Photo via Yusef Alahmad
Women in Saudi Arabia are now officially allowed to ride bikes. As a fervent bicycle-enthusiast and a human being who just so happens to have female anatomy, you’d expect me to be delighted. Although I’m usually enchanted when it comes to landmark legislation correcting gendered imbalances in the world, the more I researched this new piece of legislation, the less I became enthralled by it.
For starters, it’s dismal that grown women in Saudi have 'earned' the right to do what I was trusted to do in the first grade (as long as I finished all of my broccoli that night). Sure, women are now 'trusted' to ride bikes in public but is this really progress considering these are grown women in the first place?
Moreover, the terms of the new legislation are so absurd, that any gain in terms of equality is instantaneously dissolved due of the blatant discrimination against women in a bill that is meant to 'liberate' them.
The law says that women can only ride "for entertainment and not for transport." What’s the point of using a means of transportation if it’s not for transportation? Does anyone else see a massive contradiction here? And what does riding for entertainment even look like? All I can think of is this.
The new legislation also only allows women to ride a bike as long as a male "approves" and accompanies them.
That’s funny, because whenever I ride bikes with my boyfriend, he doesn't use hand signals. (Side note for all bikers: use hand signals, it’s really not that hard). we spend all our time arguing over whether I’m going too slow or he’s going too fast while were in the middle of traffic. It’s not always safer to ride with a boy. (Except in the case of my boyfriend who does happen to be the best rider I know.) What happens with this 'male buddy system' if your 'guardian man' doesn't have a bike? Honestly, all I can see are accidents waiting to happen.
Another provision of the Saudi law requires female bikers to dress in the “proper and decent” full Islamic abaya, otherwise known as a "cloak." The last time I tried to ride my bike sporting a poncho and my kanken backpack I ended up denting my neighbour's garbage at two different occasions, so I can't imagine how hard riding in a full-body loose over-garment would be like.
Again, think of all the accidents.
Lastly, women won’t be able to ride anywhere. They will be limited to “designated areas” and have been ordered to stay away from areas with groups of men to “avoid harassment.” And whenever a person or piece of legislation insinuates that women should prevent their own maltreatment, I just feel like this:
Saudi netizen and writer Ahmed al Majid told PolicyMic that he thought the new bike legislation was so offensive that it had to be an April Fool's farce:
"The three provisions, that women must have the approval (and company) of a male guardian, wear proper, decent abayas, and only bike in designated recreational areas, just add insult to injury. It makes the whole announcement even more ridiculous and unrealistic. Mobility (whether on a bike, plane or car) is a human right, not privilege. Thank you for giving my mother and sister back their human right to ride a bicycle, conservative pricks"
So the moral of the story is that women are awesome enough to cycle without being told where to do it, who to do it with and what to wear while they're doing it.
For any questions you still have about this, please refer to this GIF:
What do you think about the new Saudi law? Let me know on Twitter: @feministabulous