Rugby Film Highlights the Erosion of Women’s Rights in Iran

Women in Iran have it rough.

This wasn’t always the case – at least, not the way it is today. Before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, most Iranian women didn’t wear veils. They were active in high levels of academia and government, so much so that even the conservative Revolution couldn’t completely erase their involvement. The civil law protected women’s rights, even when it contravened Sharia law to do so. There is a history, within living memory, of liberated women in Iran, and of a culture that fostered their liberation.

But since the Revolution, the rights of women have been slipping away. Faramarz Beheshti‘s 2010 film, Salam Rugby, stands as one more painful example.

In 2006, rugby was growing in popularity among women in Iran. Beheshti, through a friend in Iran’s Rugby Federation, became the official videographer for the women’s team. The title granted him access which would have been otherwise unattainable… just in time for the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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Ahmadinejad’s regime initiated a crackdown on women’s sports. Beheshti’s documentary about empowerment quickly became a study in cultural and governmental oppression, as communities grew increasingly hostile to the team. Ultimately, the women’s rugby team was forced to disband, under allegations of immorality against the coach and in the face of increasingly draconian laws.

Beheshti discusses the struggles both he and the team faced over two and a half years of filming in a recent interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail. He makes it clear that many Iranians feel a sense of shame about the direction their country has gone – and rightly so. Fortunately, this exact sort of tension is what ultimately drives social change. Beheshti suspects his film will never be shown in Iran, but it still has the power to help make plenty of people plenty uncomfortable.

So far, I haven’t been able to find a way to watch or purchase the film in its entirety, though it was shown at ÉCU, The European Independent Film Festival. If I do, I’ll be sure to post it here. Sports are a venue for women to find community, confidence, and respect. The loss of the rugby team, and any of the other thousand tiny losses that women in Iran experience all the time, should not be taken quietly if we can help it.

About Megan Wells

Megan Wells is an IT tech and sports blogger in Chicago.

  • Anonymous

    This certainly looks interesting. I hope I get to see it soon. And I’m glad that Beheshti is making the point that there are differences of opinion in Iran and doubt about the direction the country is going in. Too many Iran hawks seem to be overgeneralizing when describing the culture of the country.

    Lee Smith, for example, wrote in Tablet that “the plummeting Iranian birthrate—from 6.5 children per woman a generation ago to 1.7 today—suggests that it is not just the regime, but an entire nation, that no longer wishes to live.” It might just be that the unreasonable and murderous regime has made life so difficult that people are less inclined to bring children into the world. 

    http://www.tabletmag.com/news-and-politics/87844/rationale/

    • Scotanthony

      Doesn’t really explain the birthdate under the previouse “unreasonable and murderous regime”.

      • Anonymous

        No, it doesn’t. I was trying to think like Smith for a second- what does the reduction mean about the people as a whole? It’s not the right question to begin with, but it still doesn’t merit the assessment Smith gives.

        The truth is actually that after a major population boom in the 80s under Khomeini, who heavily encouraged large families and lowered the age of marriage for girls to 9, the government changed its tune in the 1990s, and stopped supporting families with more than two children.
        http://www.overpopulation.org/Iran%20Popline%20Jun98.html

        Probably should have looked that up before offering my “it just might be” pseudo-explanation. But I still think Smith’s assertion that the birth rate is the result of a culture-wide death wish is ridiculous. Ironically, it’s an argument right-wingers normally reserve to criticize secularism and feminism.

    • Scotanthony

      Doesn’t really explain the birthdate under the previouse “unreasonable and murderous regime”.

  • Yukimi

    I’m sooo going to watch it :D

  • Marco Conti

    Looks interesting and I’ll try to check it out.

    Watching the trailer it made me think why  Allah is apparently so offended by uncovered women heads when he doesn’t seem to give a shit about men’s hair one way or another.
    You would think that a guy having to micromanage the creation of all the animal species on this planet, answer all the prayers and make sure that every Muslim prays at least 5 times a day would have little time to worry about women heads going uncovered.  

    • Thundercatsareawesome

      It is forbidden for Muslim men to cut their hair to uneven lengths, true story. At least that’s what I was taught at mosque as a kid (still never bothered me either way). 

      I thought a law against something so trivial as getting your hair cut to different lengths (i.e. short back and sides) was utter rubbish and someone must be playing me on, however I was wrong.

  • Sunil D’Monte

    I read Shirin Ebadi’s autobiography “Iran Awakening”, in which she writes (of the 1979 revolution):

    “In Persian, we do not say the revolution was born, that it happened or came to pass; we require an oversize verb, and so we say the revolution was victorious. That day, a feeling of pride washed over me, that in hindsight makes me laugh. I felt that I too had won, alongside this victorious revolution. It took scarcely a month for me to realise that, in fact, I had willingly and enthusiastically participated in my own demise. I was a woman, and this revolution’s victory demanded my defeat.”

  • Sunil D’Monte

    I read Shirin Ebadi’s autobiography “Iran Awakening”, in which she writes (of the 1979 revolution):

    “In Persian, we do not say the revolution was born, that it happened or came to pass; we require an oversize verb, and so we say the revolution was victorious. That day, a feeling of pride washed over me, that in hindsight makes me laugh. I felt that I too had won, alongside this victorious revolution. It took scarcely a month for me to realise that, in fact, I had willingly and enthusiastically participated in my own demise. I was a woman, and this revolution’s victory demanded my defeat.”

  • Anonymous

    Your own version of  the Taliban seem determined to bring about a similar reversal in the freedom of women judging from the current attacks on abortion rights. I read recently that 90% of the counties in the US don’t access to abortion. If you’re not careful you’ll end up like us in Ireland having to travel to another country for the service. 

  • GeorginaFSmythe

    “Sports are a venue for women to find community, confidence, and respect.”
    Definitely haram then!  However would the men control them?

  • GeorginaFSmythe

    “Sports are a venue for women to find community, confidence, and respect.”
    Definitely haram then!  However would the men control them?


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