There are some changes going on in Saudi Arabia, one of the most conservative theocracies in the world, and a new step towards modernization is the fact that Saudi women are now allowed to ride bicycles. Also, Saudi women will finally be allowed to drive cars this summer. These changes are casting new light on the life of Saudi women, because faster and efficient traveling and transportation have become a necessity.
Amirah al-Turkistani, a Saudi national who studied in Boston for a while, used to ride a bike while on studies and wanted to continue with this activity when she relocated back to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. But at that time, in 2015, this seemed like a silly idea. After the government adopted the new policy women in Saudi Arabia are experiencing new freedoms. “Jeddah today isn’t the same as Jeddah five, six years ago,” Amirah said. “The scrutiny on clothes (has eased), there’s more places to go, working opportunities for women are the same as for men”, Patheos reported.
The women must still be covered in an abaya (loose-fitting, full-length robes) while riding a bike; sports textiles are still out of the question. Abayas are required public dress for Saudi women and they were traditionally black, but they are also changing so now women can choose from several colors of abayas.
In the 21st century it seems strange that there is a country where women are not allowed to ride a bike or drive a car. A country where some basic rights have to be specially allowed by government. But it is important to bear in mind that Saudi Arabia is still a country where religious police watch public spaces to enforce conservative dress rules, bans on music and alcohol, prayer-time store closures and the mixing of unrelated men and women. The government is still strongly protecting religion rules and that is why these small steps are important, both for Saudi women and men.
It looks like Saudi Arabia has been changing from its more traditional past in recent years. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, has made some modernization efforts and the list of various proscribed behaviors is getting smaller. For example, movie theaters are no longer banned and a new movie theater is opening in Riyadh. Those measures are all part of a reform program aimed at modernizing the kingdom and reducing its economy’s dependence on oil. But still not all Saudi women have the same rights and the level of their freedom depends on their husbands or male relatives. Tribal customs and religious conservatism still have a crucial impact on the lives of Saudi people and they can only hope that these small steps are leading to something bigger.
Photo Credits: StaticFlickr