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Can girls ride bicycles in Iran?

There has been much debate over whether girls and women are allowed to ride bicycles in public in Iran. On one hand, there are no explicit laws banning females from cycling. On the other hand, there are social and religious customs that have made it taboo for women to ride bikes in public. This article will examine the history of women and cycling in Iran, the current laws and restrictions, and the efforts by activists to normalize the sight of women on bikes.

History of Women and Cycling in Iran

Bicycles first arrived in Iran in the late 19th century during the Qajar dynasty. During this time period, cycling was largely limited to elites and foreigners living in Iran. It was considered socially unacceptable for proper Iranian women to ride bicycles. However, after the Constitutional Revolution in 1906, ideas about women’s rights began to change. Middle and upper-class women began pushing boundaries, including riding bikes, as a sign of modernity and independence.

Cycling became more popular for both men and women during the Pahlavi dynasty in the 1930s-70s. The government encouraged cycling as a healthy leisure activity and sport. Women from nomadic tribes also used bicycles as a mode of transportation. Still, female cyclists were rare sights in major cities. Social custom dictated that reputable women should not be seen exerting themselves or calling attention to their bodies in public by riding a bike.

After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, cycling was viewed with more suspicion as Western corrosion and consumption. Ayatollah Khomeini said that women should not ride bicycles in public. However, no national laws were passed banning women from cycling. It was left up to local authorities to enforce social code. Over the years, restrictions gradually eased, especially on female cyclists in rural areas and younger girls. However, adult women cycling alone continued to be frowned upon in larger cities as immoral.

Current Laws and Restrictions

As of 2023, there are no definitive nationwide laws prohibiting females from riding bicycles in Iran. However, local ordinances enforced by basij morality police discourage and restrict women cycling in public. Restrictions are most heavily enforced in major urban centers like Tehran. Rural areas generally have more flexibility. Here are some of the key policies impacting women cyclists in Iran today:

  • Women are not allowed to cycle in public parks. Parks are segregated, with certain days/hours set aside only for male cyclists.
  • Headscarves are mandatory for female cyclists. Many women opt for helmet hijabs that provide safety coverage while meeting modesty standards.
  • Loose-fitting clothes must be worn to avoid accentuating the female form.
  • Women may not cycle close to religious sites or mosques.
  • Single women are prohibited from cycling. However, groups of women cycling together are more accepted.
  • Special women-only cycling paths have been added in some parks and campuses. However, access remains limited.
  • Cycling events and clubs for women are banned in major cities but allowed in some rural areas.
  • Female cyclists may be stopped by police and charged with violating public decency laws.

While no codified laws prohibit cycling for women and girls, the social and religious climate of Iran creates barriers to normalizing the activity for females. Advocates argue that policies should be set at the national level to protect the rights of women cyclists.

Efforts to Normalize Women Cycling in Iran

While cycling is still taboo for many women, especially in large cities, progress has been made to ease restrictions and promote cycling:

  • Small groups of female cyclists have held public bike rides in major cities to raise awareness. For example, a group of 70 cyclists publicly rode through Tehran to mark Earth Day in 2015.
  • Underground cycling clubs and events for women have gained popularity in Iran. These secretive groups allow female cycling enthusiasts to connect.
  • Social media campaigns such as #IranianWomenLoveCycling have highlighted women defying stigma to proudly ride bikes.
  • Female cyclists have worked to change policies at universities. As a result, some campuses have opened special hours for women to access cycling facilities.
  • Advocates have called for clearly codified national laws to protect women cyclists from local police interference and harassment.
  • More women use cycling as eco-friendly transport despite social disapproval. Bike commuting is slowly increasing among working women.
  • Women’s cycling continues to be more accepted and common in rural villages and nomadic tribes.
  • Some Iranian female athletes have been permitted to train and compete in international cycling events.

While progress has been gradual, activists believe societal views and restrictions on female cyclists are slowly loosening. A stronger female cycling culture promises benefits in sustainability, health, mobility, and women’s rights.

Major Cycling Events for Iranian Women

Some recent noteworthy cycling events for Iranian women include:

Year Event
2010 First women’s cycling race held in rural Azarbaijan province.
2015 Public group ride for 70 female cyclists held in Tehran for Earth Day.
2016 National Championships held for 100 female cyclists outside Tehran.
2018 Group of 20 women biked 150 km across 4 provinces to raise funds for charity.
2022 Women cyclists celebrate opening of bike path at Kharazmi University.

Global Perspective on Women and Cycling

To place the situation for female cyclists in Iran in a global context, it is helpful to look at broad patterns for women and cycling worldwide:

  • In much of the Western world, cycling is considered gender neutral, with women and men participating equally.
  • Some conservative societies still discourage women from cycling due to modesty concerns and gender roles.
  • Areas with high gender equality tend to have a vibrant female cycling culture.
  • Women cyclists face harassment ranging from catcalling to assault in many nations.
  • Studies show women are more concerned about safety while cycling compared to men.
  • Cycling levels tend to be lower for women in countries that lack adequate bike infrastructure.
  • Developing cycling-friendly policies and facilities encourages more women to bike.
  • Biking provides mobility, freedom, and economic opportunity – benefits globally sought for women.

Iran shares some cultural limitations on female cyclists seen in nearby areas like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. However, growing activism aligns Iran more with progressive nations pushing for equal cycling rights.


In summary, cycling for women and girls in Iran continues to be controversial and restricted – especially in major cities. No codified laws prohibit females from riding bikes. However, social customs enforced by local authorities create barriers to women cycling openly without harassment. Progress comes slowly through activism, education, policy reform, and bold women pioneers. With patience and perseverance, the taboo against women on bikes may lessen over time. For now, women cyclists tread cautiously along Iran’s winding path toward greater rights and freedoms.