Rights groups yesterday urged the Indonesian government to block a proposed law banning women from sitting astride motorcycles in deeply Islamic Aceh Province, where the position is deemed “improper.”
The mayor of Lhokseumawe City in Aceh, where Shariah law is enforced, circulated a letter on Monday explaining the obligation for women to sit side-saddle was “to avoid immoral acts.”
“Adult women who are riding on the back of a motorbike ... cannot straddle unless in an emergency,” Lhokseumawe City Mayor Suaidi Yahya’s letter read, adding that the ban included women straddling female drivers.
The official said last week that women sitting astride motorcycles would “provoke the male driver” and that it would be against Islamic law.
The letter also proposed banning men and women from hugging and holding hands while on vehicles, and banning tight or scanty clothing in public.
The move comes after leaders from Aceh, the country’s only province ruled by Shariah law, drafted a series of new bills including banning women from wearing tight trousers, stoning adulterers and flogging homosexuals.
Local women’s rights activists have rejected the proposed ban “because it completely ignores the safety principles for driving,” said Roslina Rasyid from the Indonesian Women’s Association for Justice legal aid group in Lhokseumawe.
“Sitting astride guarantees better safety and I’m sure most people can only side-saddle for 15 minutes. What if the person is overweight and causes an imbalance? It could cause an accident,” she added.
Andy Yentriyani, an activist with the Indonesian National Commission on Violence Against Women, said the policy was “part of discriminative policies on women in this country in the name of religion and morality.”
The central government said it could not review the straddling ban because it was not yet formalized as a bylaw and did not include punishments.
Local media reported that the Indonesian minister of the interior said he would review the bylaw if it passed.
However, the ministry’s regional autonomy director-generall, Djohermansyah Djohan, who would oversee any revision, said: “We’ll just leave it to people of Aceh to decide whether to accept it or not.”