The World Championship for men is played every two years but the women play every year for the title - with changing formats. One year the Women's World Championship is decided in a match between the reigning World Champion and her challenger, the winner of the FIDE Grand Prix series, the next year a mini-match knock-out tournament with 64 players is played. If everything goes according to plan. If.
Currently, the world's best female player is Hou Yifan from China. In 2010 she became the 13th Women's World Champion after winning the knock-out World Championship in Antalya, Turkey. One year later, in 2011, Hou Yifan defended her title in a match against her challenger, the Indian Humpy Koneru. But at the knock-out World Championship in 2012 Hou Yifan failed to defend her title again: in round two she played against Monika Socko from Poland, lost the mini-match, and was eliminated. The Ukrainian Anna Ushenina became new World Champion. But because Hou Yifan had won the Grand Prix series, she had the right to challenge the new World Champion to a title match in 2013 which the Chinese won clearly and without any trouble.
In 2014 things got complicated. No city or federation was willing to host the knock-out World Championship scheduled for 2014 and FIDE decided to move the match to 2015 to have more time to find a host. But now the new date of the knock-out tournament clashed with Hou Yifan's schedule and she decided not to play in the knock-out tournament even though this meant to forfeit her title.
Mariya Muzychuk won the knock-out tournament to become new World Champion and in March 2016 had to defend her title in a match against Hou Yifan, who had won the Grand Prix series again. Hou Yifan won the match against Muzychuk clearly and regained the title.
After this match Hou Yifan, the old and the new World Champion, publicly protested against the World Championship format. She quit the Grand Prix series in which she was playing and declared that she would no longer start in a knock-out World Championship. Previously, the Chinese had again and again asked FIDE officials to change the World Championship format and had proposed to adapt the format of the Men's World Championship. In vain.
Currently the FIDE has difficulties to find organisers for major tournaments and matches, and not only for women's events. The sanctions of the US government against Russian businessman had an impact on chess and and also affected FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Now the women's knock-out World Championship has never been a tournament that was easy to sell and the decision of the World Champion to withdraw from the tournament did not help to make it more attractive for sponsors.
Originally, the knock-out Women's World Championship 2016 was scheduled to take place from 11th to 31st October. But when FIDE did not find an organiser for the event, the tournament was quietly deferred to February 2017. And when the General Assembly of FIDE met in Baku during the Chess Olympiad the delegates decided that the World Championship tournament was to take place in the Iranian capital Tehran.
A decision that soon provoked furious protests.
2017 Women's Wrld Ch. awarded to Iran. Women forced to wear the Islamic hijab, flouting FIDE statutes against sex & religious discrimination— Nigel Short (@nigelshortchess) 27. September 2016
Chess Players Forced to Compete in Hijabs At World Championship in Iran https://t.co/JHNZgeQ31S ^HeatStreet— News, Views, People. (@NVPeople) 29. September 2016
In previous women tournaments in Iran all participants had indeed been asked to wear a hijab, irrespective of their religion or country.
Female grandmasters at the Grand Prix tournament in Tehran.
In February 2016 the Iranian Chess Federation was host of a Grand Prix tournament and all participants, including the non-Muslim, were asked to conform to the customs of the country and to wear a headscarf in public - and thus during the rounds. The participants complied to this wish and after the tournament praised the hospitality of the organisers and the good playing conditions. However, comments about reports of this tournament often criticised this religiously motivated dress regulations.
Moreover, the US State Department issued a travel warning for travels to Iran.
Reigning US Champion Nazi Paikidze already declared that she would not take part in the World Championship tournament even though she qualified.The English newspaper "The Telegraph" quotes her as saying "It is absolutely unacceptable to host one of the most important women's tournaments in a venue where, to this day, women are forced to cover up with a hijab.
I understand and respect cultural differences. But, failing to comply can lead to imprisonment and women's rights are being severely restricted in general."
2016 World Champion, runner-up and 2 semi-finalists of 2015 WC
Hou Yifan (China)
Mariya Muzychuk (Ukraine)
Dronavalli Harika (India)
Pia Cramling (Sweden)
2014 and 2015 Girls' Junior Champion
Aleksandra Goryachkina (Russia)
Nataliya Buksa (Ukraine)
5 highest rated players (plays over 30 rated games) from average rating February 2015 to January 2016
Humpy Koneru (India)
Ju Wenjun (China)
Anna Muzychuk (Ukraine)
Alexandra Kosteniuk (Russia)
Zhao Xue (China)
51 players from Women's Continental and Zonal qualifiers
For Europe Top 14 of 2014 and 2015 of European Championship not already qualified (28)
Russia Valentina Gunina (E14)
Russia Tatiana Kosintseva (E14)
Georgia (country) Salome Melia (E14)
Ukraine Natalia Zhukova (E14)
Georgia (country) Nana Dzagnidze (E14)
Georgia (country) Nino Batsiashvili (E14)
Georgia (country) Lela Javakhishvili (E14)
Bulgaria Antoaneta Stefanova (E14)
Romania Cristina-Adela Foisor (E14)
Poland Monika Socko (E14)
Georgia (country) Nino Khurtsidze (E14)
Russia Alina Kashlinskaya (E14)
Armenia Elina Danielian (E14)
Russia Anastasia Bodnaruk (E14)
Russia Marina Guseva (E15)
Russia Olga Girya (E15)
Ukraine Inna Gaponenko (E15)
Russia Ekaterina Kovalevskaya (E15)
Georgia (country) Bela Khotenashvili (E15)
Russia Alisa Galliamova (E15)
Germany Elisabeth Paehtz (E15)
Russia Daria Charochkina (E15)
Armenia Lilit Mkrtchian (E15)
Russia Anastasia Savina (E15)
Hungary Hoang Thanh Trang (E15)
Georgia (country) Sopiko Guramishvili (E15)
Turkey Ekaterina Atalik (E15)
Italy Olga Zimina (E15)
Asia (12): 2014 and 2015 Asian champions
Irine Kharisma Sukandar (Indonesia)
Mitra Hejazipour (Iran)
Zhu Chen (Qatar) (Z3.1)
Akter Liza Shamima (Bangladesh) (Z3.2)
Pham Le Thao Nguyen (Vietnam) (Z3.3)
Dinara Saduakassova (Kazakhstan) (Z3.4)
Tan Zhongyi (China) (Z3.5)
Zhai Mo (China) (Z3.5)
Ni Shiqun (China) (Z3.5)
Huang Qian (China) (Z3.5)
Emma Guo (Australia) (Z3.6)
Americas (8): (unknown)
Africa (3): (unknown)
2 FIDE nominees: (not yet announced)