Photo by Tanti Ruwani
In the Indonesian district of Aceh, women have been told that they are no longer allowed to straddle a motorbike behind a man. Spreading your legs for a bike seat is now considered to be a direct violation of Islamic law, because it supposedly makes women look masculine. Instead, they have been told to sit side-saddle, which – for those of you lucky enough to have not endured a Jane Austen novel – is a move pretty much unheard of since the 1800s that basically entails balancing on your vehicle (usually a horse), perched sideways with your legs dangling over the side, ensuring both the ultimate in virginal, feminine presentation and, eventually, a gruesome, twisted end under your own back wheel.
This forward-looking, totally non-intrusive piece of legislation is part of a general crackdown of the practiced Sharia law in Aceh. Other big, important ideas from the series of new bills include banning Acehnese women from wearing skinny jeans, and allowing people to beat up gays and throw rocks at adulterers. Informative leaflets on the matters have already been sent out to government offices and residents of the province and, if all goes according to plan, these hopeful little dreams will become rock solid law within the month.
Those looking for it have been somewhat hard-pressed to find the bit about motorbikes in the Qur'an, but Suaidi Yahya – mayor of Lhokseumawe, the second largest city in Aceh – is insisting that the side-saddling idea does in fact work under Sharia law, aiming to save people's "morals and behaviours".
“Women sitting on motorbikes must not sit astride because it will provoke the male driver. It’s also to protect women from an undesirable condition […] It’s improper for women to sit astride. We implement Islamic law here.”
In case Acehnese women were under the impression that this bizarre new plan was going to be to their detriment, Mayor Yahya added the touching afterthought: "We wish to honour women with this ban, because they are delicate creatures." I'm assuming, of course, that all of this was said while he bashfully hid his battered copy of Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads from view. Oh, Suaidi, you absolute romantic, you.
The mayor has since told his people that passengers who sit side-saddle "rarely" fall off, which is obviously hugely comforting news for all the women preparing to flirt with paralysis every time they hop on a motorbike. In the UK, we're less convinced. Besides making you look like a twee, parasol-owning retrophile who dictates the aesthetics of their life according to Etsy's "Most Popular" page, perching sideways and dangling off a motorbike is completely illegal under Section 23 of the Road Traffic Act of 1988. But that's just bureaucratic, health and safety-mad Britain, I suppose.
Unsurprisingly, Arab activists have already taken to the internet to voice their concerns. Ulil Abshar Abdalla, a well-known Muslim activist based in Jakarta, tweeted "How to ride a motorbike is not regulated in Sharia. There is no mention of it in the Koran or Hadiths […] In a democratic country, what is claimed to be Sharia must be assessed by the public's common sense if the government aims to turn the regulation into law."
The mayor of Lhokseumawe hasn't made any retorts to Abdalla's claims yet, but no doubt his most logical and straightforward piece of common sense so far would shut him right up: "When you see a woman straddle, she looks like a man. But if she sits side-saddle, she looks like a woman.” Thanks for the heads up, Suaidi. Maybe I'll start getting some dates out of my scooter now I know what I've been doing wrong.
Follow Rebecca on Twitter: @RebeccaCFitz
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