It’s a hot spring day in Tehran, and Negin, a 32-year-old IT manager, is riding her mountain bike through a park. “I love my bike. I often go cycling in the countryside with a group,” she says. “I also cycle in the city, when I go to visit my mother, for example. I think the number of women cycling in Tehran is growing. I even have a friend who goes to work on her bike. I would love to do that, but it’s too far and we don’t have showers at work.”
What Negin is saying might not sound strange, if it weren’t for the fact that she’s a woman, on a bike, in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In spite of the heat, Negin is conforming to the dress code – she wears long sleeves and leggings, a headscarf under her helmet and a skirt covering her hips – but religious leaders at the highest level in Iran are clear: women on bikes constitute a threat to morality.
The question has become a hotly debated point in Tehran in recent months, as the city grapples with two truly dire problems: air pollution and traffic congestion, both some of the world’s worst. With cars choking Iran’s cities, campaigns to encourage cycling are picking up speed.
When we heard the fatwa banning women from cycling, we immediately rented two bicycles
Woman who tweeted using #IranianWomenLoveCycling
In autumn of 2015, a young environmentalist in Arak, a city with pollution levels even more staggering than Tehran, started a “car-free Tuesday” campaign to encourage people to commute by bike. The campaign caught on, and other cities followed suit. Municipal authorities across the country began encouraging residents to ride bikes and leave their cars at home.
Women cyclists, naturally enough, saw an opportunity to support a good cause that everybody in Iran could agree on: clean air. After all, there is no law in Iran that officially forbids women to cycle.
But when women in Marivan, a city in west Iran, took to their bikes, they were arrested by police – despite having explicitly followed the advice of the local authorities to cycle instead of drive.
They were released the same day, but only after signing pledges to not ride bicycles again. Marivan residents later protested in an open letter to local authorities.
Shortly afterwards, Iran’s vice president for women’s affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, posted a photograph of women cycling on her official Twitter account. Under it, she quoted the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying: “Women’s cycling is permissible on the condition that religious customs are observed.”
Subsequently, in an article in the pro-government Tehran Times, a female journalist quoted a government official who supported female cyclists, and concluded: “As long as there is no violation of the dress code, women should be free to ride bicycles on the street.”
Hopes, however, were crushed when Khamenei issued a fatwa in September 2016, stating women were allowed to ride bikes – just not in public.
The fatwa sparked a reaction from female cyclists, who posted photographs on social media of themselves on their bikes, with the hashtag #IranianWomenLoveCycling.
Source » theguardian