Authorities in Indonesia’s Aceh province are moving full-steam ahead with yet another implementation of sharia law, this time banning women from straddling motorcycles. According to the law, women are only allowed to ride “side-saddle” and are prohibited from holding onto the driver for support. The reason? Apparently, straddling a motorcycle is not a matter of practicality or safety for the sharia-authorities of Aceh, rather, it is about “showing a woman’s curves.”
Of course the rule sounds absurd, because it is. It obviously makes it impossible for women to ride as passengers given that they cannot do so safely while perched side-saddle, their arms dangling to and fro. And, since straddling is the verboten act here, it is also makes it clear that women are now forbidden from actually driving themselves on motorbikes as well.
In other words, the primary mode of transportation for everyday people in cities across Indonesia has now been made unattainable to women, leaving them without the means to function independently. The law is slated to move forward despite reported opposition from the central government, according to the Associated Press.
Aceh introduced a version of sharia law in 2009 after it gained autonomy from the government in a 2005 peace deal to end a long-running separatist war in the region. The Aceh laws regulate public morality, women’s dress and require public businesses to close at prayer time. The laws are enforced by a special unit and the punishments include public caning. The AP adds:
On Monday, authorities in northern Aceh distributed a notice to government offices and villages informing residents of the proposed law, which would apply to adolescent girls and women. It states that women are not allowed to straddle motorbikes unless it’s an “emergency,” and are not allowed to hold onto the driver.
Suaidi Yahya, mayor of the Aceh city of Lhokseumawe, said a ban was needed because the “curves of a woman’s body” are more visible when straddling a motorbike than when sitting sideways with legs dangling.
“Muslim women are not allowed to show their curves, it’s against Islamic teachings,” he said. The mayor declined to give the AP details of what the punishment would be for violators.
Meanwhile Home Ministry officials told local media they will attempt to block the law as they deem it discriminatory.
According to the AP, riding sidesaddle on a motorbike is actually not uncommon in Southeast Asia, particularly for women wearing skirts. Obviously, women maintain that they feel safer straddling the bike.
Nurjanah Ismail, a lecturer on gender issues at the Ar Raniry Islamic Institute in Aceh’s capital is critical of the proposed law:
“There is no need to question this practice, let alone regulate it, because people do it for safety,” she said. “Women sitting in that way cannot be considered bad or in violation of Shariah. Islam is beautiful, so do not make it difficult.”
Nonetheless, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who relies on the support of Muslim political parties, has not condemned, nor even challenged the laws, according to AP.