Steering away from the debate over women driving in Saudi Arabia, a religious authority announced that Saudi women are allowed to cruise on bikes and buggies.
But women will be free to drive under one condition: a male relative or guardian has to be present with them while they ride a bike.
“Women are free to ride bikes in parks, seafronts, among other areas, providing that they are wearing fully modest dress and a male guardian has to be present in case of falls or accidents,” an unnamed source from the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice was quoted as saying.
The Committee said that it never barred foreign women from riding buggies or bicycles. The source also suggested that riding the bikes should be for recreational purposes but should not be used as a means of permanent transport.
“Our concern is the positive traffic culture and full compliance with traffic rules and regulations by all drivers and riders,” said Ali al-Zahrani, the spokesman for the eastern province traffic department.
The religious authority advised women on their bikes to steer clear from areas with youth rallies, to avoid confrontation with protest groups.
Samia al-Bawardi, the head of an NGO for victims of car accidents, warned women about riding bicycles and buggies. “Wearing abayas (the Islamic gown worn by Gulf women) and erratic driving could result in terrible accidents,” she said.
The news comes after the internationally award-winning Saudi film Wajda, written and directed by Saudi female director Haifaa al-Mansour, telling the story of an 11-year-old girl growing up in traditional society in the suburbs of Riyadh and desperate for a bicycle, which she’s not allowed.
Women in Saudi Arabia have not been allowed to drive since a formal ban in 1990. An ongoing debate over the matter and a petition has recently been presented to the country’s Shura Consultative Council, with hope from Saudi activists to review the case for women driving.
Indonesia city bans women from straddling bikes
A city in the Indonesian province of Aceh which follows Sharia ordered female passengers not to straddle motorbikes behind male drivers. Suaidi Yahya, mayor of Lhokseumawe, said it aims to save people’s ‘morals and behaviours’. Under the new regulation, women passengers are only allowed to sit ‘side-saddle’ because straddling the bike seat violates Islamic values. “When you see a woman straddle, she looks like a man. But if she sits side-saddle, she looks like a woman,” Suaidi said. When asked if women who did not follow the rule would be punished, Suaidi said: "Once it has become a by-law, automatically there will be sanctions."