Monday, September 26, 2016

Iranian women’ revolution on two wheels against Ayatollah Khamenei’s ruling

More and more women in Iran have started to post photos of themselves social media, riding a bicycle in an open challenge to a fatwa (religious edict) issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which forbids them from cycling in public.
"Riding a bicycle often attracts the attention of men and exposes society to corruption, and thus contravenes women's chastity, and it must be abandoned," Iran’s supreme leader said.

The Islamic Republic used to "tolerate" women cyclists, provided that they did not violate Islamic rules. However, Khamenei recently ruled that women could not ride a bike in public or in the presence of outsiders.

The campaign in favour of women on two wheels began early in the year after a campaign was launched to encourage car-free Tuesdays. The goal was get people to leave their cars at home in the hope of cutting down on pollution, a growing problem in Iran.

Women quickly joined car-free Tuesdays, attracting the attention of some religious leaders, including hard-liners. This in turn sparked an online campaign with the hashtag #IranianWomenLoveCycling.

The video a mother and daughter filmed of themselves cycling in Iran has had 110,000 views since it was posted on My Stealthy Freedom's Facebook page on Monday with thousands of likes.

Campaign founder Masih Alinejad, who is based in New York, said, "They told me that they are not going to give up because they think biking is their absolute right.”

For Alinejad, "It is absolutely shameful to hear such a backward fatwa against women in the 21st Century.

"It is unacceptable in 2016 when you hear that a group of female cyclists have been arrested in Iran for the crime of riding a bike in a public place and made to sign a pledge promising they will not cycle in public again.

"Women in Iran want to be active in society - but, for the clerics, that's a big threat – because, in their eyes, women should not be seen or heard but [should be] stuck in the kitchen.

In reality, "Women are the main agents of change, and as they push for equality, we see greater push back from the Islamic Republic [of Iran].”

For Iran, this modern struggle – by women – against obscurantism and restrictions imposed in the name of a retrograde and repressive interpretation of Islam recently saw women take on motocross racing, once a male preserve.

Such freedom is inconceivable in other countries in the region, like Saudi Arabia where women are not allowed to drive, go out on their own or travel abroad unaccompanied.

In October 2013, at least 150 Islamic leaders, including clerics and Koranic scholars, organised protests to stop a campaign by Saudi women for the right to drive. 

Although there is no ban nor law based on the Qur‘an prohibiting women from driving, Saudi authorities do not issue driving licenses to women.

If a woman is caught behind the wheel, she could get ten lashes. 

Few tried to defy this – one of them being Saudi activist Wajiha Huwaidar who in 2008 posted a video on YouTube whilst driving.

This went viral around the world, but nothing has changed since then in the ultraconservative kingdom.

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