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Darya Safai

Darya SafaiDarya Safai, born on the 7th of April 1975, is an Iranian-Belgian dentist and womans rights activist.

She was raised in the Islamic Republic of Iran after the revolution of 1979 where she directly experienced how it was to live under oppression in a religious dictatorship that discriminates against women.

She was a dental student at the University of Tehran during her final year in 1999, when she actively participated in the violently suppressed student protests against the religious regime together with her husband Saeed Bashirtash - one of the leaders of the protest movement.

She was arrested and wound up in prison, but after she was released on bail temporarily, she decided to flee along with her husband through Turkey and eventually into Belgium.

She was sentenced in absentia to two years of imprisonment by the revolutionary court of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Once in Belgium she went back to school and managed to graduate again as a dentist.

In 2014 she founded the group Let Iranian Women Enter Their Stadiums to fight for the right of Iranian women to attend sport games in stadiums. She uses the stadium ban on women as a symbol of one of the many discriminations Iranian women must contend with on a daily basis.

Darya SafaiIn February of 2015, Darya Safai wrote a letter to Sepp Blatter - who at that time was President of FIFA, about the situation of the Iranian women and what they wanted from FIFA.

But sadly, FIFA does not comply with its statutes regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Article 3 of FIFA’s statutes states:

"Discrimination of any kind against a Country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion."

Her letter to FIFA has been supported and signed by more than 200 prominent Iranian academics, human, civil and political activists, political prisoners and a diverse group of artists.

At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro she prominently displayed a banner during the competitions of the Iranian men's volleyball team - causing a lot of controversy.

Under International Olympic Committee rules, political statements during the games are banned.

Olympic officials and security personnel even threatened her with ejection for holding the banner in front of any cameras.

Darya SafaiBut she stayed and displayed the banner during different games while wearing a t-shirt carrying the same message - her story covered by the international media worldwide during the Olympic Games.

"When I lived in Iran, as a little girl I wanted to go to the football stadium. But I could not because I was a woman. Sports should bring people together; it should be everybody's right to enter a stadium."

In a message on her Facebook page she was deluged with support and answered:

"To all people of Brazil, Argentina and Italy at the Maracanăzinho stadium and all the people from around the world on social media who supported me and Iranian women - Your support meant a lot for me. You all gave me such a powerful feeling during my struggle. You were always present. I've read all your messages, one by one, but I didn't have time to answer them all personally due to my busy schedule. With this message I want to thank each one of you."

Speaking to the IPF days after the photos of her went viral, Darya explained how her campaign came about.

Although it was tough, Darya explained that the experience in Iran had made her feel stronger in her battle for the rights of Iranian women.

She also believes that having fled the regime, she is now in a better position to be able to give a voice to those women who are suppressed in Iran.

Darya Safai"I know what it is to live as an oppressed Iranian woman. Now that I live in freedom, it gives me the strength and power to struggle for the rights of Iranian women whose voices are muted."

Despite this, she expressed admiration for the women she left behind, adding that they were strong-willed and would continue fighting for their rights to the best of their ability.

"Iranian women have been protesting from the day the Islamic government wanted to implement women-unfriendly laws," Darya said. "And they will keep fighting to gain these rights back, which were taken from them."

Now that Darya lives in Belgium, she can watch the games anytime she wishes.

"I really enjoy the atmosphere of people cheering and supporting their team". she said.

"Sports should bring people together; it should be everybody’s right to enter a stadium."

Since the launch of her campaign, Darya has protested the stadium ban in Sweden, the United States, Belgium, Italy, Poland and, this year, at the Olympic Games in Brazil.

At each venue, Darya and her team wear "Let Iranian Women Enter Their Stadiums" t-shirts and display banners with the same message.

Darya Safai"Thanks to my actions, it has allowed me to have contact at the highest echelons of FIFA and FIVB to bring up the issue."

Although there have been a few discussions about the stadium ban within Iran, little action has been taken.

However, Darya still sees this as a step in the right direction. She believes that it is good that people are at least talking about the issue and that without discussions, nothing would change.

"Making people aware about this problem outside the country is also very important - Now the problem is known worldwide; before it wasn't. This is how we can put pressure on the International Sports Federations."

Darya said that she gets a lot of support from both Iranian women and men inside Iran.

She said that many have told her how much they appreciate what she is doing and often contact her on social media to thank her for being their voice.

"Iranian women are waiting behind the closed doors of the stadium. They are always trying, even if they can wind up in jail."

"Young Iranians should keep on fighting to gain their rights back. They should never give up, even when the road is long and exhausting. If you keep fighting, there will be a day that change will arrive."

Darya SafaiIn particular, she hopes that young Iranian men would show their female counterparts support in their struggle. She urged them to look at history and realise that political, cultural and industrial improvement heavily relies on equal rights for every citizen – and that no society can develop as long as systematic discrimination of women continues.

"Personally, even if my goals can't be reached fast, I know I am on the right path and that gives me a lot of power. I wish the same for all Iranian women."

In October of 2015 her book Lopen Tegen de Wind, about her life story and her fight against discrimination of Iranian women, was published. On March 21st 2016, she received the Ebbenhouten Spoor Award for exceptional merit as Flemish newcomer.

In December of 2016, she was awarded the title Women Of Peace by the Belgian Secretary of State for Equal Opportunities at the Belgian Senate, for her fight for women's rights.

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'Let Iranian Women Enter Their Stadiums' Campaign - Darya Safai

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