News / Asia

    Aceh Town Bans Women From Straddling Motorbikes

    An Acehnese woman straddles on a motorbike on a road in Lhokseumawe, Aceh province, Indonesia, January 7, 2013.
    An Acehnese woman straddles on a motorbike on a road in Lhokseumawe, Aceh province, Indonesia, January 7, 2013.
    Kate Lamb
    In Indonesia’s province of Aceh, where Islamic law governs, adultery, gambling, tight jeans and Mohawk haircuts are outlawed by religious police. Now, women passengers have been banned from straddling motorbikes. The new bylaw has sparked strong criticism with activists saying that discriminatory regulations, seemingly justified by Islam, are undermining Indonesia’s pluralist reputation.
     
    In the Aceh town of Lhokseumawe, the moral crusade continues.  
     
    Town Mayor Suaidi Yahya says local morals are slipping - and it’s ‘impolite’ for women to straddle motorbikes.
     
    Religious leaders have expressed support for the new regulation, but women’s groups say it is ridiculous and unfair. They say local laws enacted in the name of religion and morality have disproportionately affected women.
     
    Andi Yetriyani from the national body on women’s rights says the bylaw is a big step backwards for Aceh, and for Indonesia. 

    “Basically this is a discriminatory regulation against women," Yetriyani stated. "It is also undermining the whole movement for advancing human rights in Indonesia.”
     
    So why aren’t Achenese women taking to the streets?
     
    Yetriyani says it’s not so easy. 

    “These bylaws you know are framed under the sharia, so many of the Indonesian people do not dare to challenge it because you [they] will be condemned as against Islam,” Yetriyani said.
     
    Women’s groups in Aceh say the local ordinance is a waste of money - as more moral police will be recruited to enforce it.
     
    They argue that regional funds would be better spent on improving health and education.
     
    Aceh was granted regional autonomy when a peace deal between the central government and Achenese separatists was brokered in Helsinki in 2005.
     
    Since the agreement, and the subsequent introduction of sharia law, reports of human rights violations have steadily increased.
     
    Andreas Harsono from Human Rights Watch says that a number of local laws in Aceh violate freedom of expression, association and religion. 

    “These violations not only violate international human rights law but also violate the Helsinki agreement between Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement in which both sides agreed they are to protect and promote human rights,” he said.
     
    The Indonesian Home Affairs Ministry says it will review and potentially repeal the motorbike bylaw.
     
    The ministry has blocked more than 2,000 local laws across the country, but it has never revoked a sharia bylaw in Aceh.
     
    Critics say the central government is reluctant to condemn hardline Islamic views.
     
    But in Aceh, freedom of expression and association continue to be restricted on the grounds of Islamic morality. And minority religious groups are also under pressure.  Almost 30 churches were shut down in the province last year.
     
    Harsono says that Islam in Indonesia is starting to bear some uncomfortable parallels with Pakistan - and that moderate voices are being drowned out.
     
    “The thing is, more radical fundamentalist Muslim speakers are more outspoken. The battle is still going on. We still do not know what will be coming out of it. Although, we are nervous to see statistically the number of discriminatory bylaws are increasing," Harsono noted. "So I’m afraid it is going to be a long dark era. When will it end? When will it be enough is enough?”
     
    In a country where the majority of the population holds moderate Islamic views, Aceh is the only Indonesian province governed by sharia law.
     
    Aceh residents have been informed the new bylaw is expected to be implemented in the coming months.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Aurora from: Montana
    January 14, 2013 9:56 PM
    The women in Indonesia and their husbands need to band together to fight this absurd rule in the name of safety on the roads.

    (Helmets should be mandatory)

    by: NVO from: USA
    January 14, 2013 5:05 PM
    NEVER, EVER, bow down to any regime, at any time. Keep riding girls. IN YOUR FACE, REGIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    by: Zach from: Wisconsin
    January 14, 2013 11:41 AM
    It's sad that these 'leaders' cannot avert their own eyes from something they feel is a sexual deviancy and instead blame women for their sexually gluttonous eyes

    by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
    January 11, 2013 4:12 PM
    I find it amazing, that almost 30 churches were shut down, and all the human rights organizations, especially in the EU, are once again looking the other way on-basic human rights. And any one that has ridden a motorcycle knows, that if you do not straddle the bike, your safety is seriously impared. The municipal by-law generators, should be personally responsible to provide a car, at their expense, to all the families that can only afford motorcycles, so that women can ride in a safe manner. Not stradling the motorcycle is extremely unsafe.... Stupidity in the name of religion has no bounds.
    In Response

    by: SINI RAO from: DARIEN, ILLINOIS USA
    January 28, 2013 11:59 AM
    Any one who thinks women are different when it comes to performing tasks are second to Men is nothing but non sense.
    The straddling is safety issue. There should be no gender bias
    when asessing the performance of day to day tasks are concerned. Islam and Women will never go together. Islam always treats women as second class to Men though both sexes in Islam are equal in all other respects. This should be
    discouraged especially VOA. Just think of it and let us get the
    message out.
    In Response

    by: Ny from: Canada
    January 20, 2013 11:39 PM
    Quote: " And any one that has ridden a motorcycle knows, that if you do not straddle the bike, your safety is seriously impared."
    ___________________________________

    Agree.
    In Response

    by: Marbun Mbn from: Indonesia
    January 11, 2013 9:46 PM
    Probably, for some myopic religious leaders, straddling motorbike is a wrong human right...

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