Authorities in the Indonesian province of Aceh are pressing ahead with the move to bring in a Sharia law that would mean that women riding pillion on motorcycles would have to sit side-saddle, rather than straddling the bike in the traditional way.
When rumors of the proposed law first emerged, human rights activists and those proud of the country’s secular heritage were quick to criticize the move, saying that it was discriminatory.
However authorities in Aceh are determined to push ahead with the proposal, stating that the ban was necessary because the “curves of a woman’s body” are much more visible when sat straddled on a motorbike, instructing that they sit side-saddle instead. The proposed ban would also prohibit the woman from holding on to the driver of the bike.
The province of Aceh brought in a version of Sharia law in 2009 after gaining autonomy in 2005 in an agreement that saw an end to a long-lasting separatist war. Aceh is devoutly Islamic by Indonesian standards, but not in comparison to many areas of the Middle East or Pakistan. The Sharia laws in Aceh focus on public morality and the regulation of the way women in the region dress. It also requires shops and other establishments to close during prayer times and has a special unit to enforce these rules that are allowed to inflict public canings. The canings however are more about humiliation than to inflict actual harm on the sufferer.
Earlier in the week, authorities in the north of Aceh distributed notices to government offices and villages detailing the proposed law.
Suaidi Yahya, mayor of the Aceh city of Lhokseumawe, said that the ban was needed because straddling a motorbike displays the curves of a woman’s body and “Muslim women are not allowed to show their curves, it’s against Islamic teachings.”
Home Ministry officials are moving to block the law because they feel it is discriminatory, but President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government, which needs the support of Muslim political parties, has yet to officially comment about the proposed ban.
Apparently, riding side-saddle on a motorbike is quite common in much of south-east Asia, especially for women wearing skirts.
I’m no health and safety expert, but I’ve spent a lot of time riding pillion on motorbikes and the idea of riding side-saddle sounds incredibly dangerous to me as does the part of the law that forbids the woman from holding onto the driver!