A Law Against Girls Riding Bikes?
The girl is actually a fictional character from the film, “Wadjda.” But she likely represents plenty of real Saudi girls. They may not yearn for bicycles, especially, but they may have other forbidden dreams.
Six months after “Wadjda” premiered, Saudi law declared bicycling legal for girls and women. But the continuing restrictions reveal why it was ever banned.
Girls and women may now ride bikes for recreation. But not for transportation. And they must be accompanied by a male relative.
Women cannot drive cars for transportation, either. A “chaperone” cab driver may take women places — if they can afford it.
Relatedly, work outside the home is discouraged.
Human Rights Watch explains,
Under the “male guardianship system,” Saudi women need the permission of a male relative—husband, father or brother—to travel, accept employment, open a bank account, or access medical care.
And women haven’t been able to change the system because they can’t vote or run for office until 2015. Even then they will be restricted to local elections. (And how do you run for office with your face covered?)
All to preserve a woman’s virtue, they say. So who’s protecting men’s virtue from all this stuff?
Funny how virtue overlaps with a lack of power and autonomy.
Which leads me to thinking about all those working to limit women’s power and autonomy in our own backyard — to “preserve our virtue,” of course. These folks say a woman’s place is in the home. And they want to keep women and girls from accessing sex education, the HPV vaccine, contraception, and an abortion.
Lacking control over their bodies and reproductive lives, women will be less able to earn their own money. They will have more babies and become more dependent on their husbands. Especially if they also believe that their place is in the home.
Ten-year-old Wadjda’s bike is a symbol of independence. Plenty of us would like a chance to ride that bicycle.