When the Iranian women’s indoor football team was invited to compete in the first ever AFC Women’s Futsal Championship in Malaysia, captain Niloufar Ardalan became the talk of Iran. The star player, affectionately known as Lady Goal, did not make headlines because of her performance on the field, but rather because she would not be allowed to compete.
It came to light that Ardalan’s husband, a prominent local television presenter, refused to allow his wife to renew her passport, thereby preventing her from competing in the Asian championship. He wanted his wife to be home to take their son to school.
Ardalan expressed her disappointment, stating that “this tournament was very important to me as a Muslim woman, I wanted to hold my country’s flag high.” The story resonated widely with the public, but especially among Iranian husbands, who decided to take a stand. Husbands began posting photos to social media to demonstrate their commitment to gender equality within their marriages.
Members of the media weighed in as well, critiquing the discriminatory laws. One cartoonist drew the player in chains on the soccer field, another drew her husband standing on the sidelines, ordering her to come home.
Traditional marriage contracts in Iran legally permit husbands to make major decisions for their wives, controlling her ability to travel, work outside the home, or continue her education. Contracts also permits husbands to choose where the family lives and whether his wife can ask for a divorce. A woman’s movement, education, employment and even her marriage are dependent upon her spouse.
While single women over 18 are free to travel, younger women need permission from a guardian to apply for a passport, and married women need permission from their husbands — unless the marriage contract is modified to clearly state that the husband gives up this power.
Many newlyweds are already choosing to waive this clause from their marriage contracts, and even more have been inspired by Ardalan’s story. Iranian husbands shared these modified marriage contracts on Facebook, along with powerful messages: “I return all rights…to my life partner,” reads one post. “I’m not an owner but a partner for my wife” reads another.
The story prompted the hashtag #ItsMensTurn to indicate the importance of having men join the movement to support freedom for the women in their lives. Photos were submitted to Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist living in the United States. She created My Stealthy Freedom, a Facebook page that began promoting Iranian women’s rights by sharing photos of women removing their headscarves and hijabs, required to be worn in public. The page has become a symbol of advocacy for gender equality.
Iranian Husbands Step Up
Single men and women were inspired to participate too, many stating that they didn’t even know that the traditional married contracts could be amended before Ardalan’s story. “Now it’s our turn to give the right to travel back to the women of our homeland. I’m not married yet but the day I get married I absolutely won’t take this right from her” posted one young man.
Masih said that collectively over 100,000 photos had been liked and shared, and explained that “this is a perfect example of how modern Iranian society clashes with the country’s very conservative laws.”
This story is symbolic of major trends emerging in the country. There are certainly many discriminatory laws in place: inheritance rights heavily favour men, a woman’s testimony is worth half of the man’s in court, and the criminal age for girls and boys differ (9 and 15 respectively). But don’t be fooled – women in Iran are a very engaged, active population. A 2012 report noted that 60% of university students in Iran were women, who also comprise 17% of the labour force. The country’s first female ambassador abroad since the 1979 Revolution was appointed this past April.
Iranian society is changing – many men say they’re embarrassed by how they’re being portrayed, especially among the younger generation. Many new brides are only accepting marriage proposals on the condition that traditional marriage contracts are amended. This social media campaign is so much more than a feel good story from a nation often condemned for its stance on gender. It has raised awareness among young people about the content of traditional marriage contracts. It’s become an advocacy piece, noticed by media and policymakers alike. And it’s brought men into the discussions about gender equality.
And as an added bonus, Ardalan’s teammates ended up winning first place in the championship!