Women in Iran had long assumed that they could bicycle in public if they respected the country’s strict dress code
Isfahan is known as the city of bicycles, a reputation forged by its many cycling lanes, a bike-sharing system, and a government that actively promotes biking — that is, unless you are a woman.
The prosecutor in Iran’s third largest city announced on May 14 that women have been banned from cycling in public, saying it was “haram,” or prohibited under Islam.
Women had long assumed that they could bicycle in public if they respected Iran’s strict dress code, which requires women to cover their hair and body in public.
In 2016, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared to crush the notion with a fatwa explicitly banning women from cycling in public, but it was not strictly enforced.
Now, Isfahan’s announcement is being taken as a sign that authorities are enforcing Khamenei’s fatwa, adding to the long list of activities that Iranian women are deprived of taking part in.
Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the clerical establishment has enforced Islamic laws denying women equal rights in divorce and inheritance, prohibiting women from traveling abroad without the permission of a male relative, and attending major men’s sports events.
Prosecutor Ali Isfahani said police in Isfahan had been ordered to warn women against biking. He said police would confiscate the bikes of those who resisted, adding that repeat offenders would be subject to “Islamic punishment,” without elaborating.
The fatwa was declared months after environmental activists in the western city of Arak launched a campaign — Car-Free Tuesdays — to tackle high levels of air pollution in the country.
But the campaign was aborted after a group of female cyclists were detained in the western city of Marivan following criticism from the city’s Friday Prayers leader. The women were released, but only after they signed pledges not to cycle again.