Passing Through Darkness

2015 – 2023

The United Nations recognizes the significant impact of sports on communities and people worldwide, promoting social ties, peace, solidarity, equality, and respect. Unfortunately, in Iran, the rights of women in this regard are being denied. With a population of 90 million, half women, Iranian women have faced restrictions since the Islamic revolution in 1979, primarily due to the imposition of the Hijab law.

Over the past 44 years, Iranian authorities have prohibited women from attending men’s sporting events in stadiums, leading to arrests, aggression, detentions, and harassment. The tragic case of Sahar Khodayari, known as “Blue Girl,” who self-immolated after being arrested for attempting to enter a football stadium, sparked national and international protests demanding women’s right to attend stadiums. Such gender-based discrimination in sports is strictly prohibited by FIFA’s non-discrimination and human rights policies, which may lead to sanctions against non-compliant countries like Iran.

While some progress has been made, allowing women into stadiums for specific national competitions, Iranian women still face limitations in other sports. For instance, male coaches are banned from official national competitions, and women athletes are discouraged from participating in sports beyond football. Activities such as boxing and Zourkhaneh rituals are deemed male-dominated and not suitable for women according to Iranian authorities.

The combination of legal and Sharia law and governmental rules perpetuates discrimination against women in sports and hinders their participation in favorite activities. Even when women challenge these restrictions, they often face opposition and underestimation. For example, a group of Iranian officials, including religious figures, disapproved of women in Zourkhaneh, calling it “disgusting” and contrary to their beliefs of gender segregation.

In response to these prohibitions, many forbidden sports have gone underground, with women defying the regulations by engaging in activities in house basements, parks, beaches, and secret gyms. The struggle for women’s rights in sports in Iran remains a complex and ongoing issue that calls for continued global attention and advocacy.

This photo collection was showcased as a video in the Rencontres d’Arles Photography Festival – Night of the Year 2023 event in Arles, France.

You can watch the published video at the end.