Islamic Police Axe Ban on Saudi Women Riding Motorcycles and Bikes? Sort of…

When it comes to women and their bicycle, motorcycle and car-driving rights, some Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries surely have some intriguing — and restrictive — rules.

We already told you about an Indonesian city’s ban on women straddling motorcycles. Of course, while odd, this wasn’t entirely surprising. In Saudi Arabia, too, women aren’t free to ride these modes of transportation without restriction. And, as we’ve extensively highlighted, females are also not permitted to drive vehicles in that country.

But it seems the tide may be changing. A Saudi newspaper is reporting that the kingdom’s religious police are now allowing women to ride motorbikes and bicycles — but only in restricted, recreational areas.

Photo Credit: AP

The Al-Yawm daily on Monday cited an unnamed official from the powerful religious police as saying women can 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.

“Women are free to ride bikes in parks, seafronts, among other areas, providing that they are wearing fully modest dress and a male guardian has to be present in case of falls or accidents,” the report read, according to Alarabiya.

Considering the latter requirement — the abaya — one wonders how safe riding in this manner will be for the women. After all, this is a large cloak of sorts that could, theoretically, pose a safety hazard on motorcycles and bikes, alike.

According to Alarabiya, Samia al-Bawardi, a non-profit leader, warned women against riding in these outfits.

“Wearing abayas and erratic driving could result in terrible accidents,” she told al-Yaum.

A Saudi woman arrives at a shopping mall in Riyadh on January 12, 2013. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia follows an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam and bans women from driving. Women are also banned from riding motorcycles or bicycles in public places. The newspaper didn’t say what triggered the lifting of the ban.

The official says women may not use the bikes for transportation but “only for entertainment” and that they should shun places where young men gather “to avoid harassment.”

So, there you have it. A lift on restrictive measures…sort of.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.