As Elnaz Rekabi, the Iranian sport climber, walked out to compete at the Asian Championships in Seoul last October, she tilted her neck back and took in the wall that she would have to surmount to progress in the event. Climbing is a vertical obstacle race, with indentions and swells and no easy grips or footholds. As Rekabi, 33, gazed at the wall, one could sense she was mentally mapping out her climb.
Surely, somewhere in her mind at that moment, Rekabi must have been aware of yet another wall, albeit an invisible one, that loomed large over her and thousands of Iranian women. It was the wall of oppressive rules that women in the country had to follow, such as having to wear the hijab (headscarf). While Rekabi was competing in Seoul, throngs of Iranian women were striving to break down that wall through demonstrations. Only a month earlier, Jina Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, was taken into custody by Iran’s Guidance Patrol for having worn her hijab ‘improperly.’ Amini passed away in a hospital in Tehran after having allegedly been tortured by the police, resulting in a wave of protests in Iran, the largest since 2009.