Chess Champion Takes a Stand for Women’s Rights in Iran

Nazi (nah-ZEE) Paikidze-Barnes, Russian-born, Georgian-American chess champion, has taken a stance and unknowingly sparked a global discussion on the hijab and other coverings worn by Muslim women.

The World Chess Federation (FIDE) announced the 2017 Women’s Chess World Championship will take place in Iran.

Paikidze-Barnes believes “It’s unacceptable to host a Women’s World Championship in a place where women do not have basic fundamental rights and are treated as second-class citizens.”  She formed a petition calling on the World Chess Federation to move the competition or to call on Iran to make it optional for women participating whether they will cover themselves.

While women should be free to dress as they choose within their religious or moral belief system, it is unacceptable to enforce criminal charges or approve violence against any woman that isn’t properly clothed.  Much worse is enacting those same criminal punishments against women of other faiths or other countries where freedoms for women are upheld.

The Iranian Revolution brought back the mandatory hijab (or “rousari” mixed with other covering elements) for women in 1984 as Iranian officials claimed that women without such coverings were merely exploited by “Western materialism.”  Iran has “clothing police” which they call the “morality task force” whose major task is: monitoring and scrutinizing women’s clothing and then publicly shaming them if they fall below the acceptable standards, in some cases, even arresting or abusing them.

Nazi Paikidze has discussed  that FIDE’s guiding principles contain a rejection of “discriminatory treatment for national, political, racial, social or religious reasons or on account of sex” and stated that FIDE was violating this principle by subjecting women to this society. She quoted Ayaan Hirsi Ali in stating that “tolerance of intolerance is cowardice:”

Islamic codes of behavior and dress are strictly enforced in the country with women expected to cover their heads, wear trousers and a long sleeved coat or tunic that reaches to the mid-thigh or knee.”

As of September 5, 2016, over 800 clothing shops in Iran had been shut down by the “morality police” because they were allegedly selling “un-Islamic” clothing.

In May 2016, stories surfaced of how Iranian women were cutting their hair off and dressing like men just to avoid the brutal treatment of the “morality police.”

While the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI) attempts to campaign for more human rights, the government has merely strengthened its resolve to continue its fundamental oppression.

Paikidze-Barnes raises the incredibly important point that global institutions such as FIDE and others must not implicitly condone or approve this treatment of women by promoting Iran as a contender for international sporting events.

Any measure of appeasement and silence about Iran’s harsh treatment of women must be stopped in order to give a voice to the women living within it, as Nazi Paikidze-Barnes has now done. 

To sign the petition calling on FIDE to stop condoning Iran’s treatment of women, click here

Join Clarion Project in supporting the courage and sacrifice of this woman and others like her in taking a stand for women’s rights and fundamental freedoms in Iran.

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Jennifer Breedon is Clarion Project's legal analyst.