Though women are banned from attending men’s football matches in Iran, this doesn’t stop them from trying to sneak in by using an array of tricks, for example by dressing in men’s clothes. But the latest trick is on a whole other level: women are using authentic-looking fake beards and semiprofessional makeup to perfect their looks.
A woman named Zahra – or at least that’s the name she goes by on social media – posted photos and videos of herself inside a stadium, disguised as a man with a long beard and a mustache. She explained she had used heavy makeup to make her features look more masculine.
Local media reported that she is a fan of Persepolis F.C., a team from Tehran, and that she attended their match against Tabriz city’s Teraktor club in Tehran on December 29. Her story created quite a buzz, and prompted renewed calls in many Iranian media outlets to let women attend men’s football matches.
Just a few days before Zahra’s feat, a 24-year-old woman – who local media cited by only her first name, Shabnam – pulled off a similar trick in the southwestern city of Ahvaz. Her beard, however, was more rustic: she simply painted it on using makeup.
In an interview with local media, she explained: “My friend and I were trying different ways to make ourselves look more like boys, so I started putting dark color on my face. Then I put on a wig and cut my nails short – that was the saddest part. The color of the beard stayed on my face for two days!”
READ MORE ON THE OBSERVERS: How an Iranian woman snuck into a football stadium only open to men
Before the beard trick, a common technique was for women to paint their faces in the team’s colours and dress up in men’s clothes. They would try to hide in groups of men entering the stadium during rush hour, when surveillance is loose.
Despite the fact that some stealthy female fans gained fame on social media, there are no reported incidents of arrests.
The Iranian authorities’ reasoning for banning women from men’s football matches is that the atmosphere at the stadiums is inappropriate for women, and that the police are unable to provide them with security.
This claim is refuted by women’s rights activists as well as women who have snuck into matches.
Shabnam said: “When I get into the stadium and guys around me notice I’m a girl, they behave more politely.”
In the above video, a woman who attended a football match echoed Shabnam’s observation: “Everybody here noticed that I’m a girl, and they just don’t care – we take photos together. I hope someday soon we will be free [to attend men’s matches].”
Since President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013, his government has tried to convince conservatives in power to open stadium doors to women, but so far it has not succeeded.
While there is no law on the books banning women from these matches, ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, female fans have been prohibited from attending many men’s sports competitions. Many women have become frustrated with this situation, which has led to frequent protests by female fans outside stadiums, notably during national football team matches in Tehran.
There has, however, been a bit of good news for women’s rights campaigners on another front recently: two weeks ago, Tehran police announced a decision to stop arresting women who break Islamic dress codes.