19 the volleyball match between Iran and United States men’s national teams took place at the Azadi Arena without the presence of female fans or women sports reporters. A handful of women were spotted in the stands but it was not clear how they slipped in.

On the day of the match, the Tasnim new agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, had warned that any attempt at “breaking taboos” ( letting women into the arena) during the volleyball match would be dealt with.