On March 29 right outside Imam Reza Stadium, the Islamic regime pepper-sprayed women who bought tickets to watch the World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Lebanon. Such stirringly poignant treatment of women in Iran is not unprecedented. Videos that circulated on social media showed security forces—who are commonly members of Basijof the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—pepper-spraying Iranian women after they were refused entry. Women were laying on the ground, crying in helplessness, calling out the injustice and violation of rights they face every day. This event took place in Mashhad, where the Shrine of Reza—the eighth Imam of Shiites—is located. Ahmad Alamalhoda, a Shiite clergy who is the supreme leader’s representative in Mashhad, has a long record of inciting violence against women. In the past, he has called the Basijand those who uphold Sharia law to “enter the scene,” a clear call for assault on women (and anyone who lives with non-Islamic standards).
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when the clergy started ruling Iran based on Sharia law (religious decrees derived from the Quran and Hadith), women have consistently and relentlessly faced discrimination and grave violation of their rights. Pepper spraying women outside a soccer stadium is only one such event. Two years ago, Khamenei’s representative in Isfahan called on the followers of the Islamic regime to “fight those who do not respect hijab, according to Allah’s decree.” He further added that regime supporters and security forces must make society a “dangerous” place for women who do not respect Sharia law. “The women who do not wear Islamic hijab properly must feel threatened, and force must be used to adequately respond to their presumptuous fashion,” he added. Statements of this sort, routinely uttered in the Islamic regime, have provoked a series of acid-throwing attacks that burned the faces of Iranian women, the most notable occurring in Isfahan. After more than eight years, the government never identified or arrested the perpetrators due to the lack of an investigation as regime officials and clergy overwhelmingly support the perpetrators.
The women’s rights situation in Iran has not always been in this appalling state. In the Pahlavi era (1925–79), Iranian women enjoyed their natural rights to clothing, watching and participating in sports, and religious freedoms without any imposed Islamic-Shiite constraints. Two reasons for the upholding of their rights are noteworthy. First, both kings of the Pahlavi Dynasty—Reza Shah the Great and Mohammad Reza Shah—were staunch supporters of modernity. Both Iranian kings advocated for the emancipation of women and stood up to the clergy, even at the cost of serious clashes. Events such as that of the Goharshad Mosque Rebellion during the reign of Reza Shah the Great attest to his resolute stance on protecting women from the clergy’s repressive ideology. In this incident, the clergy incited a religiously motivated rebellion against the emancipating, modernizing, and secular policies of Reza Shah. The government handled the rebellion with an iron fist, and the emancipating policies of the government, particularly regarding women and their rights, continued without disruption. Second, women had the protection of the law to conduct their affairs as they wished and to participate in the society they lived in, no different than men did.
As the clergy took over in 1979 and implemented Sharia law in Iran, the women’s rights situation in Iran became unceasingly worse. Two effective solutions can alleviate the situation. Domestically, Iranians—both the general population and athletes—must boycott soccer games. Tweets and social media posts about the boycotts can demonstrate the Iranians’ ever-growing support for women. Globally, FIFA must once-for-all sanction Iranian soccer for its constant violation of women’s rights. Going beyond the scope of FIFA, influential individuals such as the official envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, must stop praising the Islamic regime in Iran and rather exert pressure on the country to uphold women’s rights. In the past, Malley and similar apologists of the Islamic regime have praised the Islamic Republic’s masquerades when it tried to show that it respects and revers women. European countries have a history of appeasing the Islamic regime as well. A notable case was when Sweden’s minister of trade, Ann Linde, and her delegation wore the hijab during their visit to Iran. Such actions only normalize the injustice Iranian women face every day. Further severe, long-term, and necessary actions include barring the Islamic regime from its membership of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
Despite the appeasement and normalization of how the Islamic regime treats women, Iranian women face a tragic reality: the ceaseless violation of their rights.