When Behnaz Shafiei crosses the finish line on Friday at the end of a dusty, rock-strewn race track in Karaj, near Tehran, it will mark the end of both a simple motorcycle race and a three-year campaign for women’s rights in Iran. Whether she wins the race or not, it’s a victory.
The 27-year-old has got a concession from Iran’s sports ministry to stage the country’s first ever female motorbike race, despite women being barred from motorcycle riding by modesty laws.
Fifteen women will nose their front wheels to the start line on Friday, drawn from 30 applicants. As with many firsts, there won’t be much of a fanfare to herald it, or possibly much of an audience. Men will be barred from the race track for the duration, by order of the sports ministry.
“This event is being handled only by women, from the organisers to the spectators to the racers,” said Behnaz. “And God willing, tomorrow it will take place.”
But the risks across the country are real. Just last week, two women were arrested in the city of Dezful after being filmed riding a motorbike. Police accused them of committing an “obscene act”.
And when Behnaz returns to Tehran, after the dust has settled, it will still be illegal for her to ride her bike on the streets. Not that she ever really let that stand in her way.[…]