A few women in Iran were recently arrested for riding their bicycles in public and were then ordered to write pledges promising never to carry out their “violation” again. Women who attempted to fight the charges were promptly arrested by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. This is not the first time women riding bicycles in Iran has become the subject of public controversy. Especially considering “women’s modesty laws” and other dress laws are widespread, so much so that separate bike lanes are provided for women, but in some areas where those lanes are unavailable and women are prevented from riding bicycles entirely.
Iran has never been considered a pinnacle of feminism or human rights, but the situation has become markedly worse in recent years. So much so that a recent UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office report highlighted a few particular pieces of Iranian legislation set to set women’s rights in Iran back even further than they are already. One such piece of legislation would put limits on women applying for jobs in order to stop further women from entering the work place, it also prohibited the use of birth control because “family planning is an imitation of Western lifestyles.” This comment was paired with a call to “double Iran’s population” and in combination with workplace restrictions the Ayatolla Ali Khamenei’s motivations become obvious.
The bills are still being debated in the Iranian parliament, but the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office report suspected those pieces of legislation would be enacted in the second half of 2016. Women are not first class citizens in Iran and these pieces of legislation would make that fact even more apparent, but considering widespread Human Rights abuses in general, it doesn’t seem likely any effort for expansive gender equality will take off in Iran any time soon.
The same rational that was used to ban birth control is used to imprison activists, protestors, and dissenting journalists regularly. All of this in an attempt to purge any “Western influence” from Iranian life. This has consistently made headlines and is a staple of anti-Iranian rhetoric and for good reason, the country has a long way to go in respect to fundamental human rights. For Iranian women, it’s even worse, and women’s rights in Iran seem to be in a precarious position on a very slippery slope.
Iranian women going to jail for riding a bike isn’t a new thing, but neither are general human rights abuses in the country. Unfortunately it looks like things will only continue to get worse for Iranians pushing for liberal change, especially those pushing for gender equality. Iranian modesty laws, like the ones that sent women to jail for riding bicycles, are just one symptom of a much larger problem.