Iranian woman travels the world on a motorcycle, draws attention to women’s rights in Iran

On March 15, 2017, I embarked on my ride around the world at 5:00 a.m. I traveled 110,000 kilometers over 18 months. I visited seven continents and 64 countries.

  • 1 year ago
  • April 27, 2023
7 min read
Dr. Maral Yazarloo Pattrick is a 41-year-old motorcyclist, who was born in Iran but moved to India. She’s been riding motorcycles for 12 years. Maral relocated to India from Iran in 2004, where she earned a PhD and MBA from Savitribai Phule Pune University.

On March 15, 2017, she set off on her own to ride around the world. Mid-journey she got married and became pregnant but continued on. Her unborn child travelled with her to 40 countries. She was named one of the 100 most inspiring and important women by BBC News in 2018. Maral promotes gender equality and women’s rights. She also advocates for Iranian women’s right to ride motorcycles through the “Women, Life, Freedom” Campaign.

She also earned the Powerful and Influential Women of the Word award in 2018, the “Women Pioneer” award, “Woman Achiever,” and “Pick of the Year” titles.
On September 16, 2022, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was murdered by police officers for not properly wearing her headscarf. In Iran, laws prohibit women from having the freedom to choose what they do with their own bodies. Iranian girls and women have endured systemic discrimination for many years. Widespread indignation over the death sparked international demonstrations.

PASIGHAT, India — In Iran, where I grew up, women were not permitted to ride motorcycles. When I first moved to India, I noticed almost everyone rode them, and it fascinated me. Months later, I began my journey of traveling to over 60 countries on my bike. 

Messages poured in from Iranian women, inspired by my travels. This coincided with the protests for Women’s Rights after the murder of Mahsa Amini. I felt an urgency to take part in the fight and show the world the strength and courage of Iranian women. 

Related: Woman protests in Iran, witnesses brutal violence in the streets

Planning a trip around the world 

I grew up in a small village called Kelarabad in northern Iran across the Caspian Sea, and later moved to Tehran to study. Over the years, I felt blessed to have a strong mother who enabled me to experience life. When she shared photos with me from her travels to India and the places she explored, a magical feeling arose. She planted a seed, and in 2004, I moved to India and never looked back.

One day in Pune, I waited for my friend to meet me outside. I sat on his motorcycle – a Royal Enfield Bullet – and pictured myself driving down beautiful roads. When he finally came out and saw me, he laughed at the sight of me on his motorcycle. I felt shocked, and even more determined. He showed me how to ride and I immediately fell in love with the feeling of freedom I experienced.

He taught me the fundamentals like kicking, clutch holding, staying balanced, and using break and acceleration techniques. At first, I only went 100 meters but as my confidence grew, I went further. I visited a dealership and made a deposit on the bike of my dreams, a BMW GS bike.

I felt so excited to begin my journey. Biking changed my entire perspective on life. I gained confidence and felt freer. Soon, an idea came to mind. I wanted to travel the globe on a motorcycle. My entire life, I dreamed of traveling the world, so I began to research my route and how best to prepare my motorcycle.

Getting lost amongst wild animals in Africa

On March 15, 2017, I embarked on my ride around the world at 5:00 a.m. My mother and brothers came to say goodbye. To leave India by land, I traveled to Myanmar through Arunacha Pradesh. When I made it to Africa, I traveled through Sabina and looked for a location to pitch my tent. The gloomy weather and potholed roads haunted me. Suddenly, my motorcycle hit a pothole and warped the rim on my front wheel. I hurried off my bike to assess the damage. In that moment, I looked up and saw a sign that said, “Wild Animal Zone. Do not disturb.”

Not only did I find myself in a wildlife area with roaming tigers, leopards, and elephants, I was also pregnant. I tried not to panic. Using the only light I had – my headlight – I figured I had two options: take my chances and travel another 60 kilometers or try to locate a local community. I opted to find a safer place. Soon, some locals stumbled upon me and offered to fix the front rim on my motorcycle. They informed me, the closest mechanic was 200 kilometers away. I spent the next few hours moving from person to person to drive me to the shop. Finally, the mechanic fixed my bike. I still ride that motorcycle to this day.

Exploring 6 different continents while pregnant 

From the start of my journey to the finish line, I traveled 110,000 kilometers over 18 months. I visited seven continents and 64 countries. Looking back, the toughest part of the trip was saying goodbye to my loved ones. I left my boyfriend and my life in Pune behind to realize my dream. While I never expected him to wait for me, to my surprise, my boyfriend never gave up. Throughout my travels, he went to 15 countries to spend a few days with me at a time.

At Jodhpur’s Umaid Bhawan Palace, he proposed, and in November 2017, eight months after I started my trip, we married in the sacred valley of Machu Picchu. The day after our wedding, I got back on my bike again. During the next leg of the journey, I confirmed my pregnancy – performing sonograms in various nations and numerous languages. I endured three breakdowns in Africa, but I carried on, my unborn baby with me. When I completed the trek, I was six and half months pregnant and gave birth to my daughter three months later.

I became the first Iranian women to be granted a motorcycle license

Along the way, I entered my home country of Iran on my bike. I became the first Iranian woman to be granted permission to a motorcycle license by the government. It felt surreal. As messages poured in from other Iranian women, it motivated me to lead a campaign around the world to advocate for them and win their right to drive a motorcycle. It saddened and hurt me to realize they could not enjoy the same amazing experiences I had. I called the campaign “Women, Life, Freedom.”

Women should be allowed to live independently and be treated as equals. My fight does not end with Iranian women riding motorcycles. It goes far further than that. Iranian women deserve the freedom to choose what to do with their own bodies and their own lives. From the moment we are born, men dictate how we live our entire lives. Something as trivial as deciding whether or not to wear a headscarf should be up to us, not them. 

They are killing women every day, and the world stays silent

In September 2022, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was traveling to Tehran with her brother from Saqqez. The Guidance Patrol, often referred to as the Morality Police, abducted her, claiming she broke the law requiring women to wear a hijab because she failed to cover up sufficiently. When she attempted to defend herself, they struck her in the head and slammed her into a wall. She died from a brain hemorrhage before getting to the hospital. The entire nation of Iran stepped up to denounce the horrible deaths and misogyny Iranian women experience every day. 

Soon after, they murdered another girl, Hadis Najafi, for walking without a scarf. They shot her multiple times. Other incidents haunt our nation, such as the rape and murder of women unjustly detained. The Morality police arrest anyone who disagrees with the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Women all over the country feel frightened to step outside. We need the world to listen and help us. From my homebase in India, I plan motorcycle rides as a form of protest to raise awareness. We cannot be treated this way, and we will not be silent. It feels vital I do something.  

Through my passion of riding motorcycles, I hope to convey a clear message intended for all mankind. Women are incredibly strong. With confidence and support, nothing can stop us. I want all women to hear me: do not to let anyone take away your freedom. You choose your path. Live life on your own terms. 

All photos courtesy of Partho Burman and Dr. Maral.

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