Sunday, May 12, 2013

Saudi women might not be allowed to ride bikes after all

When it comes to women's rights in Saudi Arabia, things always seem to move one incremental step (or, in this case, cycle) forward, two steps back. On Monday, AP reported that al-Yawm, a Saudi daily, had cited an unnamed Saudi religious police official as saying that women will now be allowed to ride bicycles in the country, but only for "entertainment" purposes.
The underwhelming story inspired its fair share of sarcasm in the blogosphere. Cartoon images of fully veiled women pedaling on bikes circulated online. Jezebel ran with the headline, "Saudi Arabia Lets Women Ride Bikes for Funzies." Meanwhile, Policymic listed five ways the change doesn't represent progress at all (and accompanied the list with a few can't-miss GIFs).
But, alas, even this modest sign of progress may have been an illusion. The pan-Arab daily al-Hayat spoke to the country's religious police chief who called the matter "funny," adding that because riding bikes is uncommon in Saudi society, officials never considered the practice as something to either be banned or allowed for women. (Al-Hayat also name-checks the outlets that were a little eager in reporting the AP story, including Fox, the Huffington Post, and ThinkProgress). 
In light of the ambiguous wording, it remains unclear whether it would be acceptable for women to ride bikes in public if the mood strikes. My guess, for what its worth? Probably not. 
Credit (Foreign Policy)
(h/t: Riyadh Bureau)
Image entitled "Allowed", by Mohammad Sharaf

MONDAY, APR 1, 2013 06:54 AM ADT
The new policy stipulates that women must be accompanied by a male guardian and ride "only for entertainment"
(Credit: AP)
Women in Saudi Arabia are still banned from driving cars (among other things), but the kingdom’s religious police are now allowing them to ride motorbikes and bicycles in certain parks and recreational areas. The catch? A male relative or guardian must accompany women riders, according to Saudi news outlet Al-Yawm.
As reported by the Associated Press:
The Al-Yawm daily on Monday cited an unnamed official from the powerful religious police as saying women can ride bikes in parks and recreational areas but they have to be accompanied by a male relative and dressed in the full Islamic head-to-toe abaya.
Saudi Arabia follows an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam and bans women from driving. Women are also banned from riding motorcycles or bicycles in public places. The newspaper didn’t say what triggered the lifting of the ban.
The lift on the bicycle riding ban is one of several recent nods to women’s empowerment in Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah issued a decree in 2011 allowing women to run for office and vote in municipal elections beginning in 2015. In January, the king also appointed 30 women to the country’s Shura Council and pledged that women would constitute 20 percent of the consultative body. While the Shura has no authority to pass or enforce laws, some activists view the change as a symbolic step toward a more egalitarian culture.
“Abdullah has a strong desire to see women advance in Saudi,” Fawzia al-Bakr, a women’s rights activist and professor at King Saud University, told Time magazine. “He wants them to work, he has given them scholarships [to Western universities], and now, with the Shura, he is tackling the most difficult issue in our society today: segregation. If you can get rid of segregation, then most of our problems will be solved.”
A Saudi official told Al-Yawm that the new policy stipulates that women may not use the bikes for transportation but “only for entertainment” and that they must not ride near men “to avoid harassment.”

 Katie McDonough is an assistant editor for Salon, focusing on lifestyle.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Biking to work, withouth the post-ride shine

St. Paul, Minn. — Surveys show that men account for more than two out of three of this country's bicycle riders.
Organizers of Bike Walk Week want to chip away at the imbalance. There are several events today in the Twin Cities encouraging women to bike and walk to work.
Part of the equation for some cyclists -- women or men -- is figuring out how to deal with the glow one acquires while pedaling.
Two weeks ago Rachel Bents went carless. Bents, a St. Paul consultant, works at home but has to attend meetings where on occasion business dress is appropriate. Bents says her recent decision to get rid of her car and rely more on her bike for commuting raises the perennial perspiration question. "How do I go to work, how am I presentable at a meeting? How do I go on a date even?" she said. "How do I do some of those things where traditionally it's not appropriate to be all sweaty?" The answer is go slow. Don't work too hard. This is confirmed by Mary Hansel Parlin who's been commuting by bike to work for 15 years.  Parlin is a high school teacher in Winona. Besides allowing plenty of time for the trip her other perspiration reducing solution is to plan a route of least resistance. "I also took a couple of practice runs," Parlin said. "You don't want to have it be your first day at work and you come in too sweaty or exhausted or late."

After perspiration another big issue raised by biking to work is fashion, what to wear. Mary Hansel Parlin remembers learning an important bike commuting fashion tip early on. "When my long skirt got caught in my chain and I wiped out on my way to school that was the last time I was foolish enough to wear a skirt, so I just have to bring extra clothes along," she said.
As a challenge to the bike commuting fashion gods, Rachel Bents shows up for our radio interview dressed for success just to show it can be done.
"I've got a dress on today, I actually wore heels today. I don't always wear heels when I'm biking," she said. "I feel like, 'OK, I can do this. Women in Europe do it all the time.'" And it's true. Rachel directs me to the Copenhagen cycle chic website filled with photos of women in Denmark dressed to the nines riding their bikes.
A growing number of employers are warming to the idea of biking and walking to work.
Every year during Bike Walk Week in Duluth, Carol Andrews' employer, Barr Engineering, stages a friendly competition. Employees win points if they ditch their car and bike or walk instead. "We had a gal up in Hibbing who said, 'Well, I'd like to do that but I live 30 miles away,' and I said what if you drove 15 miles and then biked the last 15 on the Mesabi Trail and she started doing that a couple days a week.," Andrews said. And that brings us to a central point raised by Bike Walk Week. Besides tips for combating perspiration and selecting the right apparel the annual event brings up the question of deciding where we live.
Carol Andrews says she and her husband selected a place to live that allows them to walk or bike to their jobs.
Same for Mary Hansel Parlin in Winona. "I think one of things that our family decided when we bought a house is where is everything and could we possibly bike or walk there," she said.

One of the most far reaching questions posed by Bike Walk Week is: What would America look like, how would cities and suburbs change, if more people made similar choices?

NPR News:
by Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
June 9, 2010

Romantic Graffiti