Lily Nabet is focused on a bigger goal

“Zan. Zendegi. Azadi.” Women. Life. Freedom.

These three words were chanted by Lily Nabet recently at a protest in Downtown Los Angeles. The Angel City FC midfielder did so because she is trying to create a lasting impact regarding women’s rights.

Nabet is promoting the effort of protesters in Iran who risk their lives by standing for change daily. She uses her social media presence to advocate for women’s rights and voice her frustration.

“[The phrase zan zendegi azadi is] so impactful, and I have been trying to find a way to continue to spread that,” Nabet said. 

The protests in Iran were sparked by the death of Jina “Mahsa” Amini, who was arrested by the country’s morality police for “improperly” wearing a hijab. According to local media and family, they beat Amini, and she died suspiciously three days later.

Women in Iran are discriminated against in marriage and divorce laws, restricted in the professions they can enter, and forced to follow dress codes. Now, the streets of Iran’s major cities are filled with people demanding change. They do so while facing the potential of being arrested or worse.

“[Women’s rights] is a really big issue,” Nabet said.  

Civilians in other countries have joined the efforts as protests have launched worldwide. Persians and locals have come together from Los Angeles to Toronto to London to display their support.

Nabet believes that growing the understanding of Persian culture is crucial to change. She strives to educate and discuss their values, hoping to defeat stereotypes while teaching her peers about the oppression of women in Iran. 

“When they leave, they can see what Persian culture is like rather than what they see online,” Nabet said.

As she protested, her emotions were conflicted because she recognized the comfort she experienced growing up.

“I started crying because I felt so privileged… I grew up [in Los Angeles] playing [soccer] and doing everything I wanted to do, Nabet said. “[I was] thinking about everyone in Iran and all of the women who can not do that. It is so emotional and sad.”

Nabet is from Tarzana, a suburban neighborhood in Los Angeles and both of her parents are from Iran, making her a first-generation American.

She played college soccer at Duke University while pursuing a master’s degree at the Fuqua School of Business. In her senior year, Nabet was named to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Academic Honor Roll while serving as a team captain. ACFC selected her in the third round of the 2022 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Draft. Nabet played in ten games, starting two of them in her rookie season.

As a women’s soccer player, she represents a large community of women. However, as a Persian woman, Nabet has become an advocate for women in Iran. 

“I have had a few younger girls reach out to me and say it is so great that you are using your platform and to have a Persian female in the [NWSL],” she said. “I did not think I could have that impact.”

While advancements in women’s rights are crucial to her message, the reform movement means more to her. It is one about reclaiming Nabet’s ancestors’ country and their values. 

Her mother, Shadi, moved with her relatives to the United States in the 1970s to avoid religious tolerance under the Islamic Republic. Shadi’s faith, Baháʼí, is unwelcome by Iran’s current government. Nabet has never visited Iran, for similar reasons to why her mother emigrated from there.

“I want the old Iran back,” Nabet said.

The Iranian regime she desires included different values and a separate flag, the shir o khorsid (lion and sun). The flag was Iran’s until the 1979 Iranian Revolution when the Islamic Republic government began its rule of the country. 

“The old flag has represented freedom… and [it] is a lot more community-based,” Nabet said. 

Aside from women’s rights in Iran, Nabet is no stranger to supporting social justice advancements. While she attended Duke, she served as a creative director of Athlete Ally, a group advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) rights in sports. Nabet strived to involve allies in their organization. 

 She was also involved in Morgan’s Message, a mental health program for athletes. 

“I want to help,” Nabet said. “I want to do more.”

A victory for her would be an improvement regarding women’s rights in Iran and a regime change in Iran. She is considering a tribute to Persian women during the upcoming season but has not finalized her plans.

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