An Equal Game

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  • Darya Safai

  • Darya Safai speaks at the Geneva Summit

On the eve of the 2016 session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, activists from around the world
gathered to discuss critical issues at the 8th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. This annual conference, which has garnered wide spread acclaim, brings heroes, diplomats, journalists and other leaders under one roof to testify about their personal struggles for democracy and freedom, and plan strategies to improve a situation that demands global attention. One such story is that of Darya Safai, a dentist who grew up in Iran, who has made it her mission to strive for the rights of the women of her country. Sharon Carvalho speaks to the courageous woman.

Why did you choose dentistry as a career option? Why did you have to graduate again in the subject?In Iran you have a lot of highly educated women. Until three years ago girls used to constitute 67% of all students. As a child I always wanted to become a nurse or a doctor to help people. I was a good student and when I became older I realized that I had a lot of capacities. So I tried to study even harder than before. I did an entrance exam for university and I managed very well. I got interested in dentistry and I started my studies in it. In 1999 I graduated from Tehran University as a dentist. In the same year of my graduation a student manifestation broke out and my husband and I actively participated due to which we decided to leave for Belgium. With an Iranian dentist degree you can’t work in Belgium and that’s why I had to study two more years at a Belgian university. I graduated again as a dentist in 2003.

Why were stadiums such an important part of your platform?
A sports stadium is like a small society, it is a microcosm of what happens in the world around. I use the stadium as a symbol. To exercise and watch sport events are the basic rights of every citizen, regardless of gender or race.

What was it like to grow up in Iran of your times?
Iran has been through various phases, from liberation to its opposite and the periods in between. I remember when I was six years old and about to start primary school, all of a sudden I had to wear a veil and a large dark cloak, and trousers underneath. I had to change my code of dress. But there was a boy from my neighborhood, whom I had always played with, who had the same first day of school. He was wearing the same clothes as the day before. His life stayed the same but mine changed. For me, feeling the sun and wind touch my hair was the pinnacle of joy, especially in the hot summers.

What are your thoughts on this Summit?
It’s very important that courageous dissident and human right victims, activists, diplomats and journalists from around the world meet to raise international awareness of human rights situations. It is important to give a voice to the voiceless. If we raise the awareness, I’m convinced that, in the end, somebody who can mean something can be reached.

How do you hope being here will benefit your platform?
My concerns are the daily violations of human and women’s rights. If women win, the whole society wins! I want to spread this message as much as possible in order to reach people who can do something about this situation. The Geneva Summit is the perfect opportunity for this.

How do you see the world of sports bridge the gender prejudice gap across cultures?
Gender segregation and discrimination against women runs contrary to the universal, unifying spirit of sports. The big international sports organizations should take their responsibility because such discrimination also runs contrary to their own Statutes. They should use their power to urge governments, who violate human rights, to take measures against these violations.