Watching the World Cup is a Feminist Statement in Iran

The World Cup is captivating audiences across the world, but in Iran, it’s also encouraging a rare moment where men and women can mix in public without fear of repercussions.

Here’s why: Women in Iran are banned from entering most sports games. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, men and women mixing to enjoy a game was considered un-Islamic. For the past 35 years, crowds at Iranian football games have been entirely male.

But this year, CNN reports, women are flouting the ban against gender mixing to watch the World Cup matches. In some restaurants and cafes in Tehran, women in veils sat alongside cheering men to cheer on their favorite teams.

Iranian women’s rights activists have protested the ban on women watching sports matches before, most notably in 1997, when female protestors stormed a barrier into a stadium after Iran beat Australia in the World Cup. The ban was briefly repealed by Ahmadinejad in 2006 but almost immediately reinstated by clerics.

Iranian authorities had warned restaurants this year not to broadcast the games, fearing that a mixed-gender audience might be the result. But in a football-obsessed nation like Iran, there were bound to be more than a few places that broke with regulations. The women who came out to watch the games were, in a small way, opening a space where men and women could peacefully coexist. They were also extremely brave, taking a big risk and making history in the process.

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