Saudi Women Can Now Ride Bicycles in Public (Kind of)

Women in Saudi Arabia can now ride bicycles in public, but officials are saying “only for entertainment.”

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FRANCK FIFE / AFP / Getty Images

Saudi Arabia's Sarah Attar competes in the women's 800m heats at the athletics event of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 8, 2012 in London.

Riding a bicycle is one activity that most take for granted, whether it is for recreational purposes or to get from Point A to Point B. But women in Saudi Arabia have been denied the opportunity to ride bicycles in public, until now. Saudi women can now ride motorbikes and bicycles, however, only in restricted, recreational areas, according to the Associated Press.

The Saudi newspaper the Al-Yawm cited an unnamed official from the kingdom’s religious police saying that women are allowed to 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, the AP reported.

The official reportedly specified that women aren’t allowed to use bicycles for transportation purposes, “only for entertainment,” and they are being advised to avoid places where young men may congregate “to avoid harassment.”

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The Think Progress blog from the Center for American Progress Action Fund wondered whether allowing women to ride bikes was a step forward for women’s rights in the country where an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam is followed. The blog noted that it was a baby step, in a series of other small steps in recent years.

Last year, Saudi Arabia sent a woman to the Olympic Games in London – a first for the country. In 2011, King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run in municipal elections starting in 2015. The Saudi King also recently appointed 30 women to the country’s consultative Shura Council, which is the closest thing it has to a parliament and was previously all-male.

But Saudi Arabia, known for its stultifying, draconian morality laws, still has a long way to go. A recent TIME article looking at the expanding rights for women in Saudi Arabia noted the backlash against women in the Shura has been strong, but the counter-backlash has been equally as vocal. The article noted that, “From the outside, progress on women’s rights in the kingdom may appear to be mired in tar,” but “from the perspective of women inside the country, dizzying changes are afoot.”

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