World champion female triathlete slams Saudi's 'gesture' of allowing women to cycle

Helen Russell says there is no move towards the independence cycling can give women

by Sarah Barth   April 7, 2013  

Saudi Arabia flag

A world champion female cyclist has slammed the move to allow women to ride bikes in Saudi Arabia, calling it gesture politics and saying that it gives women no more independence than they had before.

Helen Russell, from Bromsgrove, has written a column for Metro, saying that telling women to avoid riding in areas where there are young men, so as not to be harassed, means that "women’s lives have to be restricted to avoid men’s unacceptable behaviour."

An official from Saudi Arabia’s religious police quoted in the newspaper Al-Yawm said that women would be able to ride bicycles or motorbikes in recreational areas, with the proviso that they are accompanied by a male relative and also wear the abaya, the Islamic garment that covers the body from head to toe.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are banned from driving, and they will only be permitted to use two-wheelers “for entertainment” and not for transportation.

They have also been told to avoid locations where groups of young men gather “to avoid harassment.''

Helen says that for many women around the world, especially in Saudi where women are not allowed to drive, cycling represents more than a way to get about, or improve fitness.

She writes: "The bicycle has long been a symbol of women’s freedom and liberation. The advent of the bicycle had a profound affect on women’s position in society, giving them greater freedom to travel and become self-reliant. The bike was a tool of the suffragettes, who were able to travel and promote the right to vote around the country.

"Cycling still gives women the possibility of being independent and autonomous and gives women a way of transcending personal and social barriers."

She also points out the situation in Iran, where cycling is also frowned upon for half the population.

She writes: "During the Olympics Ayatollah Elm Alhuda, Friday prayer Imam in the holy city of Mashad, argued: ‘It is not a sin for a woman to sit on a bicycle saddle, provided she does so indoors or in her backyard.

‘But if she cycles in public her movements and posture will lead to corruption and prostitution.’"

And, she concludes, the measure is not really about women at all.

"The continued restrictions show that Saudi Arabia is not really serious about women’s equality. As with its inclusion of two women in the Saudi 2012 Olympic team, this change in the law is, in my opinion, merely a gesture to defend its position of trade partner and ally to the West."

3 user comments

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I think, seeing as she is so concerned about the women of Saudi Arabia cycling, they should give her a visa so she can show them how to do it. I think she wouldn't make it back to good ole Blighty in one piece.

I worked in Saudi for a few years and I like to cycle in the UK, but I wouldn't cycle in Saudi unless it was on a closed road or somewhere away from traffic. My wife doesn't much like driving in the UK, but she liked driving in the US. If I suggested that she drive in Saudi, she'd have thought I was trying to get rid of her Smile

Imagine the scenario, you're driving in the fast lane on the motorway going pretty quickly, then in your rear view mirror you see 2 land cruisers coming faster than you, only they are on both hard shoulders...

Or imagine you are at junction waiting for the light to go green. It does and you move off, perhaps not more than 10 meters when in the rear view mirror you see a car hit the curb at speed right where you was no more than 10 seconds before.

Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Although there are nice recreational areas. They are closed and are usually frequented by families and cycling in them wouldn't be so much of an issue...but perhaps at night is better. It can reach 50 degrees c.

Or put your bike in the car and drive somewhere far and deserted...petrol was 10p per litre when I was there.

posted by ronin [81 posts]
7th April 2013 - 23:06

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Let's get this straight. The Saudi's are not a race they are a construct put in place by the British and impose their ultra radical version of Islam (Wahhabi) to oppress women and any other detractor who disagrees with their warped world view. The ruling Saudi men (and they are all men) / religious police (i.e. fascists) are foul scum who will be first in line for the prostitutes and cocaine when in London and first in line to execute a women who has been raped when in Saudi Arabia. They are hypocrites and shits that deserve all the derision there is.

posted by Dropped [32 posts]
10th April 2013 - 20:10

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Its normal for the 'Metro' to promote hatred/divide an rule type opinions.
While Saudi is clearly WAY behind the times, it has to be viewed as a positive step that they are even debating such things.

Getting someone like Helen Russell from Bromsgrove to 'slam them' in a uk free paper does nothing but give fuel to the ignorant xenophobics that can get on their high horse and be disgusted by 'those awfull Saudi's' (eg see Dropped's comments below)

Thanks to ronin for a more practical/educated viewpoint Nerd

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posted by Paulo [107 posts]
11th April 2013 - 15:44

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