Iran this week undertook a bold step. At least that is the story being told. The country has, after all, allowed women to enter football stadiums as spectators after a lapse of nigh on 40 years. Never mind that there are some 23,000 Iranian women registered as football players in the Islamic Republic. In this regard, Tehran is dancing in the shadows of its regional nemesis. Saudi Arabia permitted women to sit in sports arenas at the beginning of the year for the first time in the Kingdom’s history. Thereby paving the way for a narrative that focuses on reform and modernity; all gift-wrapped in reinforced paternalism. When, of course, there is absolutely nothing courageous about men giving women their due rights. Iranian and Saudi women have long been at the forefront of movements for progressive change. Be it in terms of risking imprisonment for taking off the state-sanctioned hijab. Or else being locked up for campaigning for the right to drive as well as an end to the male guardianship system; which seeks to infantilise adult women. And it was women who essentially shamed FIFA president Gianni Infantino into pressuring the Iranian regime into doing the needful. By pointing out back in March that the gender ban was in violation of his own body’s statutes as well as those of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). The Football Federation Islamic Republic of Iran (FFIRI) is a member of both. And as far as FIFA goes, Article 4 provides that discrimination of any kind against a group of people on the basis of gender is “strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion”. Thus Infantino’s presence at men-only matches brought the governing body into unquestionable disrepute. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is happy with this brave new world. Prominent religious leaders have in the past voiced concern that having women in the stalls will lead to morally corrupt acts. Indeed, Iran’s chief prosecutor has gone on record as saying that he supports the ban. On the grounds that it is “sinful” for women to watch “half-naked men play soccer”. To this we say: better have men footballers cover up on the pitch. And see how they respond to having their bodies policed by a de facto vice and virtue lobby. The point needs to be reiterated that when men in positions of power decide to wave their respective magic wands to seemingly grant women their heart’s desire — it is always self-serving. And that the West, with its superficial approach to women’s rights in the Muslim world, is forever ready to buy such man oeuvres hook, line and sinker. While pocketing the change. * Published in Daily Times, October 20th 2018.