12 April 2018

Her Spirit Lives On--In Saudi Arabia

I know I've mentioned it a number of times, but I never get tired of repeating it.  I'm talking about something Susan B. Anthony said--namely, that the bicycle has done more than anything else to liberate women.

More than a century after she made that observation, it has shown itself to be true, again, in a number of countries--even in one of the nations that has long been one of the most oppressive for women.

I am talking about Saudi Arabia.  For decades, women haven't been allowed to do much of anything without the approval of some male relative.  If they wanted to open a bank account, they had to have a husband's, father's or brother's signature.  If they wanted to travel abroad, they could do so only in the company of a related man.  Police officers were deployed to enforce bans on females mixing with unrelated males in public venues.

Some public venues, such as cinemas, didn't exist at all.

Some things women weren't allowed to do at all, such as driving--and riding a bicycle.

All of this was aided and abetted by the US taxpayer, which propped up the repressive House Of Saud in exchange for allowing the US to build military bases in the kingdom--and, yes, cheap petrol.

But since this is not a blog about foreign policy, I want to concentrate on a change that's brewing, however slowly, in the land of the hajj.  It is embodied in, among other women, Amirah al-Turkistani.  

Amirah al-Turkistani on her bicycle

After earning her graduate degree in 2015, she left Boston and returned to her home country.  She brought her pistachio-colored bicycle back with her.  Friends mocked her.  "What are you going to do, hang it on the wall?" one taunted her.

Now she is riding her beloved machine all over Jeddah, the Red Sea town where she lives with her husband and kids.  She has inspired other women to do the same and one can't help but to think that women like them are inspiring, if not pressuring, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to ease some social restrictions.  They include the ban on women driving, which will end this summer.

Al-Turkistani says she plans to drive, not because she really wants to drive, but to show solidarity with other women who are enjoying newfound liberties.  Also, it will greatly help her in her work as a freelance designer and college lecturer.  Still, she says, she plans to continue cycling.