Fe­male Ira­nian VP scolds hard-lin­ers over vol­ley­ball ban


One of Iran’s fe­male vice pres­i­dents launched a fu­ri­ous at­tack Satur­day on “sanc­ti­mo­nious” groups whose threats of vi­o­lent con­fronta­tion at a vol­ley­ball match ul­ti­mately trig­gered a clam­p­down on women spec­ta­tors.

The re­marks from Shahin­dokht Molaverdi, who had to back­track on plans to ease re­stric­tions on women at male sport­ing events, could in­flame the gov­ern­ment’s row with re­li­gious hard-lin­ers who op­pose such re­form.

Vol­ley­ball has be­come hugely pop­u­lar in Iran as the na­tional team has risen up the sport’s rank­ings and women were al­lowed to watch it un­til a ban was im­posed in re­cent years.

The is­sue of fe­male at­ten­dance peaked Fri­day, be­fore the first of two matches in Tehran against the United States in the sport’s World League.

The de­bate con­tin­ued af­ter­wards, some­what cloud­ing the home team’s easy 3-0 vic­tory over its long­time po­lit­i­cal foe, but with whom a nu­clear deal due by the end of this month could be­gin to re­pair re­la­tions.

Molaverdi, re­spon­si­ble for women and fam­ily af­fairs in the Is­lamic re­pub­lic, last week said some fe­male sup­port­ers would be al­lowed to watch the match. But se­cu­rity of­fi­cials later con­tra­dicted her and said no at­ten­dance poli­cies had been changed.

Fol­low­ing two small protests in the past week ar­gu­ing against fe­male ad­mis­sion, women’s rights ac­tivists used so­cial media to voice frus­tra­tion, post­ing on Twit­ter un­der the hash­tag #let­wom­en­go­to­sta­dium.

Streets sur­round­ing the Azadi Sports Com­plex were heav­ily po­liced on Fri­day, with of­fi­cers for­bid­ding women from go­ing nearer the venue.

And although 200 spe­cial tick­ets for women were printed, an Ira­nian vol­ley­ball of­fi­cial told AFP the ac­cred­i­ta­tions were not au­then­ti­cated by se­cu­rity forces at the arena, and were thus in­valid.

A few women pic­tured on so­cial media watch­ing the match were not Ira­nian, the Fars news agency re­ported Satur­day, but from the Rus­sian, Ital­ian and Hun­gar­ian em­bassies in Tehran.

In the af­ter­math, Molaverdi hit out at the curbs, writ­ing on Face­book that the gov­ern­ment had re­spected the views of re­li­gious lead­ers while try­ing to re­spond to “the le­gal de­mands of another sec­tion of so­ci­ety.”

Op­po­nents Spread ‘seed of de­spair’

She then cited un­named groups, ac­cus­ing them of “spar­ing no ef­fort to spread the seed of de­spair.”

Such op­po­si­tion came “from those who were de­nounced two years ago by vot­ers, and who had crawled into their cave of obliv­ion for eight years.”

The com­ments, con­firmed by Molaverdi’s of­fice as gen­uine, sug­gested she was draw­ing a con­trast be­tween the plans of Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani, re­garded as a mod­er­ate, and the hard­line two-term ten­ure of his pre­de­ces­sor, Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad.

Re­cent days have seen fe­male vol­ley­ball fans branded “pros­ti­tutes” and “sluts” on so­cial media and on posters al­legedly dis­trib­uted in down­town Tehran.

Molaverdi said pub­li­ca­tion of such no­tices by “those who call them­selves fol­low­ers of God ... and which used words that one loathes to re­peat, clearly con­sti­tute sev­eral of­fences un­der the law.”

A “crowd of sanc­ti­mo­nious peo­ple who pub­lished one no­tice af­ter another de­nounc­ing the mod­est and de­cent girls and women of this land” who “talked of con­fronta­tion used ob­scene and dis­gust­ing in­sults that only be­fit them­selves,” Molaverdi wrote on Face­book.

“Even if one day our beloved girls and women for­give this crowd, they will never for­get them and keep these days in their his­tor­i­cal mem­ory.”

Un­like football, women were al­lowed to at­tend male vol­ley­ball and bas­ket­ball matches un­til a few years ago, and there is no need to change the law, Molaverdi added.

Ear­lier this month, An­sar Hezbol­lah, a rad­i­cal Is­lamist group in Iran, said the gov­ern­ment should re­con­sider its plans or face protests.

And in a sign of the ten­sion, Ah­mad Salek Kashani, head of par­lia­ment’s cul­tural com­mis­sion, told An­sar Hezbol­lah’s weekly mag­a­zine: “Women who are al­lowed to en­ter the sta­di­ums, what are they go­ing to watch? Is it any­thing other than men’s bod­ies that have been left bare be­cause of sports clothes?”

A sec­ond match against the United States will take place on Sun­day.


Ira­nian Vice Pres­i­dent for Women and Fam­ily Af­fairs Shahin­dokht Molaverdi speaks in an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press at her of­fice in Tehran, Iran, Mon­day, June 8.

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