What freedoms do we take for granted?
For many, it’s easy, if not natural, to accept the cards we are dealt in life and go on our way without thinking twice about the situations of those around us.
Those who follow any major religion as well as those simply brought up in households that value respect and understanding are taught the importance of empathy: taking a walk in other people’s shoes and trying to comprehend the challenges they face. Through this, we learn to better appreciate what we have in life.
And though we often compare ourselves to those closest to us—in our schools, towns, and our society—the most shocking revelations perhaps come when we learn about the ways of life in foreign countries and cultures. When faced with the realities, privileges, and disparities experienced by other people on a day to day basis, our problems fade into insignificance.
One of the most upsetting truths throughout the world is prejudice, whether on the basis of sex, gender, skin color, or any other factor, but perhaps no prejudice is worse than that buttressed by law.
The religious fatwa in Iran intended to protect female modesty, gender segregation and many other aspects of life. But when it comes to something as simple as riding bicycles, many Iranian women are refusing to obey the traditional rule.
As an Islamic republic, Iran is governed by a mixture of civil and sharia law. Women previously enjoyed more freedoms in the country, but following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, secular law was rewritten to include more aspects of sharia.
The following years saw the removal of women judges as well as the rise of Revolutionary Tribunals leading to mass executions and unchecked sentences based on Islamic law.
Though the system has since been revised, influential fatwa still disproportionately affect women, and one such rule pertaining to female modesty is that women cannot ride bicycles in public or in the presence of strangers. Though there is no prescribed punishment for the offense, it remains enforced.
Above, a sign reading “Bicycle riding for women is prohibited in this place. Women are set to ride at the women’s park.” Signed by the “Headquarters of Prohibiting Vice and Promoting Virtue.”
Earlier this year, the “car-free Tuesday” campaign began in Iran through which people hoped to cut down on car usage, traffic, and pollution. And yet when women joined the campaign and were seen riding their bikes, more conservative members of society were not happy.
Starting in May, more signs stating that bicycle riding was prohibited for women began appearing in public places, reminding would-be cyclists that there are special cycling areas for women in certain parks.
As the rule becomes increasingly unclear, it’s sexism becomes more obvious. Mostly, charges have come down to threatening women for dress code violations or breaking their modesty code; some women allegedly arrested for riding bikes were made to sign pledges vowing not to repeat the “unlawful violation.”
A New Movement
For many, the increasing restriction around women and bicycles seems arbitrary: a symbol of the stricter culture being enforced by President Hassan Rouhani. To demonstrate this unfounded change, a group of female cyclists protesting in Tehran strapped a picture of Ayatollah Khamenei, the leader of the 1979 Revolution, to their bicycles along with a quote of his stating that “women’s cycling is both legal and conforms to sharia law.” The Iranian Vice President for Women and Family Affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, later supported the protest, urging that so long as women observed the country’s dress code, the actual act of riding a bike shouldn’t be illegal.
The debate over female cyclists continues in the country, however, and now Iranian women are turning to social media to share photos and videos of themselves biking. And it’s a revolution in and of itself.
Here’s how the movement started…