Passing Through Darkness

2015 – 2023

The United Nations recognizes the profound influence of sports on communities worldwide, serving as a potent instrument to fortify social bonds and advocate for peace, solidarity, equality, and respect. Despite these ideals, Iranian women are denied these fundamental human rights.

Iran, home to 90 million people, with women comprising half the population, witnessed the restriction of women’s progress following the 1979 Islamic revolution, largely due to the imposition of the Hijab law. Over the past 44 years, Iranian authorities have barred women from attending men’s sporting events in stadiums, imposing an unwritten rule that burdens Iran’s sports scene, resulting in arrests, detention, and harassment of women.

In September 2019, Sahar Khodayari, known as “Blue Girl,” attempted to enter Azadi Football Stadium. She was subsequently imprisoned and tragically ended her life through self-immolation, sparking national and international protests for Iranian women’s right to access stadiums.

FIFA’s regulations on non-discrimination and human rights strictly prohibit gender-based denial or interference with women’s stadium access, yet Iranian authorities persist in enforcing discriminatory bans. Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, emphasizes FIFA’s obligation to uphold its global guidelines and consider penalties for Iran’s non-compliance.

While some progress has been made, such as women being permitted to attend select national competitions, it wasn’t until September 3, 2022, that women were welcomed to the Esteghlal and Mes Kerman clubs’ match.

In addition to stadium access, women face restrictions in other sports arenas, including bans on male coaches in official national competitions and uncertainty regarding participation in sports like boxing and Zourkhaneh rituals, which are considered male-dominated by Iranian authorities. This combination of legal and Sharia law, along with governmental regulations, perpetuates discrimination and impedes women from pursuing their favorite sports.

Dr. Mahin Farhadizad, Deputy Minister of Sports in President Rouhani’s government, justified bans on sports like boxing and powerlifting for women, citing concerns about their physiological impact.

In July 2020, a group of Iranian officials, including religious figures, opposed women participating in Zourkhaneh, deeming it “disgusting” for women and contradicting cultural norms. Despite these prohibitions, Iranian women persist in challenging regulations by engaging in underground sports activities in basements, parks, beaches, and clandestine gyms, defying opposition and underestimation.

In summary, while strides have been made, challenges persist in ensuring gender equality in sports for Iranian women, highlighting the need for continued advocacy and action at both national and international levels.

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.