As one of the most successful women to ever play the male-dominated game of chess, Nazi Paikidze is used to having her moves watched closely.
Her latest has drawn international attention: Paikidze announced last week that she will boycott February’s Women’s World Chess Championship in Iran because the players will have to wear hijabs.
Paikidze’s decision will deprive the tournament of one of the game’s brightest stars and biggest draws — the U.S. champion who once told a magazine she would “do everything I can to help more girls get into chess.”
Islamic coverings for women in public — required in Iran and some other nations such as Saudi Arabia — have increasingly become a target for both protests and struggles over Muslim identity. Some activists in Iran have launched online campaigns against the hijab rules, while other women continually test the boundaries by pushing back headscarves to near gravity-defying levels.
“Some consider a hijab part of culture,” Paikidze said in an Instagram post announcing her decision. “But, I know that a lot of Iranian women are bravely protesting this forced law daily and risking a lot by doing so. That’s why I will NOT wear a hijab and support women’s oppression.”
Paikidze also launched a campaign on Change.org demanding that the World Chess Federation reconsider Iran as a host for the women’s championship.
“These issues reach far beyond the chess world,” the petition says. “While there has been social progress in Iran, women’s rights remain severely restricted. This is more than one event; it is a fight for women’s rights.”
The petition has been signed by more than 3,000 people.
In a statement on its website, the WCF said: “It is not a [federation] regulation or requirement to wear a hijab during the event.” The statement says the organization does require participants to “respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend.”