Female Plaintiff’s Battle to Get a Motorcycle License Exposes Arbitrary Restrictions on Women in Iran
In response to a complaint by a woman from the city of Isfahan, Branch 1 of Iran’s Administrative Justice Court ruled that the traffic police’s refusal to issue motorcycle driving licenses to women is unlawful.
However, due to Article 60 of the Administrative Justice Court’s Organizational and Regulatory Procedures Law, the ruling, which could be reversed, only applies to the individual plaintiff and not all women in the country.
“For the past few years, we have been trying to get a motorcycle license,” the plaintiff, Fatemeh Eftekhari, wrote on her Instagram account on August 6, 2019.
“We eventually went to the Administrative Justice Court and filed a suit against the police and got a very good ruling from the judge,” she said. “I take this opportunity to thank him for his great, thought-provoking decision.”
“We hope to move forward until we get a final ruling because we believe that using a means of transportation, such as a motorcycle, should be lawfully possible for all members of society,” Eftekhari said.
Seeing a woman driving her own motorcycle is a rare occurrence in Iran but women can rent them at leisure centers and hire motorcycle rides as passengers.
Regardless of what happens in Eftekhari’s case, for women to be allowed to legally ride motorcycles throughout the country Parliament would have to pass a new law or the Administrative Justice Court would have to issue a ruling that would be nationally binding.
Still, Eftekhari’s persistence shows a developing trend of women challenging arbitrary restrictions and fighting discrimination through the legal system.
Lower Court Rules Gender Shouldn’t Be a Prerequisite for Motorcycle Drivers
The traffic police of Isfahan had refused to issue a license to Eftekhari even though there are no laws explicitly prohibiting women from driving motorcycles.
Eftekhari received a favorable ruling after she took the case to court.
The ruling by Branch 1 of the Administrative Justice Court stated: “Given that there are no regulations banning women from driving light or heavy vehicles, motorcycles or any other means of transportation, driving motorcycles by women is determined to be permissible.”
The ruling added: “Given that gender is not a prerequisite for driving a motorcycle, and that the [traffic police] is the only agency in the country with the authority to issue driving licenses to qualified applicants, the Note to Article 20 of the Driving Violations Law should not be interpreted as a ban on women driving motorcycles.”
Following the traffic police’s decision to challenge the ruling, the judiciary’s deputy chief for cultural affairs, Hadi Sadeghi, predicted the judge’s ruling would be reversed in an opinion that could influence the final ruling due to his powerful position.
“I strongly believe that this decision will be overturned on appeal,” Sadeghi said on August 7. “There have been similar rulings by the court in the past that eventually failed without a doubt.”
Sadeghi also criticized the media for prematurely reporting the court’s ruling, claiming it could “inflame public passion such as on social media where this issue has been widely discussed instead of the more important matters we are facing.”
The police argue that the Note to Article 20 of the Driving Violations Law only mentions men. It states, “The Islamic Republic of Iran Police Force has the authority to issue motorcycle driving licenses to men.”
But the word “men” commonly appears in Iranian laws as a reference to all humans regardless of gender.
As veteran attorney Amir Hosseinabadi told the reformist Etemad newspaper, “The police’s interpretation of the lawmakers’ intentions regarding the Note to Article 20 has no legal foundation. What the lawmakers meant by ‘men’ was ‘the majority’ of applicants … The word ‘men’ does not point to gender. It means humankind.”
In other words, if lawmakers wanted to restrict motorcycle driving to men, they would have specifically written that women should be prohibited from driving motorcycles.
Driving a motorcycle is one among many activities that Iranian women are arbitrarily prohibited from in the Islamic Republic.
Arbitrary restrictions also exist in the music industry, where women are banned from singing solo and sometimes from playing instruments in public.
“As with bicycle riding, there is no legal or religious restriction on women riding motorcycles,” said Mohammad Kazemi, a member of the Parliamentary Committee for Legal and Judicial Affairs, on August 5.
He continued: “Cultural and social matters should be freed from shackles that have no basis in the law or religion. Our women have rights that are respected in the laws and we cannot arbitrarily interpret them against women. At the same time, we should help develop our culture so that we are not surprised by women driving motorcycles or bicycles.”
Following the court’s ruling, some women members of Parliament announced that they had begun laying the groundwork to strengthen the law in favor of women.
“In accordance with women’s needs in society, it is time for the Women’s Faction [in Parliament] to take this matter into consideration,” said the faction’s leader Farideh Olaghobad.
“We sent a letter to the police liaison in Parliament asking for police experts to meet with the Women’s Faction in order to carefully address this matter,” she added.
Eftekhari’s Final Ruling Would Not Automatically Apply to All Women
In her quest to get a motorcycle driving license, Eftekhari’s suit against the traffic police stated: “I have all the necessary qualifications to obtain a motorcycle driving license and yet the traffic police refuse to issue a license. Given that this matter does not contradict any religious or legal principles, I hereby request a ruling be issued on the said matter.”
Although the court ruled in her favor, the decision will not necessarily extend to other women in the country, according to attorney Shima Ghousheh.
She continued: “First, when the Administrative Justice Court issued its ruling, a lot of news outlets had a positive reaction to it and reported that women can now get a motorcycle driving license. But if they had read the ruling, they would have realized that it only applied to the plaintiff. The ruling would have been binding if it had been issued by the General Board of the Administrative Justice Court.”
“For example, a month ago the General Board of the Administrative Justice Court ruled that women should receive the same blood money as men,” she added. “It became the law of the land and all agencies have to abide by it. But if a lower court issues a ruling, it only affects the plaintiff.
“Still, a judicial ruling could raise hopes that higher courts would agree with the logic and come to the same conclusions, even though there is no guarantee of that happening,” Ghousheh said.
Based on Article 173 of the Constitution, the Administrative Justice Court operates under the supervision of the judiciary “in order to investigate the complaints, grievances, and objections of the people with respect to government officials, organs, and statute.”
Under Article 60 of the Administrative Justice Court’s Organizational and Regulatory Procedures Law, the court’s branches “may issue rulings on specific cases without generalizing.”
Read this article in Persian.