Iran has been in the news recently for many different political situations. One story that has united Iran in anger and frustration is the death of Sahar Khodayari. The 29-year-old was an avid football fan and regularly went to see her favourite team Esteghlal FC. However, to enter the stadium she had to dress up as a man due to Iran’s strict ban on women watching football matches. While trying to enter the Tehran’s Azadi stadium in March this year she was stopped by police and spent 3 nights in prison. Two weeks ago, while waiting for her trial, she went to the courthouse to collect her mobile phone and overheard that if convicted she could face between 6 months to 2 years in prison. That afternoon she set fire to herself in front of the courthouse and died 9 days later from her wounds. Her death has sparked outrage all across the country with people taking to social media to express their sadness and anger. They have called her ‘Blue Girl’ because of the team colours.
Iran has banned women from entering football matches since the 1979 Iranian Revolution and it is strictly enforced. During the World Cup in 2018 women were allowed in to the Azadi stadium in Tehran to watch the Iran vs Spain game. Many felt that this was a sign for a more open future but this has not materialised. Women’s lives are extremely restricted, they are unable to leave the house without their head being covered and are required to wear conservative clothing while in public. They are not allowed to ride bicycles, get motorbike licenses, and if a woman dies by the hand of another, her family is only given half the ‘blood money’ (compensation paid to families when a family member dies) of that of a man. Discrimination like this highlights time and time again that women’s lives are seen as half that of a man’s.
The state often hides behind a front of protecting women to ensure greater control over them. Iran has said that once football matches have no fighting, swearing, and aggressive behaviour, women will be able to attend football matches. However, this punishes women for men’s behaviour. This can be argued for many of the restrictions on women in Iran, however, the government should be tackling negative male behaviour which would generate a better society for all.
As much as Blue Girl symbolises the gender-based discrimination in Iran, it is important not to forget that a woman has died and her family and friends will be mourning the loss of someone who was extremely dear to them.
God sees all that happens in this world and is with us through it all. The Iranian Church is among the fastest growing churches in the world. Iranian men and women are turning to God for answers and comfort. Iran, a country heaped with culture, beauty and welcoming people, needs our prayers during these tense and difficult times.
Please join us in praying for:
Sahar’s family and friends. They will be feeling the loss of a beautiful soul and Lord we pray that you will fill them with comfort and a knowledge of you.
Women across the country who are frustrated by the restrictions on them. We pray Lord that they would know you and be brave through your guidance.
For the leaders of the country. Lord, make them stand up for women’s rights in Iran. Let them see the benefits Iran would gain through having a fair and equal society.
FIFA as they prepare for their meeting with Iran in a few weeks’ time. We pray they would stand strong in their resolution to allow women into stadiums and take the necessary actions if Iran refuses to comply.