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Iran: Women At Sports Events A Victory, But 'Not Enough'

Mahboudeh Abbass-Gholizadeh (Courtesy Photo) Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has ordered authorities to allow women to enter sports stadiums and attend national football games. Conservatives have deemed it un-Islamic for women to attend men's sporting events, and a ban has been in place since the establishment of the Islamic republic in 1979. But in a letter to the head of Iran's Physical Education Organization, Ahmadinejad wrote that women and families help bring "morality" and "chastity" to public venues. RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari talked on April 24 with a prominent women's rights activist, Mahboubeh Abbass-Gholizadeh, about the reversal. She calls the decision the result of pressure by activists.

RFE/RL: You and many other women in Iran have been fighting for the right to enter stadiums and attend football matches. Your leg was actually broken last year when you and a group of activists tried to push your way into Tehran stadium. How do you feel today, now that President Ahmadinejad has ordered that women be allowed into stadiums?

Mahboubeh Abbass-Gholizadeh: Our reaction -- the reaction of many of those who have been involved in this campaign, and we've been talking about it -- is first of all [happiness]. We are all happy that the women's movement could successfully reach [at least] one of its least important demands. We consider this a victory for the women's movement. But this is happening at a time when there are many pressures with regard to [restrictions on] women's clothing. This achievement is for us a result of the efforts of our women and girls, especially since last year. It was necessary, but [it is] not enough.

RFE/RL: What are your other demands?

Abbass-Gholizadeh: Women should have access to all public places, and their rights should be [defended]. Under the current conditions -- in which a woman who wants to travel needs her husband's permission, in which academic places, universities, scientific locations, and recreational places like coffee shops are segregated -- women or young girls cannot easily gain access to public places. And this segregation shows that we cannot say that women and men use public places equally. Some places in Iran are generally designated "For Men Only." On the other hand, the emphasis that exists on women's clothing -- especially in recent days -- it all indicates cat-and-mouse policies with regard to women's demands. And we have many other demands -- from the right to [less strict limits on] clothing to the right of access to all public places.

RFE/RL: Does this small victory make you and other activists more determined and more active in seeking your demands and achieving equal rights?

Abbass-Gholizadeh: This is an achievement by the women's movement -- and not because the president is a democrat and, for example, gives importance to women's rights. The activities of women have made this possible. Our argument is not only limited to women entering stadiums, but we believe that women have the right to access public places that under the Islamic republic have become places solely for men. These are only our first steps. Our strategy is to achieve equal rights for all Iranian women.

RFE/RL: Do you know when President Ahmadinejad's order will be applied and women will be allowed to attend sports events?

Abbass-Gholizadeh: I think it will be applied during the first game that comes after [the issuing of] this order.

RFE/RL: And will you attend it, you and other activists?

Abbass-Gholizadeh: Definitely, all of us are planning to go and watch the game and demonstrate [our victory]. Before Mr. President issued this order, we were planning on creating some solidarity among Iranian women who live abroad -- especially because of the [FIFA] World Cup that will be held in Germany [in June-July]. We were busy working on a campaign so that Iranian women outside the country would represent women who are inside Iran and attend football matches in stadiums and chant slogans and have placards denouncing the violation of Iranian women's right to attend stadiums. But it appears that -- before people outside Iran could hear about the campaign -- the president was informed and issued this letter.

RFE/RL Iran Report

RFE/RL Iran Report

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