Shohreh Bayat receives International Women of Courage Award

by André Schulz
3/11/2021 – The Iranian chess arbiter Shoreh Bayat is one of 21 recipients of the 2021 International Women of Courage Award, which has been awarded by the US State Department since 2007 to women who have worked for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women's empowerment. | Photo: US State Department

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Since 2007 the Secretary of State’s IWOC Award "recognizes women from around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment – often at great personal risk and sacrifice". In the last 15 years the Department of State has recognized more than 155 awardees from over 75 countries.

In "normal" years, the award winners are invited to Washington D.C. to receive their awards from the First Lady and the Secretary of State in a gala ceremony on or near International Women's Day (8 March). Afterwards, the award winners will travel across the U.S. and participate in a special visitors' proram. The American Women for International Understanding (AWIU) organisation invites the awardees to a banquet and provides them with scholarships to support their work.

But due to the Corona pandemic, the award ceremony could only be held virtually this year. The new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken introduced the award winners.

Photo: US State Department

First Lady Dr Jill Biden attended the ceremony at the US State Department as guest of honour. 

Photo: US State Department

Shohreh Bayat from Iran was one of 21 award winners. In January 2020 she was arbiter at the Women's World Championship match refereed the women's world championship match between Ju Wenjun and Aleksandra Goryachkina and was unable to return to her home country after claims in Iran that she had violated the Islamic dress code by the way the had been wearing her hijab.

Shohreh Bayat | Photo: US State Department

The laudation from the booklet by the Secretary of State

When Shohreh Bayat boarded her flight on her way to the 2020 Womens Chess World Championship, she had no idea she might be seeing her native Iran for the last time. Shohreh, the first female Category A international chess arbiter in Asia was photographed at the Championship without her hijab visible, which is compulsory in Iran. Within 24 hours, the Iranian Chess Federation which Shohreh had previously led refused to guarantee Shohrehs safety if she returned to Iran without first apologizing. Fearing for her safety and unwilling to apologize for the incident, Shohreh made the heart-wrenching decision to seek refuge in the UK, leaving her husband who lacked a UK visa in Iran. In that moment, Shohreh chose to be a champion for womensrights rather than be cowed by the Iranian governments threats.

Photo: FIDE

In an interview with the Telegraph, Shohreh Bayat later revealed that she has Jewish ancestors. Her grandmother was Jewish and had come to Iran from Azerbaijan. Shohreh Bayat had had to keep this fact secret in Iran.

Shohreh Bayat in an interview with the BBC

All 21 awardees 2021

Maria Kalesnikava, Belarus
Phyoe Phyoe Aung, Burma
Maximilienne Chantal Ngo Mbe, Cameroon
Wang Yu, China
Mayerlis Angarita, Kolumbien
Julienne Lusenge, Demokratische Republic Kongo
Judge Erika Aifran, Guatemala
Shohreh Bayat, Iran
Muskan Khatun, Nepal
Zahra Mohamed Ahmed, Somalia
Sister Alicia Vacas Moro, Spanien
Ranitha Gnanarajah, Sri Lanka
Canan Gullu, Turkei
Ana Rosario Contreras, Venezuela

Seven women were honoured posthumously. They were murdered in Afghanistan:

Fatema Natasha Khalil
Fatima Rajabi
Freshta
Freshta Kohistani
Malalai Maiwand
Maryam Noorzad
Sharmila Frough

All from Afghanistan

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André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.

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