Iranian women take to the sky, finding "power"
TEHRAN, Aug 22 (AFP) - Dressed in the required headscarves and body-length
cloaks, a team of 20 young Iranian women has been taking to the skies as
part of the newest sport fad for females in the Islamic republic -- paragliding.
"It's fascinating. You just have to keep from getting scared,"
said Nadia, a Tehran resident in her 20s, adjusting the helmet over her
Islamic veil as she prepared for another flight from a hilltop just northwest
"I had always dreamed of paragliding alone in the sky," she
said, stressing that the exhilarating and even dangerous ride gives her
a feeling of "power."
Roughly a dozen members of the team, aged between 13 and 33, were preparing
for their debut flights on a recent Sunday after passing their on-the-ground
training course in the sport, a rugged combination of parachuting and gliding.
The women were accompanied by two female trainers and three guides as
they prepared for their first taste of solo soaring off a hilltop in Ab-Ali,
close to the capital.
Once their gear is in order, and their cloaks safely tucked away underneath
their harnesses, the women move slowly along the hillside, pick up speed
-- and then launch themselves into the blue.
Paragliding is quickly becoming the sport of choice for young Iranian
women whose sporting options have been limited since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Iran's strict version of sharia, or Islamic law, means they must wear
their headdress and cloak at all times in public, limiting their sports
to those activities -- skiing, shooting, riding -- not unduly hampered
by their clothing.
Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
and one of the leading promoters of women's sports in the Islamic republic,
said earlier this year that women's football was also becoming very popular.
Since Iran qualified for last year's football World Cup, she said, women
are taking a growing interest in the sport, both in Iran's big cities and
its smaller towns.
But for now, in the capital at least, paragliding is the newest trend,
taking women high into the air and away from their daily routines. Sima,
preparing for her first flight after passing her training course, said
she was ready to put her knowledge to the test as she strapped on her helmet
and prepared to soar.
"We understand the theory of it, but today is when we get serious,"
she said. Just a few steps later, she was aloft.