An 18-year-old chess grandmaster has been banned from Iran’s national team for refusing to wear the hijab, which has been a mandatory for women there since Shiite Islamists seized power in the once-secular nation in 1979.
Dorsa Derakshani flouted Iranian law by refusing to wear the traditional Muslim headscarf while competing as an independent player at the recent 2017 Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival. Her brother, 15-year-old Borna Derakshani, was also banned from the chess team for competing against an Israeli player in the same tournament.
Both siblings are now prohibited from competing in future international competitions.
Iran is notoriously anti-Semitic, prohibiting its sports athletes—including chess players like Derakshani—from fraternizing with and competing against Israelis.
The head of Iran’s Chess Federation, Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh, says that the organization intends to punish the siblings in the “severest way possible,” per a post on My Stealthy Freedom, an online movement of Iranian women who are attempting to regain their freedoms in the Islamic Republic.
“Unfortunately, what shouldn’t have happened has happened,” he said. “Our national interests have priority over everything.”
Iranian women’s rights activist Darya Safai decried the ban on social media with the hashtag #ForcedHijab. “Dorsa to me is the true feminist, not the Swedish government parading with the headscarf with [President of Iran Hassan] Rouhani,” wrote Safai on Facebook. Earlier this week, Swedish finance minister and avowed feminist Magdalena Andersson compared Iran’s compulsory hijab laws to simply wearing a hat.
Dorsa obtained her International Master and Woman Grandmaster titles in 2016 following multiple victories in the international stage, and currently lives in Barcelona. She joins the ranks of US Women’s Chess Champion Nazi Paikidze-Barnes in her refusal to wear the prohibitive headwear, which is a tool of women’s oppression in the Middle East.
The world chess championship is set to take place in Iran in 2017, and competing women are not merely encouraged to don the headscarf to compete at the event—they are forced to do so. Women with their hair on display face fines and even arrest for appearing in public.