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.
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.