Last week, the United States’ women’s national football team defeated the Netherlands 2-0 in the women’s World Cup final. But their title wasn’t the only highlight. Their victory was also a symbolic win for a major issue the team has been fighting for: equal pay for women.
The victory garnered plenty of attention across the world, with many enamored by the team’s role in the movement for women’s rights. But in Aceh, Indonesia, where Sharia law reigns supreme, civil society groups and Muslim clerical bodies are not so enthusiastic. In Aceh, lawmakers and religious leaders have a completely different view of the sport: they see women’s football as haram, or forbidden. Aceh’s Ulema Deliberation Council (MPU) has since issued a fatwa declaring that football is haram
“Every game that requires excessive movement is forbidden, for men and even more so for women. Avoiding sinful actions is preferable to any benefits the sport may bring. There is a lot of basis stating that football is forbidden in Aceh’s context,” MPU deputy Faisal Ali told VoA Indonesia.
Ali stressed that the MPU only issued a fatwa in regards to women’s football. The responsibility of enforcing the ban, he said, has been handed over to the relevant authorities.
The Aceh branch of the Students’ Football League (BLiSPI) said they would respect and abide by the regulation. It remains unclear whether women’s football will be fully banned.
“If it’s not justified in Aceh because of Sharia Law, we’ll respect that. We have previously tried to hold games with players adhering to Sharia Law. If we hadn’t, there would have been deviant activities going on,” Ishaq Rizal, head of BLiSPI Aceh, told local media.
Women’s football in Aceh is still relatively new with the first women’s team having been formed just three years ago. However, a women’s U-17 football event just last week, which aimed to recruit players for an Aceh women’s team to compete nationally, was met with criticism and backlash. The event was organized by the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
The women taking part in the event were clad in hijabs in accordance with Sharia law, but criticism from conservatives still managed to make its way to social media. The BLiSPI said it is now prepared to accept that they may not have representation on the national women’s football scene.
The rejection of women’s football also caught the attention of the National Women’s Commission. Sri Nurherwati, a member of the organization’s legal reform team, said restrictions that limit women’s activities benefit no one. Instead, she said, Aceh should facilitate women’s football so it can continue in accordance with Sharia law.
“If Aceh’s government wants Sharia-based football, what exactly are they asking for? There shouldn’t be a ban. Instead, they should provide the necessary infrastructure so their football players can exercise their constitutional rights, especially women,” Nurherwati told Kompas.com.
Aceh remains to be the only province in Indonesia under Sharia law. In 2016, humanitarian organization Outright Action International mapped out at least 429 local bylaws that are discriminatory toward the LGBTQ community, minorities, and women. For three years in a row, Aceh has been ranked the most intolerant city in Indonesia. Rates of violence against women in Aceh are also high, according to women’s organization networks in the area.
Aceh isn't the only place however that considers football an enemy. Previously, religious leaders in Deoband, India have taken this notion a step further and issued a fatwa against women watching football because men's bare knees are exposed.
This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.