In early 2017, Behnaz Shafiei etched her name into motocross history.
After three years of campaigning, the Iranian rider successfully got Iran’s ministry of sport to agree to stage the country’s first ever all-female motocross race.
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Previously, women were barred from competing in the discipline due to Iran’s modesty laws, something Shafiei struggled to understand given the protective gear—helmet, gloves, full-length clothing—required in the sport.
“So I asked myself why, why shouldn’t women be allowed to race?” She told the BBC last year. “And there was no good answer.”
Her fight became more about women’s rights than a woman’s right to ride a motorbike. Shafiei had to prove her decision to challenge the status quo was born out of a passion held by many.
So she gathered her fellow enthusiasts, showed they were serious about the sport, wrote letters, signed petitions and, after a lot of wrangling, the ministry of sport relented and allowed them to compete.
Shafiei began riding when she was 15, thanks to a chance encounter with a female biker during a family holiday in Zanjan, northwestern Iran. The woman allowed her to give the bike a try, and that was that: the obsession started.
Growing up in a fairly rural part of the country, Shafiei could practice on her brother’s bike without concern for social stigma. It was only while venturing into cities that she had a few brushes with the law, but often police were too shocked to dole out any serious punishment.
As such, she kept riding. A lot. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, she won the first ever all-female race in the country.
Since then, Shafiei has taken part in the Winter Olympic Torch Relay, competed in the US, and become an inspiration to countless women motorcyclists.
In the UK, Hoda Elsoudani is also making a name for herself as a trailblazing woman biker. Yet rather than competing in races, she is using her digital platform to educate women on riding.
Her vlog, Hoda Vidz, offers tutorials, product guides, and other bike-related tips. However, her true motivation for launching the page was to encourage women to pursue their ambitions and interests.
Hoda admits she was fortunate. Her brother was able to teach her how to ride, and her Iraqi parents were less concerned about cultural norms than her safety on the road (something she was eventually able to convince them of).
But this isn’t the case for everyone. Like Shafiei, she is using the small advantages she’s been given to inspire other women to chase their goals—especially in fields that are largely dominated by men—because then a woman biker, let alone a woman biker in a hijab, won’t be such an unusual sight.
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Marjaan Ali is also making a name for herself in the biking world. As a niqabi who wears a niqab she first started biking around four years ago, mainly due to the fact that she needed a way of getting around without relying on other people the whole time. Inspired by the love of riding with her father, who had always owned a motorcycle, Marjaan really enjoyed learning to ride.
She has found that the response to her niqab with other bikers has been overwhelmingly positive, with most people thinking “it’s awesome.” And, although there are haters, she has learnt to ignore the trolls and only engage with those who support what she does.