In Iran, women are forbidden from stadiums, but for fans of soccer, drastic times call for drastic measures.

After the its revolution in 1979, Iran became an Islamic Republic, and Islamic principles became much more influential on daily life. Among the many rules that came into effect at that time was one that banned women from entering sports arenas and stadiums. It’s an unofficial rule, but it’s strongly enforced by religious conservatives, who believe that sports arenas are not appropriate places for “ladies”, because men use crude language, and the players wear shorts. Scandalous.

But that didn’t deter five Iranian women from successfully enjoying their favorite sport live and supporting their favorite team. How did they do it? By dressing up as men! Sporting fake beards, they snuck into Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to see an important match between two soccer clubs that would determine the league champion.

▼ You can tell by the satisfied looks on their faces that they’re pleased with their successful infiltration of a men-only zone.

You might be wondering, “What’s so big about some girls with fake beards?” In the past, when other women have tried to enter sports stadiums, they have faced dire consequences. In 2014, Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian woman, was arrested for attempting to enter a men-only volleyball match, and was sentenced to six months in jail, with a charge of “propaganda against the regime.” Last year, when a group of eight women tried to enter a soccer stadium disguised as men, they were discovered by a security guard and thrown out. And in March of this year, 35 women were arrested for trying to get into a game.

Considering the potential consequences, the five women seen in these photos were lucky they didn’t get caught this time. It must have taken a lot of bravery (and zealous fandom) to even think about going.

▼ Instagram user @fari_perspolisi. who also shared the group photo, poses by herself, with a view of the field in the background.

But they’re not alone in their fight. Netizens cheered for the women, whose brave fight against gender discrimination has inspired people worldwide. The group’s photo has been shared widely, and with positive, empowering comments:

“That’s girl power for you!”
“Those girls represent hope.”
“Well done girls! I am proud of you!”
“Proud of your courage. Resist”
“You are amazing! You have my total support from Belgium!”

Iranian celebrities and politicians have also called for the ban to be lifted, and their demands may be answered. In March, when Gianni Infantino, president of international soccer organization FIFA, visited Iran, he apparently spoke with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, who promised that women would soon be allowed into soccer stadiums. But, “In a country like Iran,” he said, “It could take a little time for a rule like this to change.”

Hopefully Rouhani will stay true to his promise and follow in the lead of other countries who are making strides towards gender equality. Take Thailand, for example, where being a man or a woman doesn’t seem to matter much; in fact, there are 18 recognized genders! That would certainly make a rule like this hard to enforce!

Reference: Center for Human Rights in Iran, RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty
Top image: Instagram/@fari_perspolisi

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