(New York) – Iran should stop preventing women and girls from attending volleyball matches and take further steps to promote gender equality, Human Rights Watch said in opening a digital advocacy campaign to promote respect for women’s rights in the country.

Women in Iran are prevented from attending men's sports in stadiums (still from animation).

© 2015 Human Rights Watch

The campaign coincides with the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) Men’s Club World Championship in Brazil, from October 27 to November 1, 2015, and the FIVB’s decision to award Iran hosting rights for the February 2016 FIVB beach volleyball tournament.  

“Since 2012, the Iranian government has banned women and girls from volleyball tournaments – and has even arrested women for trying to enter stadiums,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives. “It is time for the International Volleyball Federation to act to end this blatant discrimination, which violates its own rules, and brings shame to the game.”

Since 2012, the Iranian government has banned women and girls from volleyball tournaments – and has even arrested women for trying to enter stadiums. It is time for the International Volleyball Federation to act to end this blatant discrimination, which violates its own rules, and brings shame to the game.

Minky Worden

Director of Global Initiatives


Volleyball is a widely popular sport in Iran and a great source of national pride. Among the longstanding, serious rights abuses and discrimination women face in Iran, they are barred from entering sport stadiums, including to watch men’s volleyball matches. 

Iranian authorities’ restrictions on women attending sporting events is part and parcel of a larger pattern of discrimination and human rights violations in the country on the basis of gender. As Human Rights Watch has documented, women in Iran confront myriad abuses, including discrimination in personal status laws such as marriage, divorce, and child custody; the unlawful detention of human rights defenders who peacefully advocate women’s rights; and even restrictions on travel. The authorities recently prohibited Niloufar Ardalan, an Iranian women’s national soccer team captain, from participating in the Women’s Futsal Championship in Malaysia after her husband refused to give his permission for her to travel.

The campaign, #Watch4Women, seeks a commitment from the FIVB to exclude Iran from hosting volleyball tournaments until the country ends its discriminatory ban on female spectators. The FIVB has failed to penalize Iran or publicly speak out against the ban, which violates the “Fourth Fundamental Principle” – on nondiscrimination – of the FIVB’s own constitution.

Commenting on the #Watch4Women campaign, two-time volleyball Olympian Lina Taylor said, “The FIVB was one of the first sports federations to insist on equal pay for both men and women. The FIVB can and should make a difference for women and girls in Iran, too.”

The campaign will include regular updates and actions on the Human Rights Watch Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Iran’s discriminatory practices were on full display in June, when it hosted international volleyball matches against Russia and the United States at the Azadi Sports Complex in Tehran as part of the FIVB’s 2015 World League. Officials systematically prevented Iranian women from entering the 12,000-seat stadium to watch the men’s matches.

This male-only policy for spectators at men’s volleyball matches dates to 2012, when the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry expanded the existing ban on Iranian women at men’s soccer matches to cover volleyball. Iranian officials claim that mixed attendance at sports events is “un-Islamic,” threatens public order, and exposes women to crude behavior by male fans.

“With the #Watch4Women campaign, we seek to spotlight Iran’s ugly discrimination against women and girls,” Worden said. “Ending the ban preventing female spectators from attending volleyball matches would be a symbolically important step toward greater gender equality in Iran and should be a top priority for the FIVB.”