For Iran’s women’s movement, progress is slow. But it’s progress.

For Iran’s women’s movement, progress is slow. But it’s progress.

Iran’s women’s movement, progress is slow. But it’s progress.

Observer or participant? When assessing change, frame of reference matters. So it is with the progress of Iran’s women’s movement. As one woman told us: “You don’t change a patriarchal society overnight.” For Iran’s ever-striving women’s movement, it was a small but significant step forward: 150 female soccer fans were allowed into Tehran’s Freedom Stadium last Tuesday to watch the men’s national team beat Bolivia, 2-1.

For Iran's women's movement, progress is slow. But it's progress.
For Iran’s women’s movement, progress is slow. But it’s progress.

Excited by the historic import of their presence after years of campaigning, the women draped themselves in Iranian flags and flooded social media with exuberant selfies.

The Islamic Republic has banned women from live male sporting events such as soccer and volleyball for most of its 40-year existence.

But this time, the women were provided separate seats, entrances, and bathroom facilities. Most were handpicked national-level soccer players themselves, or worked for the Iranian soccer federation.

Savoring the moment, few left immediately after the game, and not before voluntarily cleaning up trash from their section of the stands.

“For years I passed by you [Freedom Stadium] and you were just a big question mark,” wrote the actress Nafiseh Roshan on her Instagram page. “What a special feeling to watch football in your country’s best stadium!”

Outside Iran, that benchmark may appear inconsequential, and has even been dismissed by some Iranian women abroad as a “trick” orchestrated by officials to give the appearance of loosening of social rules, while a crackdown and arrests continue.

Slow but deliberate progress

But inside Iran, where women activists have struggled for decades for equal social rights and respect in the face of a tradition of patriarchy – never mind strict social rules since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which require women to cover their hair and mask the shape of their bodies, among other restrictions – entry to the stadium for a live game was the latest sign of slow but deliberate progress.

“There are many, many sad stories around the country, but in general women are more in power, more in charge of their lives,” says Nazila Noebashari, an art gallery owner in central Tehran.

“It hasn’t been easy for Iranian women. But we have also done extraordinary things, all of us,” says Ms. Noebashari. She notes relative progress on laws, on the number of women now serving as local and district officials and in parliament, and how female university students far outnumber males.

Read More: The Christian Science Monitor

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