Volleyball, Women’s Rights and Twitter Storms

Volleyball, Women’s Rights and Twitter Storms - Digital

Iranian national volleyball team’s success in recent years has caught the attention of not only Iranians but also the volleyball world. They became Asian champions of 2011 and 2013, fourth in the World Volleyball League, and sixth in the World Championship of 2014 and have become a serious competitor for the world’s best teams. But like any social joy in Iran, the recent successful years for Iranian sports has not been free of politics, dissent, arrests and repression. This time banning women from the stadiums and the protests of civil activists was what separated Iran from other world champions in volleyball.

The protests of civil and women’s rights activists (which was met with arrests and harassments) combined  with pressures from the international community, forced Iran to pretend to lift the ban of women entering stadiums. But the ban was not lifted and religious forces threatened to confront the government if women were to enter the stadiums, and this resulted in the continuation of civil protests by activists.

Last week when Iran and the U.S. teams played at the Azadi stadium in Tehran, twitter users continued protesting against the ban on women entering stadiums. These protests were so widespread that even Iranian officials reacted to them. This twitter protest started from the  “Macholand” Persian campaign platform. Also today Macholand has called on its followers to join another twitter storm during the match between the Iranian and Polish volleyball teams.

Macholand is the Persian arm of a network that is a protest to the world of sexism. This platform, which is sensitive to any form of sexism, is trying to reduce sexism in the thought, language and action of Iranians in the Persian public sphere especially inside Iran.

Soudeh Rad is one of the founders of Macholand Persian and a gender equality activist. In this interview we speak to Soudeh about Macholand Persian’s goals, the importance of lifting the ban on women entering stadiums and online activism.

Let’s start by asking why should we care about women entering stadiums? Many people might think that women entering stadiums is probably not the most important equality issue for most women.

From the beginning of the Islamic Republic, officials have tried to eliminate women from social and public spheres. This has portrayed itself in the face of many gender-based separations and limitations. We have heard a lot about discriminatory laws that have violated women’s rights to choose their outfit or their field of study and career. But we have heard so little about civil rights that this became one of the promises of Hassan Rouhani’s election campaign. Entering public sphere such as stadiums is a civil right of every citizen regardless of their gender. The ban on women entering stadiums is a violation of Iran’s domestic laws and we should not allow this to become a norm in Iran. I should remind you that this ban started three years ago and is so unjust that even officials such as the Vice President of Iran have criticized it.
It is said that 1100 twitter users joined Macholand’s twitter storm last week. What was the importance of their participation and what do you think is the potential of internet as a tool to protect human rights?

The internet is not a tool for directly supporting human rights. If we bypass government censorship, the internet is the most powerful “democratic” tool for access to information. Considering Iran’s current political system, we can not directly change any laws through internet and social media campaigns. One of the reasons is that powerful officials are distant from social media and accessing them is complicated. But changing the public’s opinion is one of the best and most accessible goals that can be reached through the internet. For example one of our main goals in the campaign for women entering stadiums was to raise our voice and remind that women were still banned from entering stadiums this year and were left outside. This education about civil rights is an important part of support and campaign. We must understand the potentials of online tools and social networks and use them in the best possible way.

As a women’s rights activist do you think the internet and especially the Iranian social networks are free from chauvinism, or do women still face more challenges in their online political activities compared to male users?

The cyber space is created by us and we live in a world full of sexism and gender-based inequalities and violences and stereotypes against women. So the cyberspace can be as violent as the real world but the difference is that in most social networks, it is possible to eliminate the violent users from your connections and circles but this doesn’t mean you can completely eliminate them. I don’t have detailed data but according to my personal experience I can say that women who have political or civil activities in the cyber space are taken less seriously than their male counterparts and usually receive private messages full of gender-based insults.

Human Rights Watch says internet activists are usually attacked and arrested by the Revolutionary Guards forces. Do you think Iran’s human rights activists inside and abroad have enough knowledge about internet security to be able to protect their privacy and security against human rights violators?

No. The knowledge of security among us is not updated, and even that knowledge is usually not utilized by many among us.

Do you think the organizations and groups who do human rights activities and advocacy online have been successful in informing their audience about internet security?

I think this training must be done at the beginning of collaboration with these organizations but usually that is not taken seriously.

Besides the Islamic Republic, Macholand has criticized private companies, news websites and media outlets outside of Iran. What has been the result and the reaction to these activities? What is your long term plan for Macholand?

Macholand is the world of sexism and we want to invade it with small steps. Protesting sexism in the Iranian public sphere is the identity of this platform and it does not make a difference if this sexist language or action is done by government officials or in the television advertisements inside or outside of Iran. One of Macholand’s best achievements has been to bring the attention of internet users to gender-based inequalities in different formats. In addition, creating a space for discussion about ongoing stereotypes and inequalities. Macholand is a collaborative platform that serves anyone who wants to protest sexism. We as the coordinating team tell anyone who suggests a theme, to create an online campaign. This is our many goal right now and it is not a small goal, considering our volunteer status and the ongoing events in the Iranian cyber space.