Iran Allows Women in Soccer Stadiums

Iranian women will be allowed to attend soccer matches for first time since the country's 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran's president said in a decree posted on his Web site Monday.

Women would sit in separate section of the stands, away from the usually raucous male fans.

"The presence of families and women will improve soccer-watching manners, and promote a healthy atmosphere," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said. "They will be allocated some of the best stands in stadiums," he added.

Iran's Islamic law imposes tight restrictions on women. They need a male guardian's permission to work or travel and have rarely been allowed to attend public sporting events. In 2001, a group of Irish women was permitted to attend a World Cup qualifier match between Iran and Ireland that was held in Tehran.

On Sunday, Ahmadinejad criticized those who linked social corruption to the presence of women in public.

"Some consider women as the source of corruption and this is a very wrong attitude," he said. However, he added women sometimes expressed objectionable views, or what he called "ideas that are not related to Islam."

Women in Iran are not allowed to become judges, and a man's court testimony is considered twice as important as a woman's. Iranian men can divorce almost at will, while women must go through a long legal battle and often relinquish rights in return for divorce.

Despite such restrictions, Iranian women have more rights than their counterparts in Saudi Arabia and other conservative Muslim countries. They can drive, vote and run for office.

In March, police charged a peaceful women's rights protest in Tehran, beating women and men and provoking condemnation from international rights groups.

Last week, some 500 conservative activists demonstrated outside the Majlis, or parliament, demanding full implementation of Islamic law, which bans women from wearing short coats and skirts in public as well as premarital relationships. They blamed police negligence for an increase in violations of strict Islamic law.