When Iranian women see Behnaz Shafiei dismount from her motorcycle and peel off her helmet, they stand mesmerized.
“I did not know that it was a woman riding until I noticed her hair,” Mahnaz Rahimi, a housewife, told The Associated Press. “It took me by surprise that a woman can be so courageous. I don’t have the guts to do such a thing.”
Armed with her vibrant yellow and red motorcycle, 26-year-old Behnaz Shafiei is a force to be reckoned with. By racing around and leaping over hurdles on her bike, the young Iranian rider is breaking barriers in a notoriously conservative country where women are actually banned from riding motorcycles in public. (Iran is, just now, partially opening up sports stadiums to women.)
Shafiei is one of six women making huge cultural and legal strides for female motorcycle racers in Iran — and women at large. They worked hard to receive official idenitifications that allow them to race on amateur tracks. They can ride on off-road circuits, but are still barred from competing or obtaining licenses. Access to Iran’s sole standard motocross track in Tehran is prohibited, so in the meantime, they roar their bikes outside the capital.
To stay up to date on Shafiei’s push for gender equality, follow her on social media, where she’s active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, posting photos and and videos of her on the track, including this jaw-dropping, slow-mo of her flying over dirt hills.
“When two days pass and I do not ride my motorcycle, I get really ill. Even the thought of not having a motorcycle someday gives me an awful feeling … Sometimes, I think to myself, ‘How did people in the past live without a motorbike?’ Is life without a motorcycle possible?” she remarked in an interview with The Associated Press.
Shafiei realized her passion for motorcycles 11 years ago when, while on vacation with her family in Zanjan province, she noticed a woman running errands on a small motorbike, according to The Guardian.
“There was this young woman in a village there who rode a 125cc urban motorbike to travel between houses, like one used by the postman,” she told The Guardian. “I like that a lot and told myself that I want to ride a motorbike too and in fact I learned how to ride a motorcycle for the first time during my stay there.”
“My goal is to be a pioneer to inspire other women,” Shafiei said in the AP interview. “Together, we can convince authorities to recognize women’s motorcycle racing.”
Shafiei is just one of many inspiring women in the Middle East and South Asia who have caught the attention of Women in the World recently. For more stunning stories like hers, check out the surf girls of Bangladesh, the female bikers in Morocco, and the skater girls of Kabul.