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Iranian Father Bans 12-Year-Old Jockey Daughter from Competing in Moscow

July 16, 2021
Payam Younesipour
5 min read
Iranian Father Bans 12-Year-Old Jockey Daughter from Competing in Moscow

Sara Pour-Azima, a member of Iran’s national Under-17 National Equestrian Team, was stood at the airport, backs packed and already checked onto the flight, when she was told her father had barred her from leaving Iran.

The 12-year-old had an official letter from the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) inviting her to personally take part in the Eurasian Championships in Moscow. She had also secured a Russian visa with plenty of time to spare.

None of this made any difference, though. At the eleventh hour, her father Mohammad Pour-Azima exercised his right under arcane Iranian law to block his daughter from exiting the country.

It later transpired that the reason for this was tension between him and Sara’s mother, Ghazaleh Pour-Montazam.

Justifying the decision to Rokna news agency after it came to light, Mohammad Pour-Azima said: “Six months ago, my wife and daughter Sara went away and I had no news of them. So I used my legal right to ban them from leaving the country without my knowledge.

“Then, I saw an official announcement that Sara’s name was on the list of those going to Russia. This was the first I’d heard of it.”  As such, he emphasized again, he had used his “legal right” to stop his talented young daughter attending an international contest.

Under the law of the Islamic Republic, male heads of households have the right to stop their children leaving Iran without their authorization. The mother has no such power. Men can also block their wives from travelling both inside and outside Iran without their say-to. A woman cannot get a passport without her husband’s written permission, and even then, the extent of her freedom of movement is up to him.

Female Athletes Cut Off From Career Advancement by Spouses

Many Iranian female athletes have borne the consequences of this misogynistic law. In 2015, Niloufar Ardalan, star of the Iranian National Women’s Futsal Team, was blocked by her then-husband Mehdi Toutounchi from attending the Asian Championships. Toutounchi is an sports correspondent for the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and the pair were going through a divorce at the time.

According to Ardalan, Totounchi had told her: “Forego the rest of a wife’s price [meaning payment of her dowry, alimony and other financial claims] and I will give you your passport.”

Only in very limited and rare cases do the courts of the Islamic Republic even grant a divorce without the husband’s agreement. This particular high-profile case led to an outcry against the inordinate power of the “man of the family” in Iranian society.

The presence of female politicians is no guarantee of a sympathetic ear. At the time of the row, Laleh Eftekhari, an MP, told IranWire: “This is the law of holy sharia. Sharia law cannot be changed.”

In early 2017, it was widely reported that Zahra Nemati, a Paralympic champion archer and Iran’s flag-carrier at the Rio Olympics, had also been banned from traveling abroad. Nemati had been invited to speak at the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, but she then discovered she had been refused permission to travel by her husband Raham Shahabipour.

In this case, however, the regime clearly came to the conclusion that the incident would be too embarrassing, and Nemati was permitted to travel. Shababipour was outraged: “I have banned my wife from traveling,” he told Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA). “I have no idea how she got the permission to go to the UN, and to leave the country for Switzerland.”

Unlike Zahra Nemati, though, most Iranian women are left at the mercy of their fathers and spouses because they are not going to an international forum to defend the actions of the Islamic Republic.

On April 4, 2017, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) covered Nemati’s speech in Geneva,  which tried to justify the Islamic Republic’s policies regarding women and children. ILNA gave no mention of the sharp criticism of her speech voiced by members of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which monitors the convention.

Amongst other things, the committee criticized the Islamic Republic for failing to provide access to representatives from independent, non-governmental organizations.

In February this year, news came that Samira Zargari, Iran’s Alpine ski team head coach, had been barred from accompanying her team to Italy.

 Crying, she told reporters that her husband was now in a relationship with her best friend, and had demanded that she consent to a divorce. “I didn’t [consent], and he blocked me,” Zargari said, adding that her husband was “always laughing (at) my job and my team.”

Now a 12-year-old girl has been cut off from pursuing the sport she loves, at first glance in a move driven by pure marital spite.

Again trying to justify his actions, her father told Rokna: “Sara does not communicate with her father, and I don’t go to the club where she practices because this club belongs to her mother’s father, and they have insulted me there.

“A while ago I learned that she was in a competition at a horse-riding club in Parand [near Tehran]. To demonstrate my love for her, I went along, cheered for her and waved my arms for her.”

But he added that Sara’s failure to say goodbye to him before setting out for Russia had been an “insult” to him – even though a lawyer for Sara’s mother said he knew perfectly well when her daughter was due to leave Iran.

According to Rokna, there was some discussion among the relevant legal authorities over whether Sara’s attendance was important enough that the ban could be overridden, and she could join her peers on the next flight. This, however, did not happen. The young jockey was said to be “disappointed”.


Related Coverage:

Women Athletes Excluded from Running to Carry the Olympic Flag

The Real Cost of Censoring Female Athletes in Iran

Iranian Imams are Obstacles for Women in Sports

Iran Uses Religious Edicts to Discriminate Against Women

Permission to Travel — A Nightmare for Many Iranian Women

Women and Travel Bans: Can the Laws be Reformed?

Women Have Been Demanding Their Right to Play Football for Half a Century

New Report on Iranian Women and Work Reveals Rise in Unemployment and Discrimination

Patriarchy and Unjust Laws Create Obstacles for Women’s Employment in Iran



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