Behnaz Shafiei was 15 when she first saw a woman riding a bike. Intrigued by the notion, she asked if she could ride it too. It only took her that one first ride to get hooked. However, others were not as welcoming of the idea as her.
It was after three years of perseverance that she managed to persuade the Iran Sports Ministry to stage the country’s very first off-road race exclusively for women. This news came as the very first step in the fight to overcome the “modesty laws” in Iran that prevent women from racing. By this point, Behnaz had beaten all odds to become a female Iranian biker.
Being a Sportswoman in Iran
In a country where women are not even allowed to watch certain men’s sports, let alone participate in them, this step was nothing short of extraordinary. Iranian women have been facing some extreme backlash for things that seem insignificant to many other countries. Only recently, a pair of women were taken into police custody based on video evidence of them riding a motorbike. They were accused of committing an obscene act by the police. The race may have gained approval but the idea of a woman riding a bike out in public is still deemed illegal.
A Story of Perseverance
Then how, in such a regressive environment, did Behnaz hone her racing skills? It was in the comparatively secure environment of Atashgah Mountains that she practiced on her brother’s bike. However, Behnaz was not meant to be a caged bird. She soon took to riding her bike out in the streets, clad in leather overalls so her gender was not apparent. While it was something that she looked upon as a normal thing to do, most people did not share her views.
Until approaching the Sports Ministry regarding the race, she had no idea that women were banned from the competition. She recalls that the vast majority of the people against the race were men. They even pointed out that women ‘did not have’ what it took to participate in such a race. This had the opposite of the desired effect on the female biker, making her more determined to attain her goal and beat all the odds stacked against her.
Hope for the Future
The Sports ministry relented by allowing women to practice only on off-road tracks with the condition that they wore a hijab. Eventually, they were even granted permission to participate in men’s races. When more and more people saw this, they wrote letters in full support of Behnaz to the Sports Ministry. The ministry had no choice but to give in to the overwhelming support.
After receiving an invite by a fellow female racer from the United States, Behnaz tried applying for a visa from Dubai. However, Donald Trump’s travel ban came the very next day, refusing her and fellow Iranians entry to the U.S. But even though things look bleak, Behnaz is hopeful that the future holds great things for her and sees this as just a minor obstacle. After all, beating all odds is nothing new for this female Iranian biker.