Shirzanan Global : „Women who fight to be respected“

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An eye for those who weren’t allowed to watch: Solmaz Sharif is the driving force behind Shirzanan Global, the first magazine dedicated to female athletes from the muslim world. In interview on oppression, equality and heroines.

          6 Min.

          Are there too few shirzanans - heroines from the muslim sports world?

          Yes, certainly. Not because we wouldn’t like muslim women, quite the contrary. They don’t get enough attention.

          And you would like to change that?

          That’s the idea behind Shirzanan Global. I believe in Vorbildwirkung . Imagine the situation young women find themselves in: They never see a sportswoman on TV or in the newspaper or in their own family. How would they know there is something else out there, that the world is something other than a world for men? How could they believe in their own role, how can they find their own place in society? We want to show that there is something else out there, to do something else than their mothers and older sisters do. Not every girl has to become Billie Jean King - but there is the possibility.

          Billie Jean King?

          She beat a man. She played tennis against a man - and won! Isn’t that fantastic?

          She beat Bobby Riggs in 1973. You weren’t even born then.

          Yes, I only learned about this game when we were doing Shirzanan in Farsi. I was amazed. And this also what Shirzanan is about: We want to tell women in the muslim world these stories. Shirzanan introduced Billie Jean King to Iranian women.

          „It is a bright prospect that I see“: Athletes in Tehran

          You came up with the idea for the magazine when you were still living in Tehran. What was your inspiration?

          I started as a sports reporter in Iran. There were around ten female sports reporters in the whole country. And there weren’t nearly as many reports on women who were competing as there were about men. Partly because of the gender segregation in Iran. But even the reporters who were as passionate as me trying to get more space had to fight for every inch. That’s when I realized that the situation is not only due to rules on gender segregation. I decided we need our own space, a place dedicated to women in sports. I came up with the proposal, and I had the term “Shirzanan” in mind. In the situation that women face in Iran, somebody who chooses to complicate her life further more and compete, is invaluable and admirable. Sports women are role models.

          You needed permission from the government to publish. . .

          It took them four years to tell me: No, forget about it. There was no reasonable explanation. The bottom line was: Something like this doesn’t work out in an Islamic government. Well, I moved on to other aspects of women’s issues as a reporter. And after my husband was arrested and released, we decided to leave the country.

          You’re living in New York since 2007. That gave you the chance to publish?

          I didn’t need any permission any more and I figured out that with the highspeed internet, it wpould be possible to publish digitally.During that time, the internet and social media became much more popular in Iran. We were a team of ten - I was in New York, the majority of the team were in Iran. During those two years, we got six million hits, the pictures we published were particularly popular - because of the gender segregation, there wasn’t any way for male audiences to see how Iranian women competed. So the athletes’ fathers, husbands, brothers, family members and friends became regular readers.

          You had a male audience?

          Shirzanan was an eye, for those who didn’t have access. Then, in 2009, after the presidential election, there was the abolition of the green movement and censorship became stricter, and mainly because of a lack of funding, we had to stop after 100 issues in Farsi.

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