The issue of women's presence in the public sphere of Iran where the majority of the population are Shia' Muslims, is a complicated and multi layered issue. In the history of this country, we encounter numerous cases where the division of public and private spheres between men and women is indicated: Harems with their special customs and traditions where designed at the aim of minimizing women's communications within the Harem with outsider men; segregated side walks for men and women; gender segregation at religious spheres and religious celebrations such as passion plays and Ashoura and Tasoua events in religious places; the traditional tea houses (where only men were allowed), Cabarets (where only female dancers were allowed to enter) are historical examples of such spheres, some of which have still kept their status and prohibit women's entrance.
The schools in Iran, except for a very shot period, have been segregated.
These restrictions have always been reinforced and justified. Patriarchal structure and religious justifications have always been the main tools for repression. It seems that the patriarchal structure would obtain its legitimacy based on religion and the interpretation of Islamic Jurisprudence.
The regulations concerning Hejab (veil) and avoiding strange men (namahram) are also religious jurisprudence that prevent women from presence in places where there is the possibility of encountering strange men and prevail the necessity of obedience from the husband, which in its turn, limits women's ability to come out of the house.
These restrictions were not in need of justifications before …………… and based on the old patriarchal customs, women would obey it. But entering a modern era and increase in the level of education and literacy of women and questioning religious point of view regarding women raised the need of new justifications and the clergies added new expressions in their religious interpretations: high status of women, the necessity to respect women's dignity, avoiding sexual and material attitude against women were the expressions used as a tool to continue to exclude women from public arena.
But how women have encountered these deprivations and restrictions and despite the strong walls of traditions and religion they have tried to find their way to the public arena? What were the tools they have adopted to solve the problems they are exposed? Iranian women's deprivation in attending sports stadiums started after the Islamic Revolution when the Islamization of all the scientific, cultural, arts and sports centers was in the agenda of the new established government. In this article I'll answer the question that how the members of this campaign pursued this issue and what was their goal and what barriers they encountered and what achievements they have had.
After the revolution of the 1979, and establishment of the Islamic Republic regime in Iran, the authorities of the regime whose main goal of the revolution was Islamization of the society and establishment of the Islamic Jurisprudence in all social and political processes, started defining quantities and qualities for women and men's participation in the public spheres and tried to maximize segregation. One of the main places which were segregated were the sports clubs. Mahin Gorji, sportswoman and sport reporter says:
After the revolution, we used to go to Amjadiyeh stadium for practices […] one day they said that women are not allowed to come. I mean that along with the Cultural Revolution even women's entrance to the sports club were prohibited and they said that women are not allowed to come until the government is settled.
Reference to the writings at the beginning of the revolution we will understand that between the change of the governments, whatever that belonged to the previous government, either good or bad, was considered unpleasant. In this period, some of the main changes in women's status, especially development of their presence in public spheres were disapproved. The religious leaders and even elites in their speeches would remind that King's goal in developing their participation was prevailing prostitution and using them as a tool and they would introduce religious features as a role model and in hadith they would emphasize on women staying at home and division of the public and private spheres between men and women. The pattern of marital life of Ali (first Imam of the Shia, cousin and son in law of the Prophet) and Fatemeh (daughter of the Prophet and mother of 11 Shia Imam) was advocated as Fatemeh, staying home and Ali working outside. Women's day was moved from 8th of March to the 20 of Jamadi Olsani, the birthday of Zahrah and the name was changed from Women's Day to Mothers' Day.
On the other hand, to maintain the newly established Islamic Republic and repression of the ideological or political opposition groups, they needed the presence of these housewives in the society and consequently strategies were defined such as: gender segregation, hejab and sacredness of veiled women.
Sacredness meant that they would exaggerate in women's good features and characteristics and high social and spiritual status was given to her that nobody would dare to say that they are willing to ride on a bicycle, exercise or play football and go to the stadium. For Muslim women, socializing and talking to strange men was not pleasant and they she had to have high ambitions and goals within the structure of the Islamic government which had brought her dignity and she had to concentrate on raising the Islamic generation and "had to throw away all the empty and unrealistic freedoms of the west".
Segregation of women and men's sport reinforced the belief that women are not even allowed to participate in the events in the stadium even as the audience. Of course conservative and personal taste of the relevant authorities and fear from being accused of corruption, westernization and support of the previous regime , fostered the situation where even in the absence of any rules and bylaws, women were deprived from entering the stadium. The conservative newspapers of the Islamic Revolution, addressed Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Revolution wrote: "In fact many girls are willing to watch the football games in the stadium but the high tendency doesn't mean that this is morally correct. A lot of people all over the world like to consume narcotics, gamble and consume alcohols and we all know that all these three options are morally unpleasant."
Keyhan in one of its news couple of months after the revolution of the 1979 published the speech of the Friday Prayer Imam of Bushehr reflecting that camping of the national football team for the Asia league was criticized and he had said that there is no point in spending a lot of money for couple of people to run after a ball when a lot of people suffer thirst and hunger.
Women, as the main indicator of the Islamic Revolution, suffered a lot of pressure to adapt with the standards of the revolution and they had no other choice but to obey. Protest against compulsory hejab and dismissing women from their offices faced harsh repression of the government and religious forces and they were all accused of being the followers of the King and prostitution.
Eventually, women protested!
Massive dismissal of women from offices and depriving them from judiciary, prohibiting them from the voluntary military service of women and closing women's sports and many others indicated that the new government doesn't feel the necessity of women's presence or at lease their presence "in the way it is"; since very quickly we observed that "Zahras" with their little knowledge and lack of gender awareness and without any demand, entered the arena and substituted educated women demanding equality and ignorant of tradition. Despite the will of the government, these women couldn't be substituted in all spheres and sports, music, cinema and theater were centers where although the management structure was completely changed, was in need of actors and actresses and the Zahara's were not able to conduct it and the government had to undertake reforms since it was on one hand obliged and on the other hand to prove that it is not against women's presence at art, cultural and sports arenas:
We will pay more attention to women's sports, but we will not use women as tools. In women's sports, immorality and dating will have to space. We will keep away the places where women go for exercise. We will build a hedge around tennis courts. There is no problem if women judge women's matches and women attend as audience. If you are willing to provide news, recruit female reporters!
More than two decades after the revolution, this process prevailed and enhanced every day, but no serious protests were introduced by women. The policy of the authorities regarding the illegal actions was mostly silence and claim of not lack of awareness. Finally, development of women's sports and increasing demand of presence in the sports stadium on one hand and successes of the Iranian sports groups at international levels after the war between Iran and Iraq, on the other hand, aggravated women's enthusiasm to follow the matches from close by. Women would consider it their right to attend the stadiums for the matches.
Restricting regulations concerning clothing, limitation of recreation spheres, restriction of the boundaries for political activities were all layers surrounding women tightly every day and life had become very difficult.
At the beginning the sports reporters raised the issue and addressed the authorities and later pressured them to define their position. Although, very limited number of them dared to express a clear point of view, they indicated that there is not legal and legislative limitation. Khatami's government and the sixth parliament provided precious opportunities to pursue this demand.
Elaheh Koulayee, Tehran representative in the sixth Majles of Islamic Council said:
"This justification is not based on any reason. Depriving women from sports stadiums is a wrong perception. When millions of women and girls are watching the sports through television, there should be no reason restricting their presence in the stadium. This will only toughen these environments."
Tahereh Rezazadeh, Shiraz representative in the sixth Majles of the Islamic Council, benefits her position as a representative to attend the stadium to watch the football games. She told the reporters that from Islamic jurisprudence and legislative point of view there is no restriction for women to attend the stadium. Elaheh Koulayee in this regard said:
She turned this protest to a symbol by her action. In fact, a representative of people should present public demands as a social will.
Following softening position of the government, sports authorities found their power and walked out of conservativeness. Asghar Sharafi, a team member and old coach of the national football team in his interview in 2001 said:
Women's presence in the stadium makes the environment vivid, especially in our Iranian culture where in the presence of women it is important to watch your words and behave yourself.
The secretary of the Olympics Committee at that time, in his protest against women's deprivation from sports stadiums said:
This attitude against sports should be changes. If a team member knows that his family is sitting within the audience will play with a better spirit. On the other hand, by families coming to the stadiums there will be opportunities to spend the spare time in a healthier ambiance.
In fact he used the value of the term "family" in order to create a positive sphere for discussion. Also, regarding the religious rules prohibiting women from seeing the body of men from close by, he said:
There is no problem for women's presence. When the staff members of the embassies are invited to watch the games or support our national team, there is no issue and we would only work towards fostering the public culture.
The interview of this authority includes three main points summarizing the reasons of the defending women's presence in the stadiums from a feminist point of view: first, the culture of watching the language and behaving in the presence of women, second, the necessity of having healthy recreation besides the family and third is the indication that there is no religious restriction in women watching men's games. In fact, in these phrases nothing has been said about the right of the citizens, the right to choose, gender equity and in general "women's demands" but the priorities such as family and spirit of the sports teams have been raised. Up to this stage there were no serious discussions in this regard and consequently no serious protests were made and there was no clear assessment of the harshness of the opposing authorities reactions especially religious influential authorities in power.
Round tables were conducted by the sports representatives, technical authorities, experts and media representatives without the religious clerics without referring to religious jurisprudence regarding women's presence in the stadiums and without any conclusions the issue was left to be discussed in the future. At the same time, discussions were held in Majles which encountered a lot of resistance and didn't draw any conclusions.
Decrees of the Board of Ministers of the Government
Based on Mohsen Ahmadi, one of the reporters of ISNA, raised the issue of women attending sports stadium in the board of ministers of the government and it was decided that by a decree the grounds for women's presence will be provided. There are no documents proving the existence of such decree.
Truly, the Iran – Bahrain match in 2005 was the first major step by the "Defending women's freedom to attend sports stadium" campaign but scattered and unorganized efforts of women to achieve this goal had started long ago. Scattered measures, lacking feminist point of view such as wearing men's cloths and escaping the disciplinary forces and using the opportunity of the Iran team going for the universal cup are to be mentioned.
Before discussing the measures of the "Defending women's freedom to attend sports stadium" campaign, which is knows as the Campaign of the Stadium, we will discuss the previous actions taken in this regard.
Victory of Iran vs US
The US – Iran match of 20 June 1998 took place within the framework of the preliminary competitions of the World Cup football matches. Considering the sensitivity of Iran – US ties and the scores won by the Iranian team, the match was critically important. After the victory of Iran vs US at the midnight local time, majority of people came to the streets, turned their car lights and started beeping and distributing sweets and expressing their happiness. I remember that I was a university student living in the dormitory. At 10:00 the doors were shut and we were not allowed to get out. My friends and I had bought a 14" black and white second hand television to watch the game and during each game there was no space to move in our room and everybody would gaze at the small screen and yell for any reason.
After the victory, we could hear the cars and people celebrating outside. We could see the male students walking out of the dormitory to join the people and celebrate with them. We were trying to do something in despair and yelling: "open the doors! We want to go out in the street! Of course we knew it was useless and we all came back in a painful throat to our rooms.
Iran entering the France World Cup
Women were not invited but they attended!
In this year, the constant failure of the national team in the preliminary games of the World Cup, exhausted public hope, regarding the presence of the national team in the World Cup. The Iran – Australia was the last ray of hope for Iran and after lots of efforts and bearing the stress and pressure Iran managed to succeed over Australia and go to the World Cup. Iran going to the World Cup after twenty years (5 rounds) and the special circumstances linked to this victory, brought happiness to Iranian nation and all over the country different celebrations were held. This was spontaneous to the Conference of the Islamic Countries and hundreds of high ranked political authorities were present in Iran. The security team of the conference, which had provisioned that control of the situation would be difficult in case of Iran's victory and it might be associated with risks due to the population and the crowed gathering, took a rare decision. It was declared that instead of going to the airport, people go to Azadi stadium where the national team would be. In the Public summon to welcome the national team; women were not mentioned. Despite the warnings of the disciplinary forces women were the first groups who used the opportunity of this match to influence the walls drawn between men and women and thousands of them went to Azadi stadium to celebrate the victory and return of the national team.
Iran – Ireland, victory of "Freedom" Guests
14 November 2001 was the day that Iranian women discovered that the reason they are deprived from stadiums is not due to being a woman but due to being an Iranian woman.
Couple of days before the return game of the World Cup 2002, we were informed that the Irish will bring 300 female audience to Tehran. The rumors grew like a bomb blast all over the city and were associated with increasing protest of Iranian women who were not allowed to encourage their national team in their own country. One of the fans, in an interview with Reuters said: I hate this discriminatory law. Why Irish women are allowed to encourage their team in our country but Iranian women are deprived from their right. The football federation, in response to the issue of Irish women's presence in the stadium, referred the case to Iran embassy in Dublin, while the Iranian ambassador in Dublin, mentioned that the visa grant is based on the order of Tehran and nobody was willing to talk about the issue.
The media pressure over sports authorities was high. Three days before the match, Agence France Press quoted Jomhuriye Eslami newspaper as saying: "some clergies are against Irish women traveling to Tehran and their presence in Azadi Stadium." One day before the match, Qods newspaper wrote: "The issue of Irish women's presence in the return game of Iran –Ireland has been cancelled." At the end of the article it had stated that the Security Council of the province is also against women's presence in Azadi stadium. Also, Keyhan newspaper had quoted Mousavi Lari, Interior Minister, as saying: Due to security concerns, Irish women will not be allowed to attend the stadium." Eventually, on the day of the game, a bus along with the embassy car, brought 25 Irish interested fans to the stadium and after the game they were the last group to leave the stadium.
Delfin Minouyee, Radio France Info reporter of a French mother and Iranian father, put her efforts to watch the game and finally managed to get into the stadium. She writes: "Irish women were yelling right from the beginning of the match saying "We will resist till the end" that at the end of the game they couldn't even talk. They might be right since the victory was both sided: the first victory was for their team which had managed to go to the World Cup and the second one was for them since from the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran since 1979 this was the first time that women (except women reporters) were managed to get into Azadi stadium to watch the game. Minouyee continues her story of getting in: "I resisted and persisted and passed couple of security guards until I reached to the stadium guard who had decided to disappoint me and would strictly ban me of entering. While, right in front of me, he let a group or Irish Television in. Bad temperedly he told me that I'm not Irish, if I were I might be able to go in. I told him that now Europe is like a puzzle and it doesn't make a difference if you are French, Irish or Spanish. You are a European… at the end he let me in not knowing that I'm half Iranian and if there is going to be a problem it must be because of this." She writes at the end of her report: maybe the only memory that the Irish women will take with them is presence of 90 thousand Iranian men in Azadi stadium and couple of young Iranians who were astonished at European women yelling in happiness. Some of them might claim in return that they forced the Iranian authorities to give in and be proud of their achievement.
Non Iranian Women in Iranian Stadium
The experience of non Iranian women who couldn't see their Iranian counterparts in the stadium is very interesting. After protests of Iranian women against this discrimination, the situation was tightened for non Iranian women and they were exposed by cruel and despising attitudes and in some cases they made their complaints upon their return to their countries to the Iranian authorities.
The members of the Stadium Campaign communicated with female audience and told their story; they in returned promised to help them as much as they can or at least assist them in disseminating the information regarding this discrimination.
Second Self weblog, explains the experience of an Italian female reporter as follows;
The reporter of ANESA news institute as the first female reporter or as the first woman had managed to get into 100 thousand- stadium (I don't remember the match but I believe it must have been politically very important that they had let me in). She has an interesting description of her presence in the stadium. It is the story of astonishment of an European woman while entering a very public place in her point of view, which is very specific and male dominant for Iranians after revolution. She has an interesting description of the bewilderment of thousands of men in a male dominant stadium while encountering an European woman, which is worth reading.
Reporter Women Exception of a Not Written Law
Despite women's ban of entering stadiums, reporter women since the 2001 were allowed to enter some inter club matches which are also associated with many difficulties.
The reporters who managed to get into the stadium in these occasions, through different weblogs, or in their reports would refer to the ban of women's entrance to the stadium. In some cases, female reporters who were not sports reporters would use their cards to get in and watch the game. Masoumeh, the writer of Kafe Naseri weblog, who is a cofounder of the campaign, is one of them. She writes in great enthusiasm regarding this undiscovered sphere; as if she is talking about the taboo city:
I can go to the stadium and watch the match of Iran – North Korea from the glass room. This is the second time that I'm going there as a reporter.
In the match of Estaeghlal and Persepolis she had heard a lot of bad words within the audience but she says that the national games are different. This might be true or she might be trying to use it as a tool against those who are resisting women's presence in the stadium and she is ready to present the truth the other way. After watching a national game as a reporter she writes:
I went to the stadium today… nobody said a bad word believe me! There were twenty Iranian women. There were couple of footstall team ladies and couple of others had used escape and parties to watch the game. In fact they had come to watch the game from a place other than TV. It is a pity the other girls couldn't come! I walked out of reporters place and it was very exciting to watch football like that!
Masoumeh says: nobody said a bad word and stated: believe me! As if she knows that this is difficult to believe. Then in expressing other women who had to come to the stadium says: they had used escape and parties to come and watch the game.
In this way she is trying to express her dissatisfaction of the methods they have adopted enter the stadium (or they have been obliged to choose).
As a reporter she can go to the stadium without any problem but she says:
…I'll go to watch the match of Iran and Bahrain and everything is organized but I feel bad at the time of watching the game since I know that there are people in the stadium who are in boys wear to watch the game. I know one of them, her name is Hediyeh and loves football to the extent that she doesn't want to look at the restricted frame of TV. I hope we can go together. You and I and all other girls who are football fan.
And she states:
In fact I'm not that much fan of football but considering citizens' rights and everything else, I'll be a fan of football for the moment.
The first time one of the audience of Chelcheragh said that she has wore boys wear couple of times and went to the stadium. Her problem was that during winter with coat and hat it was possible but during summer and hot weather it is very difficult to role yourself in dresses in order to hide.
Her female colleagues and herself, after having the experience of the stadium and listening to the complaint of Hediyeh, decided to test their chance as ordinary citizens and not reporters and started the path of 2004 which continues after all the cons and pros.
Parastou, author of Zan weblog says:
The first time it was Iran – Germany game that 7 of us bought tickets to go and watch the game inside the stadium… we passed two phases and reached the chairs. There the police beat us badly and so cruel that we were not expecting it.
Masoumeh, who has been with Parastou and 5 others, says:
… Couple of other girls joined us in our effort to realize citizens' rights and we ended up in arguing with the officers and watched the German women sitting on the chairs of the stadium.
Upon their return they published articles regarding police violence and their attitude in Chelcheragh, a very popular weekly among the young people and adolescents (especially in that period) and also published articles in their weblogs; they tried to raise awareness amongst the youngsters especially girls who were fan of football of their movement. After the articles printed in Chelcheragh and defining the issues and police violent and despising approach, they announced that they want to continue their movement and participate in the next game in the stadium.
It might be that it was our fault that we were only 6. If we had taken measures to revive our rights earlier and if we were 60, 600, 6000, or 60000 may be the situation was different… our meeting, next national game, behind the doors of Azadi stadium.
These articles were associated with the serious reaction of the disciplinary forces and a complaint was made against Chelcheragh. Chelcheragh was accused of publishing reports that encourage women against the disciplinary forces and fight against the security forces and breaking the rules.
Eventually, the accusation was removed but Amouzadeh Khalili, head of Chelcheragh warned that the staff members are not allowed to print such articles.
The group continued its activities and emails and letters were sent to the publication and the feedback of their articles in the weblogs showed the warm welcome of the girls and boys on the issue.
They knew that with the increased numbers will increase the possibility of the success and the number of the girls interested in football is not little but how should we summon them? How should we prevent police violence?
The first massive and mobilized movement of the campaign
Iran – Bahrain game (World Cup of 2006 Germany) was one week before the presidency election in 2005 and was a very good opportunity to raise the demand with very little cost and reaction.
A letter was issued to the governor's office and 200 people mostly inclusive of well known activists signed it. In the letter they demanded that the police forces provide security for their entrance into the stadium.
The signatories of the letter announced that couple of hours before the Iran – Bahrain game they will be in front of the west door of Azadi stadium to watch the football game and they invited others to participate.
Advocacy and Dissemination of Information
This movement was recognized due to different reasons. The first reason was that it started just one week before the presidency election when the competition had reached its pick and any movement from the political groups, people or the parties was very sensitive and observed very closely. Second, this was the first time that women's movement was raising such a demand. A demand of different nature, which was approved by the activists of different groups and origins, who wanted their demand to be realized. Citizens' Right which was similarly adopted by the new appointed government was for the first time used by many women activists and women's presence in the stadium was the proof. A very serious and extensive dialogue adopted by women who wrote weblogs and foreign medias paid a very special attention to this measure of women and conducted interviews with many of them.
How women achieved freedom!
Iran- Bahrain was a very sensitive one since in case of victory; Iran would go to the world cup. On the other hand this game was taking place on 17 June couple of days before the presidency election and the candidates took the opportunity to enhance their campaign since they knew (during the years after victory of Iran over Australia) based on previous experience that in case of Iran's victory, people would come to the streets and accompanying them will increase their popularity. In between, two candidates didn't wait for the victory and used the game for advertisement. Mostafa Moeen, reformist candidate and Mehr Alizadeh, chairman of physical training organizations.
Nasimi's (the wind)
Moeen entered the arena with the motto of "I'll build you again, my home" and "Democracy" and to benefit the participation of young generation, established a part called "Nasim" in his propaganda which was the initial of Nasle (generation) Sevomiha (third) Yavar (supporter) of Moeen. The Participation Group, inspired by the ideas of women's group and in order to show their loyalty to their mottos of equity and equality between men and women, especially regarding citizens' rights, decided to defend women's demand by the motto of "We, the other half, have the right to watch the match".
White Scarf, Red Fetters
30 out of the two hundred that had signed the letter sent to the governor's office decided to wear white scarves along with the mottos they had written and go the Azadi Stadium. A group believed that they could benefit the situation for their candidates but another groups believed that this is women's demand and they want to have their independence in this issue to prevent any misinterpretation of the movement to be political and to attract more women to join the movement and support them. Finally, a limited group wore the head bands carrying the mottos. But all of them had red fetters. Red fetters were the symbol of the red lines that have always been tightened to women's hands and feet invisibly and the white scarf meant that despite all these problems we are looking for peace and avoid violence and are intending to achieve our goal using methods other than violence. The mottos were: "my share, women's share, half of freedom"; "freedom, equity, gender justice"; "freedom is my right, Iran is my country"; "How many steps to freedom?"; "my right is human right"; "freedom, freedom, freedom".
Hear their story:
We decided to approach the entrance door and enter with our tickets in hand but they quickly closed the door. Observing the situation, we sat on the way that the VIP cars would enter. They were obliged to change the route and enter from other entrances. Finally, when we saw that the bus carrying the Bahrain team is approaching, we decided to enter anyway by the time the doors open for them and interrupt their movement. The security authorities, immediately after the bus entered, tried to close the door in order to neutralize our pressure. This was quite action! We were pushing the door to open and they were trying to push it to close. The half open door would close by the push of 10 – 12 men and would open with the push of 30 women… in between, the foot of one of the women (Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh ) was stuck between the door and the floor and she fell.
Once this happened, we called an ambulance and made a fuss and managed to enter the stadium.
Although we were there since 14:00 we managed to watch the second half time. They asked us to untie the red fetters, to observe our hejab and leave the placards behind.
They had made the right guess. The placards and red fetters were easy to remove but the white scarves, no! Eventually, the first group of women with white scarves entered the stadium without any VIP or reporters card. They sat in VIP stage in front of th reporters:
We were right in front of them. If we would raise our flags they couldn't see the ground.
The reporter didn't say anything about them.
Reflection of women's presence in men's stage:
Citizens' right or political propaganda?
After the victory of the white scarves, interviews were conducted with them and they managed to advocate their movement with high level of self confidence. The fact that they had been once allowed to do so meant that their demand is not illegal or impossible. On the other hand, having the experience of such victory in the profile would give them the possibility to analyze the stadium sphere not based on the hearings and guess and would also show that the cost of such movement is not very high and more people would join them.
They dared to say that they are not interested in football but emphasized that the stadium and the population created the enthusiasm: "the energy one spends in the stadium and the dominating ambiance helps people to have a fresh and better spirit. That day, we really enjoyed, although, none of us were really interested in football."
The white scarves, who became more coordinated and inspired after this victory, continued their debates and lobbying with the authorities: "After the day, we called Mr. Mohammadpour, chairman of Physical Training Organization; he told that they won't let anyone to enter in this way! We inquired about the right way? He told that it must be coordinated. We asked him to coordinate! We told him that as an authority in the Physical Training Organization he is responsible to do the coordination for us to enter otherwise this will happen again."
They spoke to women's physical training authorities, Zahrah Ahmadipour, the deputy of the women's physical training organization at that time said that she has tried her best but has not been able to obtain any answers.
The other characteristic of the movement was the support of the men who believed that discrimination is unacceptable. In all the activities of the movement there have been men accompanying and supporting them. Mansour Nasiri, photographer, was one of the men who accompanied them on the day of Iran-Bahrain game. He says: "The majority didn't understand the purpose of such act. Some believed that these are football fans but it is not the case. Many of them have been women's right activists and were not even interested in football but considered it their duty to take the measure. They had to break the taboo. Publications and newspapers didn't have a good reflection of the issue. Some believed that they are football fans and some other related them to Mr. Mehr Alizadeh or Mr. Khatami, while political organizations didn't have any role. None of these guesses were right. I was with them in almost every level and I'm aware of their efforts."
They are not happy that their activities are considered to be in support of any one: "A newspaper had related our move in entering Azadi Stadium to Mr. Khatami, which is not true. We are not working under the supervision of any political entity and we were trying to realize our right as citizens and entered the stadium."
The misunderstanding might be due to the fact that Mehr Alizadeh, chairman of physical training organization and a presidency candidate provided the space for couple of women working in the organization or those who were his supporters, was trying to benefit the flags and mottos and attract women's support in his campaign.
The reflection of the action was extensive in media. Newspapers would ask the sociologists to analyze women's quest for "rights".
Chairman of Social Research and Study Center stated: "If we insist that women's presence in the stadium will prevail prostitution, surely, majority of women won't attend and the rest will be identified as prostitutes. Also, the men in the stadium will allow themselves to treat them in bad words and despise them."
These sociological and public discussions were very effective in enhancing the demand.
Second presence (Iran – Questa Rica)
The second movement of the white scarves was Iran – Questa Rica game, which took place by massive publications and dissemination of the information through Hamshahri, Shargh and Etemad Melli newspapers and the weblogs and websites. This time the situation was different. The presidency elections were over and the results showed that there is not hope for peaceful solutions to the issue of women's quest for equality.
In this game, 20 women were present in white scarves near the west entrance door of the stadium. It was not as successful as the previous effort.
The girls who attended were much younger. Mostly under ages and high school girls most of them in their school uniform.
Special security forces were prepared this time and their strategy was to create fear, threat and physical violence and when none were effective they deceived!
The security forces told the girls that they will be taken in by cars to their designated place. When the girls were onboard they found out that instead of Azadi stadium they are going to Azadi square!
Stadium of one hundred thousand boys and one hundred thousand signature petition!
Two pictures were published of this gathering in the media which were very successful and impressed many people.
The first picture belonged to a girl carrying Iran flag who had painted her face in the three colors of the flag and beside her there was a girl with a flag carrying the motto of "Boys One hundred Thousand Stadium".
The picture showed the sad girl, gazing to the far end. The rhythm of this motto would make the audience to pause and think about it since they had heard it many times through the radio and television reporters. The picture was printed over the Women publication and in the following court session one of the authors protested against the publication of the picture over the journal.
The second picture showed a security officer kicking one of the girls and attracted the attention of many. In this situation, a petition was place on the net which quickly collected many signatures. This letter addressed IOC, AFC, FIFA and internal sports authorities, which referred to police violence against women in Iran – Questa Rica game. This petition, carrying more than one hundred thousand signatures along with another letter were sent to FIFA and AFC.
From kicking to the best chairs: controversial order of the president
The campaign members were preparing to take their actions during the preliminary matches of the world cup, when a new phenomenon took place. In 24 April 2006, Mahmoud Ahmadi Nejad in a letter addressed to Mohammad Ali Abadi, chairman of physical training organization ordered that "with essential and accurate programming, a part of the best chairs of the audience in the stadium of national football games should be allocated to women and families." There was only two months difference between the harsh police and authorities of physical training organizations' reaction for women's presence in Iran – Questa Rica match and the order of provision of women's presence in the stadium.
The letter of the president stated: "Contrary to the understanding and propagandas, experience has proven that massive presence of families and women in public arenas will dominate health ad morality in the environment…I'm sure that our dear women are guardians of dignity and morality and in all levels they have been the supporters of Islamic Revolution and now are the advocates of healthy and safe society."
The order made it easy for the authorities to express their ideas. Bahzad Katirayee, General Manager of the Security Department of Physical Training Organization during 1996 to 2003 in his interview with ISNA said that the issue of women's participation in the stadium has been seriously considered since the beginning of 1997 and the organization has conducted a specialized research over it: "We experienced women's presence in the stadium during the volley ball games of adolescents of Asia during 1998 for the first time. Due to the enthusiastic presence of women; Iran won the championship. Then, there were massive protests against women's presence in sports clubs where Mostafa Hashemi Taba, chairman of the organization at that time, investigated the issue and classified sports groups and allowed women to participate as audience only in some of them. The organization prevented women mostly from wrestling and swimming halls. Regarding football there has been no discussion since the religious issues and the norm associated were rejected due to the far distance that the audience has from the ground."
He considered the ambiance of the stadium to be proper for women's presence and evaluated Ahmadi Nejads order to be positive and practical: "There is no opposition against women's presence in the stadium from the government's side, neither in 1998 nor today. The problem is that despite all coordination the implementation of this policy, the propaganda against women's presence will create oppositions."
Mohammad Ali Abtahi, parliament deputy of Khatami, in his weblog, Webnevesht, refers to the pressure imposed to Khatami's government: "I won't forget that once after the victory of Iran in Australia in preliminary games of the world cup, when every one was celebrating, boys and girls had gathered in the stadium to praise the victory. During that afternoon, the presidency office of physical training organization was under a lot of pressure to evacuate girls. Instead of enjoying the victory we were thinking of solution to answer the pressure. I hope I could define more. I'm writing this in response to our reporter friend who asked me this morning inquiring that why Mr. Khatami didn't issue any order."
After the order, the white scarves who identified themselves as the "campaign of defending women's right to enter the stadium" issued their first statement and announced that they will pursue women's demand regarding free, unconditional and impartial presence of women in the stadiums:
Sudden order of Ahmadi Nejad that allowed women to enter the stadium in the national and important games was issued only two months after harsh and strict reactions of women interested in football and was associated with diverse political analysis and couldn't be apart from public political and international spheres. But it can't be ignored that freedom granted to women for their presence in public arenas and stadiums, which is a very little demand compared to all the demands they have made, has started from the society and women's movement and has never changed it policies and procedures and it will be registered under the women's movement.
In this statement, the history of the efforts by women fan of football to enter the stadium was reviewed and the future activities of the campaign were introduced:
Defending women's presence in the stadiums campaign with the motto of "women's rights, half of freedom" announced that it will pursue women's demand for free, unconditional and impartial presence in sports stadium and herewith invited all women and men who believe in equality and elimination of gender discrimination to participate in the preparedness matches of the national football team before the world cup in spring. Also, it is essential for relevant authorities to make the coordination for women's presence in the stadium to watch the mentioned matches. The campaign will introduce the schedule once the date and place is finalized.
This hope very quickly faded to disappointment and the opposition groups reacted rapidly. Breaking the taboos by a principalist president was unacceptable for the traditional society.
The chairman of the physical training organization took the first conservative pose; the one that was the only audience of Ahmadi Nejad's letter, added a note to it: "this plan will only cover families and will not include single women and they will be banned."
The parliament members were angry and conducted controversial interviews. Fatemeh Ajorloou and Fatemeh Alia, two female PMs (who one year after this defended the man of women wearing boots and considered it the sign of prejudice of wealthy women) since the order was issued by Ahmadi Nejad defended it. Fatemeh Alia, added couple of notes and conditions to the order of Ahmadi Nejad and said: "Usually in the important and national matches, which are very rare and might be once in a year, in case the chairman of physical training organization could provide the condition to preserve the dignity and respect of the families and has the ability to control the situation, the order can be conducted but if the condition is not right, it shouldn't take place since the order of the president also carries the emphasis on these issues."
Fatemeh Ajorlou said: "Ambiances that creates both happiness and is very effective in exercising some excitements are part of women's demand that has to be studied and the culture should be fostered and the mainstreaming should take place and the sociologists should be involved in the methods of mainstreaming and fostering the culture and offer practical strategies."
Despite all these, the majority of parliament members issued a letter addressed to the president and called his order as unacceptable and invited him to avoid hurry at cultural arenas and the government to act more reasonably and called it the minimum expectation of the Majles representatives.
Absence of reasonable reaction was the status of Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of Keyhan, who in turn of his 180 degree change of dimension said: "No clergy has banned women's presence in the stadium in their full Islamic hejab to watch the football game but the existing situation in the football matches are not acceptable conditions and unhealthy and polluted for women's presence and it will be associated with disrespect to their high status and dignity."
The disagreements usually had religious roots and mostly presented by clergies. They evaluated women's presence in the stadium as the symbols of men and women association and communication and considered it as illegal.
Even a female clergy in Qom criticized the plan and said: "This measure will foster the ground for haram (religiously unacceptable) acts in the society." Zohreh Sefati in an interview with IRNA added: "Male spheres and the excitement dominating the stadium and the lining up of the young football players of the two opposing teams are not suitable conditions for women's presence."
Javad Shamghadri, the art consultant of the president was trying to answer this question: "Do you think that the enemy will only attack within military arenas, inside the borders and negotiation tables? No, it is not true. But of course the main plot and enemy movements happens within the social structures and cultural and art spheres where we are not paying enough attention. If I tell you that Mr. Ahmadi Nejad has tried to nullify the plot of the enemies by such a decision what would be your answer?" and of course he emphasized: "I'm neither a clergy nor a religious leader and haven't studied in the relevant field but it seems that one of the main reasons of disagreement on women attending the stadium is they socializing with men and they believe we should take measures where women and men will have the opportunity of communication in and Islamic Society. It seems right and there are no doubts about it but my question is the limits and boundaries of such communications and where it lies. Communication happens in the bus, market and outlets and we all believe that it is not a big problem. Who questioned communication in the stadium at the beginning of revolution? Conduct a research about it and you'll see that it is not clear."
Ahmadi Nejad also gave an unprecedented speech that was never repeated in his speeches since then and this proves the guess made by others that Ahmadi Nejad had acted on his consultants' advice to benefit positive propaganda in issuing such order. He said: "Any division which leads to segregation will harm women. Women and men are one fact and both human beings. They are not against one another but complementary of one another… in environments where women are present it is healthy and emotional and immoralities do not exist." In this way he insisted on his state; although, later, by the order of the supreme leader he had to withdraw in order to conduct more expert studies and analysis on it.
Gholamhossein Elham, government spokesman, regarding women's presence in the stadium said that Ayatollah Khamenei, supreme leader, has ordered to inquire the recommendations of high rank clergies and revise the decision.
Elham added that following this order, Mahmoud Ahmadi Nejad, president, has stated that the advice of the supreme leader will be acted upon.
With the announcement of the first order the white scarves celebrated and considered it the result of their legal demand as citizens and some others considered it an order from the above to divert women's demands and even believed that this group should not pursue their demand anymore and should announce their limits. Farnaz Seifi, a women's activist said: "I don't consider the letter issued by Mr. Ahmadi Nejad to the chairman of physical training organization as the achievement of women's movement and I believe that this is another governmental law issued from the above without turning to a public demand in the society and without bearing enough pressure from activists' side." She added: "We haven't imposed the pressures we had to. It means the only action that we took was going to the stadium twice where one was successful and the other one was not. We didn't even organize a strong campaign for this and not petition was sent to the authorities. So, I personally don't believe that this is one of the achievements of the women's movement… and see its political dimension highlighted." She considers the order as a cover of the government imposing pressure over women regarding hejab.
Shadi Sadr, one of the active members of the campaign believes: "the demands of a social movement will be realized only if a political demand is associated with it; however in most cases the incentive of the social movement activists is different from the incentives of the governmental authorities in realizing a social demand and this is the state that has to be taken into consideration in the analysis of Ahmadi Nejad's order.
"Ahmadi Nejad's government is now in a very difficult situation at international level and has no other choice but to foster the grounds for national solidarity and its realization is bound to reinforcement of its grassroot bases within the middle class urban population (to which he had very little attention in his mottos). On the other hand the World Cup is to come and the Islamic Republic of Iran has passed the danger of the national team being sanctioned from participation but there is the possibility of an extensive campaign to attract the attention of the international community to the fact of women being deprived from watching the football matches in collaboration with the internal and external women's activists and even German women activists during this time. Under these circumstances, Ahmadi Nejan, the man who never admitted women's issues and didn't recognize it either during his candidateship nor during his presidency and didn't offer any plan to realize women's rights, issued an order that not only realized a very small proportion of women's demand and obtain very positive multi dimensional political consequences … where the opposition of principalist parliament members and the religious orders of some radical high rank clergies of Qom, which were not unpredictable for Ahmadi Nejad and his team, had more achievements for the government."
Sadr adds: "Since the time that the first Iranian girl (whose name we might never know) took the initiative of wearing boys cloths and cover her hair in a had to go to the stadium to watch the games till today where the issue of women attending the stadium has become a challenging issue in Qom and for the principalist government, long years have passed. We should never forget that the women's activists tolerated all the bad words, beatings behind the doors of the stadium and managed to turn this individual demand of the long years to a collective movement in the society which brought changes in the political will. Although, the government of Ahmadi Nejad due to reasons completely different from those of the women's movement reached women's freedom to participate in sports clubs and gained its benefit from the situation but we shouldn't forget that who were first in the play ground."
Withdrawal of the order
Aggravation of oppositions by the MPs and some religious centers ??? (First Name) mousavi, legal and parliament affair deputy of the president, commented regarding the concern of the clergies and religious families regarding president's order for freedom of women's participation in the stadium as follows: "our government, more than any other, considers itself committed and bound in observing the recommendation and concerns of the clergies and high ranked authorities.
Also, concerns of religious families including the families of the martyrs, soldiers, handicapped of war have always been taken into account by the government since the government considers itself to be originated from these people and owes them… the president, in his order has frequently emphasized over the importance and priority of morality, honor and respecting values and religious sacredness and observance of dignity and sees the implementation of the order bound to planning and implementation of all the above mentioned. Of course, until when the grounds are not suitable and the conditions recommended by Mr. President are not men, the decision itself will not be implemented."
Other groups believed that the order has been issued without any coordination and the president has himself been unaware of the attacks. Jafar Panahi, Director of the movie Offside, considers the move to be the reason of this order and says: "As I was told, Mr. Kalhor and Shamghadri had visited the president and said that the movie contains very negative propaganda regarding women and the only solution to the problem is that during the World Cup, when there is the possibility that the movie is screened, we find a way to let women in the stadium. Advertisement point of view, this is not right. The movie has been screened all over the world (then they would say that the movie has been the cause of women being allowed in). You should announce that women are allowed to go to the stadium. This is a good strategy for advertisement. Finally, the president didn’t assess different dimensions of the issue and he was faced with the objections and protests of Qom, etc."
Anyway, this issue has been an advertising tool and the unwilling mistake was left behind with the supreme leaders order. But this was a victory for the white scarves who had managed to proceed to the highest levels of the regime by negotiation and lobbying.
Iran and German Women's Match
The first national game between Iran women's team and their German counterpart was another opportunity for the white scarves to voice their rights in the stadium. This game was taking place after the president's order and before it was withdrawn. An order carrying thousands of doubts and conditions and there was little hope for its implementation. The campaigners were trying to benefit the situation now that they had the chance. They gathered together in Ararat stadium where the match was taking place and repeated their mottos: presence in the stadium is our right, my share, women's share is half of freedom and … but they didn't receive the solidarity response of women. Those who were not aware of the issue and didn't know anything about women being banned from entering the stadium were wondering: you have come to the stadium what else do you want! The others who knew about the president's order would say: now we are allowed to go to the stadium!
"Closed Football" is a documentary move which was produced for the first national game of Iran women's team. The movie was following the process of practice of the two teams and then showed the game where many excited women had participated to watch the movie in the stadium. Women who had always seen Iranian men as the only dominants of the stadiums, now were sitting on the chairs in great proud and happiness and were encouraging Iranian women's team. They would see women running during the game and were blowing in their bugles to encourage them to attack the goal. A girl carrying a bugle like "Mamad Bughi" and was trying to blow it and though she was not able to make any it work but she was happy. Her bugle was going around hand in hand between girls and every one of them was happy of having the opportunity to blow it as if they had a mystic lamp!
Although the Iranian team, participating in the preliminary matches ??? never had the chance to participate in Qatar games but the women audience had a very good day in Ararat Satdium.
White Scarves in the Parks of Tehran
In the threshold of German World Cup 2006, the general director of public relations and international affairs of Municipality Cultural and Art Organization announced that the matches will be shown through big televisions in the parks of Tehran.
The white scarves in a very quick mobilization through email decided to use the opportunity and wear their white scarves and gather in the parks to watch the games and use this public sphere and announce the goal of their campaign to other participants. On 11 June 2006, through their weblogs, invited others to join them:
You don't let us in the stadium? Then you think we will sit at home and try to create a warm home? We want to breathe fresh air and enjoy public spaces and experience it.
We want to see what is it that you threatened us from for thousand years and isolated us at home?
Today, 7 pm, with white scarves we will go to Goftegou Park, Gisha bridge to watch Iran –Mexico football game and you should see us shouting and jumping. The cameras will be there.
They believed that this safe public sphere provided by Tehran municipality, which might not be repeated once again, should be used as an opportunity.
They remembered the police violent acts in their street happiness and astonished by the change of state they tried to benefit the opportunity.
Despite prior announcement, ISNA reported that "following the announcement of Tehran Municipality Cultural and Art Organization regarding the demonstration of football matches of the World Cup through televisions in the parks, due to opposition of competent authorities, the issue is cancelled and the televisions are covered by banners." Considering that the campaign members had announced through telephone, sms and email to many others to be present in the park and the cancellation was announced couple of hours before, there was not enough time to inform others. They contacted ISNA to get the details regarding the news.
ISNA reporter told them that during 4 pm some one has contacted from the Municipality and asked them to announce the cancellation.
Nasrin weblog writes:
Don't you think it is strange? Till couple of hours ago everything was right and the posters of the football players were there on the walls of the park. Demonstration of the match in public areas were cancelled due to traffic but why in the parks?
In you opinion, should we put it on women's movement account or not? I bet they had no idea that they are throwing a mixed party themselves!
It is interesting that the municipality site neither announced the demonstration nor the cancellation!
The mixed party was not very far from reality. In the stadium, the police could control the excitement of the audience by segregating women and men but in the parks it was possible and there was no way to control it. Some others aware of Iran's social situation, analyzed the act to be fear of street riots.
Meydaan website, designed to pursue women's demand, focusing on different campaigns was a new chapter in the story of defending women's presence in the stadiums campaign. Part of the website was allocated to the activities of the campaign and after that the news regarding the campaign were not published in the personal weblogs or sites but in this website.
Letter to FIFA and AFC
The first step of the campaign after the start of Meydaan website was issuing a letter to the FIFA and AFC. This letter was published prior to Iran – Asia game along with a petition of one hundred thousand signatures (this petition was issued while ago addressing FIFIA, AFC, IOC, and sports authorities of the country in English; contained the signature of many women activists and women and girls fan of football or supporters of citizens' rights).
The white scarves had said in the letter:
During the past two year we have tried to convince the sports authorities of Iran to consider our citizen right and not to ban us from watching the football games in the stadium; but in return, not only the authorities have not provided proper situation but also we have witnessed physical violence and confiscation of cameras and our personal stuff and arrest of some members of the group or beatings.
Their excuse for this gender discrimination is lack of security for women in sports stadiums while this excuse is applied only to Iranian women and non Iranian women are allowed to enter the stadium freely and watch the matches of their national team.
We believe that gender discrimination is not justifiable for the football fans and if the issue is lack of security, we expect football authorities of Iran to make necessary provisions in this regard.
Considering the above mentioned, we are asking you to pay special attention to this issue and adopt your authority to end this gender discrimination against female football fans.
The reflection of the letter and it vast dissemination forced the sports authorities to react. The authorities had considered the issue as finalized by the withdrawal of the president's order and after all the disagreement but they realized that this legal demand is being pursued. They denied the letter in the beginning but then gave very little hope to follow up.
Iran – Bosnia March: Change of Strategy
The second statement of the campaign was issued prior to Iran – Bosnia game in which they had announced that the white scarves are willing to participate in the practices of the national team and responded to the religious leaders and authorities who would consider it Haram and sin and said:
"We believe that today, the ambiance of the society should be more human than ever. Human; not woman not man.
We believer that shouting the name of Iran by Iranian women will not break the honor of any wall. What is broken is the traditional and wrong historical taboo which is standing in front of Iranian elite women.
We believe that in the current condition that the sphere of the stadiums have become male dominated, presence of girls and women fan of football in a manly appearance to watch the green ground can include more social and cultural harms and it continuation will be beneficial for no one.
They invited people to join their protest.
The attempt to gather in front of the stadium didn't take place due to lack of coordination between the members and some disagreements regarding the issue of repeating the previous actions taken. But the campaign decided to take a different measure to participate in the match with Bosnia. They decided to purchase a portable television and gather in front of the door and watch the game through the television in front of the participants entering with their tickets. The decision was made considering the previous experiences which showed that the security forces will use physical violence and on the other hand there were a lot of young members who had joined the campaign due to their interest in football and couldn't afford any costs. On the other hand this act was neither against the law nor would interrupt people traffic and violent reaction against it was not easy.
The other measure was to write the mottos on their scarves considering that placards were easily captured and thorn by police forces, considering that no one would dare to remove their scarves.
The coordination was much more than the previous cases considering the experience, all aspects were taken into consideration and planning took place. They told the members that they are avoiding any physical violence and in case of facing police violence they should scatter. This dropped the fear and anxiety of the young members of the campaign.
Despite all these, they face police violence and this time female police officers were brought to encounter them. Female security forces, all in black, surrounded them so that the passengers can't see them. Meanwhile the cameras and photographers most probably recruited by the disciplinary forces were taking pictures to create fear but the awareness and warnings given to the members regarding legitimacy of the act, nullified any impact on the members. In very rare cases there was physical attack, but the policy of the forces was ignorance and not paying attention to the crowed. At the end, while the game was coming to its end they decided to leave. Their justification was that at the end of the game the forces will use physical violence to scatter them and considering their decision to avoid any such incident all of them took the bus but adopted a new method. They changed their scarves taking the white ones in hand and putting it out of the windows and shouted their mottos: my share, women's share is half of freedom, entering the stadium is our right… people will pass them in astonishment trying to read the mottos over the scarves.
Offside movie, produced in 2006 by Jafar Panahi, is a bitter comic, telling the story of girls who would change their appearance to men in order to watch Iran – Bahrain match in the Azadi Stadium in 2006.
These girls in their individual efforts in men's wear use different methods to enter the stadium but the disciplinary forces catch and ban them. In the dialogues, presenting the communication culture of the generation, the girls talk to the soldiers appointed to watch them and during the movie their raise critical questions challenging the implementing forces of banning interested women from entering the stadium. During the dialogues in the movie, women of defending women's presence in the stadiums campaign are referred to as White Scarves. Filming of the movie takes place in the same game when women allowed entering the stadium (for the first and last time).
The movie was not allowed to be screened in Iran and lost the chance of participating in Oscar Movie Awards.
In response to the question that how Panahi has chosen the subject of the movie he says:
One day, when I was going to the stadium, my daughter accompanied me. At the beginning they didn't let her in and I went alone. Shortly after my daughter came in. I was surprised when she said: at last there is a way to get it. This phrase provoked the idea of producing the movie. When Iran managed to enter the World Cup I decided to work on a movie concerning the issue of women entering the stadium. I implemented the project during Iran and Bahrain game.
The movie went to Berlin Fest and won "Silver Bear".
Panahi talks about the disagreements and hardship of obtaining the permit for the movie and says: "Offside is in fact only a very small part of women's deprivations but by demonstrating one the others are also revealed. It might be that those who are not willing the movie to be screened are afraid of this."
Revival of women's ban in entering the stadium in a movie by a well known director and ban of the movie to be screened was a proper opportunity for the white scarves. They decided to impose pressure over those who banned the screen of the movie in order to pursue their goal and advocate their campaign. Their first presence in the movie was in Film and photography Center of Amir Kabir University.
Statement of Support for Screen of Offside
The campaign issued a statement stating that women's movement and initiatives to enter the stadiums to bread the gender discriminatory policies, has been demonstrated in a movie for the first time and now the movie has been banned and asked for its screening so that it can go to Oscar Movie Awards. We, men and women against gender discrimination in accessing public spheres; we, white scarves, are asking the authorities to allow Offside to be screened. We believe that our voice of protest will not be silenced with these bans.
Meeting of Freedom Girls
Criticisms were raised by the feminists and women's movement activists that this is not a public demand and are of secondary importance compared to women's other demands.
After the presence of the white scarves for screen of Offside at Amir Kabir University and its positive feedback within the university students the campaigners decided to screen the movie in a private show by the presence of the director Jafar Panahi and Shadmehr Rastin the scenarist and couple of the actors for women's activists and define the goals and objectives of the campaign in details.
Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, defined the reason of the establishment of the campaign. She said: In a situation where women are exposed to domestic violence, where law is not defending them and we have punitive measures such as stoning in our laws, we established the campaign of defending women's presence in the stadiums and some might ask, why?
Mahboubeh emphasizes that entering the stadium might not be a priority for majority of women and stated that to raise the issue of gender segregation at public spheres, an extensive measure should have been taken and One Hundred Thousand Stadium during the national games, when people all over the country participate, is a good opportunity.
She referred to the existing situation at universities, offices and public spaces and said that women's presence in the big stadium for national games is a symbol through which we can demonstrate that women do not enjoy equal rights.
Shadmehr Rastin Housh, praised the members of the campaign in adopting the issue to protest against discriminations against women and said that he has learned dialogue writing from this generation. Rastin talked about women who used to go to the stadium in men's wear in 1986. Rastin asked:"Why in sad public places there is not problem for women's presence? For instance in Ashoura, within the crowed, women are allowed to participate freely and cry and express themselves while in stadiums, which are to express happiness and excitement they are not allowed in?"
Bahareh Hedayat, representative of Women's Commission of Reinforcing Solidarity announced their support of the campaign.
White Scarves at Azadi Square: campaign in squares
15 November 2006, Iran – North Korea match, Qatar Asia Games, was another opportunity to express the demand of the campaign. This game was not really important since the Iranians had already made their way to the league and the result wouldn't affect them. This time the audience targeted the game. Pamphlets were published as saying:
We have come to Azadi Stadium to welcome the national football team which defeated Australia and made its way to 1998 World Cup. We remember, don't you remember?
We were standing behind the bars of the west entrance door of Azadi Stadium. We were beaten, we heard bad words and scattered by the police. Iran and Germany match, autumn of 2004, the pain of the police beating still is over our arms and the pain of losing the opportunity of watching the game close by. We remember, don't you remember?
Later, we came in the stadium. Iran and Bahrain, spring of 2005. We stood half time behind the doors and protested and kept our tickets high and shouted our motto: "my share, women's share, half of freedom", "Freedom, equity, gender justice". They let us in the second half time. Do to excessive excitement we couldn't watch the game. After couple of seconds, Iran had a goal. Such a beautiful goal! We remember well, don't you remember?
Twice after we stood behind closed doors. Iran – Questa Rica and Iran – Bosnia. We were beaten every time, we heard bad words and we scattered. We remember, don't you remember?
Watching the football game from close by is something else. You, who go to the stadium every time should know it well. Better than anybody else. Don't you remember?
We are women who will to watch the important games from close by. We read sports newspapers, journals and victory of our national team is equally important and exciting for us that is for you. We are trying to obtain the permit to enter the stadium. We have gathered together and we would like you to support us. If we manage to win our status we will remember you and you'll remember. Will send an email?
At the end the email of the campaign was mentioned so that the readers could contact us.
The papers were distributed in the squares where people gathered to take the buses to the stadium.
Two of them were arrested by the police and were interrogated for couple of hours in security department.
Panahi donated his prize to the white scarves
Offside, produced by Jafar Panahi in the closing of Life Fest in 23 November 2006 in Slovenia won the human rights prize of the seventeenth round of the fest. Jafar Panahi during the receipt of the prize donated it to the white scarf girls in Iran.
Analysis of the goals and strategies of the defending women's presence in the stadiums campaing
Choosing the Subject of the Campaign
From an outsider's point of view there are many contradictions in women's presence in Iranian society. On one hand, in the daily life, they see many young women's and girls, who are working and studying and influencing the decision making process within the family, and on the other hand in the formal dialogue of the country there are less indications of women. Women have been omitted by the excuse of avoiding abuse of women in advertisements, they are not allowed to exercise and enjoy public recreation areas or due to religious discussions most of their activities are not reflected. They are pushed to unknown corners in the mosques, public halls and universities due to gender segregation and are behind curtains and partitions. The traditional Iranian women had the mosques, public baths, religious events to tie their identity with their society and move out of the tight and customary sphere of the house. In the mosques, the traditional Iranian women, when the lights were off, would raise her voice and cry and beg God. They would read the Nodbeh and Amman Yojib prayers with every one else on the way back home and would say: "I feel relieved".
But the Islamic revolution leaders didn't want women's voice in religious events only. They invited her to the streets and Iranian women, with their children came to have a new experience. She was told that this is a religious duty and a must. This time she would cry the mottos and feel relieved.
After the revolution the doors were closed to women one after another. But women were not "traditional" any more and they couldn't go back to religious events and there were not signs of public baths! On the other hand there were no night clubs, casinos and youth club!
But women still had their complaint of their husband and in laws, complaint of the walls that would rise every day, the youth enthusiasm that would die under the hammer of: girls shouldn't talk vey loud or laugh very loud. Covering girls' schools and parks were corrupt places that not only didn't solve any problem but added to it.
The public sphere which was strictly under control for women encountered aggravated control.
Political unrest and government's fear of street riots increase the control and the government tried to repress any gathering or demonstration of the citizens. Women's protest demonstrations would get the permit and their voice was not heard.
Unbelievable victory of Iran over Australia and entering the World Cup was a turning point to break the taboo within millions of Iranian in the streets and "besides one another" and not in the houses who were celebrating it. In the welcome event of the national team, 5 thousand women went to Azadi stadium to praise and thank their national team along with men. Governance of Khatami's government in not stopping this presence was very effective and street celebration after the victory of the national team (or even after defeat) became something formal which girls considered a ray of hope to influence the hedge of gender.
Sports Stadium was a different story! The glory of the stadium and the Mexican wave or "Ali Madad" shouts of ten thousand people provokes the wish within thousands of young girls.
Consequently, the issue of women entering the sports stadium to protest against their elimination from public spheres was strategically important. The group which gain awareness regarding gender discrimination by this topic and become sensitive are really new which are not covered by any of the measures of feminist groups. Adolescent and young girls in their age of enthusiasm and excitement who are not aware of the many realities of women's life and are not involved but know football very well. Many high school girls spend hours of discussion regarding their favorite football players and athletic matches. While addressing them, it is more pleasant to tell them that they can watch the game of Mahdavi Kia and Fereydoun Zandi from close by within ten thousand other citizens and shouting and praising them than talking about their demolished rights as women in the laws concerning inheritance, blood money and divorce.
Many of the adolescents that we talked to didn't even know that they are deprived from this right or in case of raising such demand there would be a harsh reaction labeling it as illegal. They only thought that due to unfavorable condition of the stadium, women don't go there.
Other group could see that their brothers take their sandwiches and beverages and go to the stadium and in their return they would talk excited about the goals. They couldn't accept that due to being a woman they had to stay home and couldn't wave the flag of their favorite team or paint their face in the color.
They had all seen through television, the audience women who would rise from the first rows of the chairs and encourage their team and they couldn't accept the dominating rule in Iran. Some of those who suffered the kicking and beating after the gathering in front of Azadi stadium and their placards were thorn, consider it the worst memory and very obvious sign of discrimination and oppression against women.
From the moment that they experiences the beatings and bad words of the security guards got the strong will to continue their protest and this is the victory of the white scarves in their mission.
Choosing protest and advocacy spaces
Azadi stadium, main squares of the city and universities have been the main sites of operation for the campaign.
The campaign started its activities in a gathering in front of Azadi stadium. One Hundred Thousand Stadium of Azadi is the biggest stadium in Iran. Watching those one hundred thousand chairs accommodating only half of the countries population and all those facilities and equipments and billions of Tomans spent in the stadium to serve only half of the population while the other half are deprived is not something that will not provoke questions in the minds.
The space in front of the stadium is very wide and proper for calm gathering in front of the cameras of the photographers and reporters.
The photos of the girls with red fetters standing behind the doors under the big tableau of the stadium have been demonstrated quite often in different media. The bars and the girls standing behind and the boys passing them by and getting in "Azadi" indicate discrimination and injustice. The term "Azadi" (freedom) exists in the mottos of the girls. A term that can not be simply used at any time and place: "How many steps to freedom?" "my share, women's share, half of freedom", "freedom is my right, Iran is my country", "Half of freedom, women's share".
The main squares of the city such as Aryashahr and Azadi were places where the campaign chose to reach its voice to different levels of the society. These are very crowded squares while not a fixed passing point. The members of the campaign handed their advocacy papers to those leaving to Azadi stadium. They believe this is the only place they can communicate with football fans and raise awareness.
Distribution of brochures and photos of the campaign among university students is a good opportunity to advocate the objectives of the campaign which the white scarves have used it to the extend possible.
Defining the motto of the Campaign
In the motto of the campaign the term "freedom" has been frequently used, which we previously referred to. Using the name Azadi was a cover for the demands of the feminists of the campaign. Normally, they are not allowed to talk about women's freedom. If they shout "freedom is our right" in the streets, they will be arrested in accusation of attempting against national security but in front of the stadium they shouted from bottom of their heart "How many steps to freedom?" They announced their demand of equity in the phrase of : half of freedom is our right and we as the other half have the right to watch. Very tangible sentences that would provoke the thought in everyone that why are they deprived of presence in the stadium even if the chairs are empty. They also voiced mottos regarding citizens' rights. Terms that don't have a long history in the culture and language of Iranians and is still a complicated and vague concept for authorities and citizens: we are women, human beings, citizens of this country but have no rights. Entering the stadium is our right.
Choosing a Sign: "White Scarf, Red Fetter"
The experience shows that in gatherings and demonstrations the first attempt of the police is to collect the placards and mottos of the protesters and after that instead of the verbal mottos if the protesters are permitted to repeat, nothing remains to show their demand. Consequently, the members of the campaign chose a sign that they police couldn't take it away from them and that was their scarf. On the other hand, white is a distinctive color representing peace and justice. Red fetter, which was used only once, represented the red lines where any movement was banned within them. In Iran – Bahrain game they were forced to untie the red fetters to be able to get in and this indicated the importance of the sign.
The white scarves didn't restrict their activities to inside Iran borders and wrote two letters; one containing over one hundred thousand signatures to FIFA and AFC and the other with the signature of the campaign members and tried to raise awareness at international community regarding the discrimination in sports in Iran against women and use their authority to impose pressure.
Members of the Campaign
The campaign started from a specific sphere and then gathered members including diverse groups to add to its effectiveness:
Social and human rights activists
Newspaper and sports authors
Production of Advertising Material
The members of the campaign produce the pictures, articles and reports or collected them over CDs and distribute it among others. They also use the proficiency of those who can help the production of more interesting material and add clips and songs to the CDs.
Stadium Campaign continues its activities to achieve women's citizens rights.