A select group of women watched the friendly with Bolivia in Azadi Stadium in Tehran on October 16, 2018. (ISNA)

September 16, 2019

Self-immolation is a recurrent manifestation of despair in the North Africa and Middle East region. It often has to do with unemployment and lack of opportunity. Recently, another tragedy occurred in Iran for a different set of reasons.

Sahar Khodayari, 29, set herself on fire and died September 9 as a result of her injuries.

Last March, Khodayari, who suffered, her family said, from bipolar disorder, had tried to enter Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to watch a football game. During a court appearance in September the young football fan apparently panicked as she learned she could be sentenced to six months in prison.

Amnesty International said that “Iran is the only country in the world that stops and punishes women” seeking to enter football stadiums.

“What happened to Sahar Khodayari is heart-breaking and exposes the impact of the Iranian authorities’ appalling contempt for women’s rights in the country,” Amnesty International said.

FIFA is reportedly working with Tehran to end the ban before October 10 when Iran’s football squad plays Cambodia in a World Cup qualifier.

Tehran is not forthcoming. Ali Rabiei defended authorities’ stance, saying: “Social issues need to be resolved considering cultural principles and the existing regulations.”

What he did not address was the discriminatory mindset driving Iran’s clergymen who continue to call the shots.

“The situation in the stadiums is not suitable for women and there is no doubt that the youth’s mingling and freedom are the source of many moral and social problems. In addition, in some sports, what men wear is not proper for women [to watch],” Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi was quoted as saying.

Iranian Prosecutor-General Hojjat-ol Eslam Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was even more specific, saying: “When a woman goes to the stadium and sees half-naked men in sports clothing, sin is committed.”

The shockwave created in Iran by the self-immolation of the young reflects the growing resentment by Iranians of such an anachronistic stance.

Nowhere in the Middle East and North Africa do violations of women’s rights attain Iran’s extremes. Tragedies such as Sahar Khodayari’s should serve as a reminder in the Arab and Muslim world that serious progress on women’s rights is still needed.

The Arab Weekly 

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.