There is a lot of sexism that female athletes have to battle all over the world, but challenges in some countries are different than challenges in others. For instance, the captain of the Iran women's soccer team will miss an upcoming tournament in Malaysia because her husband won't let her get a passport — and under Iranian law, that means she can't have one. The news comes not long after Iran lifted its ban on female fans at soccer matches, not only reminding us that there's still a lot of sexism left to counter, but also raising awareness about many other freedoms women still lack in Iran.
Women in Iran have been fighting for more rights and equal treatment for decades, with notable successes, but married women still legally require the consent of their husband to travel outside the country. So, despite being the captain of the Iran women's team and widely considered the best player in the country, Niloufar Ardalan, age 30, still won't be able to attend the AFC Women's Futsal Championship because her husband, sports writer Mahdi Toutounchi, won't give her permission to leave the country.
Toutounchi's reason for keeping his wife in the country is reportedly because he doesn't want her to miss their seven-year-old son's first day of school, which is Sept. 23. The tournament is scheduled to run from Sept. 21-26. Her husband, who has been supportive of women's sports in the past, has not made an official comment on the case.
While I can respect the fact that parents should be there for their children, missing the first day of school is, in the grand scheme of things, not the worst thing in the world. Also, let's not pretend that anyone would ever say a father shouldn't play in a major international sports tournament because of his child's first day of school.
But more importantly, whatever her husband might think of her decision, it is still her decision to make. She is an adult human, and as such, no one should get to make it for her.
Ardalan has stated how disappointed she is not to be able to attend the tournament and has called on the government to change its laws concerning women and travel.
"These games were very important to me," Ardalan told Nasimonline. "I wish that authorities would create [measures] that would allow female athletes to defend their rights in such situations.”
This is not the first time Ardalan has spoken out about women's rights in Iran. In fact, in 2005, she was the among first women to attend a men's national team soccer match, though she had to petition to be able to do so. She stated at the time that she believed women should be able to attend matches and that the presence of female fans would be beneficial for the atmosphere in the crowd. "Many young women in Iran are in love with football [soccer] but they are frustrated that they cannot come to watch," she said.
Now Ardalan is facing a situation where sexist laws mean she can't even play soccer.
The idea that women shouldn't be able to travel where and when they like without getting approval from their husbands is insulting to women's dignity and autonomy. Women's rights advocates are hoping that Ardalan's case will raise awareness about the problem and the impacts this law can have. And indeed, many in Iran have been expressing outrage online.
In the meantime, however, it look like the Iranian women's team will have to compete without their captain.