Iran’s female mechanics challenge male domination in the car industry
The seminal moment in Sahar Beygi’s life came shortly after she bought a second-hand Nissan 4x4 in 2014.
Deciding to celebrate the purchase, she got together with a group of her friends and headed for a night out.
As bad luck - or a dodgy car dealer - would have it, the vehicle’s engine gave way and the car broke down.
“I had no idea about the mechanics of the engine,” says Beygi.
“When a friend of mine asked me to check the fuel pump, I didn’t even know where it was.”
A roadside rescue service eventually arrived to help the women but what Sahar describes as an “embarrassing experience” had left its mark on her.
She vowed to start learning about cars.
Seven years after her roadside epiphany, a 34-year-old Beygi cuts a noticeable figure in her khaki overalls in a bustling industrial area west of Tehran that caters to car enthusiasts.
The 4x4 repair shop where she works is only distinguished from the others in the same row by virtue of the fact that a woman mechanic works there.
With a degree in visual arts and a background in advertising, Beygi spent a year trying to find a repair shop willing to take her on as an apprentice mechanic.
“I started with one who had already worked on my car and tried dozens of places across town but to no avail,” she says.
“They always hesitated and acted surprised because I was a woman. The managers and owners never said 'no' outright but instead dragged their feet and kept me waiting for weeks, if not months until I would give up and try elsewhere.”
But Beygi’s persistence paid off. After months of trying, one garage owner decided to give her a shot.
A mechanical engineer by training, the man taught his new apprentice not only the practical aspects of fixing an off-road vehicle but also gave her a theoretical understanding of what made an engine work and a vehicle move.
Until that moment she was on the brink of giving up and moving to Germany to start a new life.
At home, Beygi was fortunate to have the full support of a loved one as she pursued her dream of becoming a mechanic.
Although her mother was sceptical of her career choice, her father who had studied as a mechanic himself gave her encouragement.
“He even gave me his books and notes from his school years,” she says.
Today Beygi has an established reputation as a reliable mechanic specialising in 4x4s with customers coming in from far and wide for repairs and servicing to their vehicles. Her Instagram page is also filled with messages from well-wishers and customers.
One message reads: “She is friendly, skillful, honest, and fair - what more can someone ask from a mechanic?”
Another satisfied customer says: “My car had engine problems and repeated attempts to fix it had failed. (Beygi) correctly diagnosed the problem in ten seconds.”
Such support stems from more than just respect for Beygi’s skills. She is also known for her pioneering role in creating a space for women in an industry almost entirely dominated by men.
She plans to break that hold by opening up an all-female garage to create jobs and “provide a safe working environment for women”.
'I am pleased that I’ve been able to set the ground work for future generations to follow in my footsteps. I’m proud of that'
- Sahar Beygi
“I am pleased that I’ve been able to set the ground work for future generations to follow in my footsteps. I’m proud of that,” Beygi says, adding: “On my journey, I’ve endured many hardships. But I have no qualms or complaints.”
Reflecting back on that initial breakdown in 2014, Beygi, now a keen off-road driver says she shudders at the thought of getting stranded out in the country.
“Just imagine if it had happened off the road,” she says.
Passion and love
To say there is a trend in Iran towards women becoming mechanics may be an exaggeration. But Beygi is certainly not the only woman making a career out of a love of cars.
Sadaf Ataei, who like Beygi is also 34, runs a successful Instagram page where she posts videos and images of herself repairing cars and sharing tips on maintenance and basic upkeep.
Going by the nickname “Ata Mechanic”, she works three days at an upscale garage in Northern Tehran, which services foreign brands like Mercedes Benz and Toyota, among others.
The rest of the week she spends at a cluttered and oil-stained garage in the Tehransar neighbourhood, an area home to Iranian car manufacturing plants.
Ataei decided to become a mechanic two years ago after a conversation with a career advisor. Her interest in cars had its roots in childhood memories of helping her father as he made repairs.
“Another woman in my place might have regretted the decision and quit early on,” Ataei said. “It is only passion and love that can drive you forward."
And it’s the strength of her passion that keeps her in the career today, despite its many pitfalls for women.
As well as the everyday realities of being a mechanic, such as having to work in bitter cold or sweltering heat depending on the time of year, she also has to put up with harassment from some of the men she encounters, both in the real world and on social media.
In a podcast interview in 2020, Ataei says: “It is really painful to see some people who are unable to understand women and try to undermine my work.
“They take what I do for granted and describe it as of no significance… sometimes it is also very difficult to deal with people who bring their cars for repairs but they don’t even know how to speak properly and with respect.”
The single strand that unites Beygi and Ataei’s experiences, as well as others like them, is their intense curiosity.
Niloofar Farahmand never wanted to rely on a male relative to take care of her car for her.
"I always took my car to the repair shop myself and wanted to learn as much as possible about how it works," she says, describing how she would approach mechanics and ask them to explain what they were doing.
“Yet on so many occasions, I got ridiculed or had sarcastic responses without them answering my questions.”
But not all male mechanics had this attitude and one gave her a chance to learn that changed her life two summers ago. Her father, knowing about his daughter’s interests, asked their family mechanic to let his daughter into his workshop to learn the basics of car maintenance. To their surprise, the man agreed.
"By nature, I am a curious girl but I had no intention of becoming a mechanic,” Farahmand says, recalling her reaction. “I just wanted answers to my questions about how a car engine worked and how to fix my car."
'In this field women should be very resilient. I laughed at those who ridiculed us'
- Niloofar Farahmand
After a few weeks of studying at the garage, she was joined by her best friend Kiana Yarahmadi. Together, the pair were blown away by the possibilities and eagerly attended the workshop on the outskirts of the Iranian capital, far away from their homes.
"For us, it was just a new and stunning world," Farahmand says.
"In this field women should be very resilient. I laughed at those who ridiculed us. Someone else might have burst into tears.
“But I always laughed in the face of problems. Now the same people who made fun of us and tried to undermine our efforts praise our perseverance."
The pair continued to build up their knowledge of the trade through vocational and theoretical courses on car maintenance.
After building up a loyal customer base at the garage, the pair recently moved to a new repair shop in northern Tehran.
They believe that despite the rarity of female mechanics in Iran, the situation for others who want to enter the career has never been better.
"The union of automobile mechanics recognises women and supports them,” says Yarahmadi.
“Women can take part in vocational training courses much more easily than before.”
Today the two, both popular figures on Instagram with a following in the tens of thousands, receive calls and messages from other young women asking them for advice on how to enter the industry. There’s also interest from repair shops looking for female apprentices to take on board.
"I believe women work with more discipline and concentration,” Farahmand says.
“They not only keep the workplace clean and tidy but their presence also makes other employees act and behave more decently.”
Farahmand and Yarahmadi, both in their 30s, say almost all their friends and relatives bring their cars to them for maintenance and repair, and that they are the first port of call when it comes to any car-related question.
While for others, being so in demand might be a cause of frustration, that is not the case for Farahmand and Yarahmadi.
"Physically I may become tired of this job but I will never doubt choosing this field as my career," Yarahmadi says.
"On the contrary when people put such great responsibility on my shoulders and trust me with their cars, I realise that I am on the right path."
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.