An Iranian woman riding a motorcycle in Tehran

Iranian Women's Struggle for Motorbike Licenses

Friday, 05/10/2024

A statement from Iran's Interior Minister, Ahmad Vahidi on Wednesday shed light on Iran's stance regarding the issuance of motorbike driving licenses for women.

Speaking to reporters, Vahidi stated that this issue is not currently on the government's agenda, despite ongoing discussions and debates surrounding women's access to such licenses in the country.

However, in January, following a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran's Vice President for Women Affairs, Ensieh Khazali, had assured reporters that efforts were underway to address the issue of motorbike licenses for women. Despite these assurances, no concrete steps have been taken to address the matter.

The parliament has repeatedly announced the approval of the law on issuing motorcycle licenses for women, but nothing has happened in this regard.

An Iranian woman riding a motorcycle in Tehran

Iran’s laws on women riding motorbikes

Women can participate in motorcycle racing as a sport, but they are not legally allowed to ride on city streets, according to Iran’s Islamic restrictions.

Before the 1979 Iranian revolution, women were permitted to ride motorbikes. However, with the establishment of the Islamic Republic regime, regulations regarding women's motorbike riding, akin to their presence in sports stadiums, became ambiguous and discriminatory. While there are no explicit laws prohibiting women from riding motorbikes, they are generally banned in practice.

In the case of women being banned from riding motorbikes, it comes down to the issue of obstacles in obtaining a license in the first place from the issuing authorities, who may refer to one of the notes of the traffic law that only includes the word “men”.

The Note under Article 20 of Iran’s traffic laws states that "issuing motorbike driving licenses for ‘men’ is the responsibility of Police Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran". According to this Note, in essence women are legally unable to ride motorbikes.

In 2019 an Iranian woman named Fatemeh Eftekhari in Isfahan went to court after being denied a motorbike license based on the Note. The judge ruled in her favor and she was granted a license. However, after the news broke, the traffic police responded to the ruling, by indicating that it was made in favor of the plaintiff on a "case-by-case" basis, did not apply to the general public. In May 2020, in an Instagram post, she confirmed that the ruling was overturned and that she lost her license, while also reporting on being violently attacked by a man in Isfahan simply for being in bike gear.

Moreover, notably in 2016, when Fars News Agency asked Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei about the Islamic guidance on women riding motorbikes and bicycles, he stated, "Women cycling in public places and in front of non-mahram [men who are not close family] often attracts the attention of men and can lead to sedition and corruption of society and goes against the chastity of women. It should not happen. But if it is not in front of non-mahram, there is no problem."

Iranian women defy the ban

The push for gender equality in Iran extends to the realm of transportation. Despite these legal complexities, many Iranian women continue to ride motorbikes, defying the restrictions imposed on them by the Iranian authorities.

Particularly after the 2022 uprising following the killing of Mahsa Amini in police custody, images and videos of not only riding motorbikes but also riding their bikes without compulsory hijab circulated online.

The fight for Iranian women's right to ride motorcycles in public spaces persists. Advocates like Nora Naraghi, an Iranian motorcyclist from the Baha’i religious minority, daughter of, formerly imprisoned Shahrzad Nazifi, the first woman in Iran to hold an official rank in motocross and motorcycle racing, leading the charge.

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