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Ban on 'straddling motorbikes' draws Indonesia outcry

An Acehnese woman rides on the back of a motorcycle in Banda Aceh on January 2.

Story highlights

  • A city in Indonesia may prohibit women wearing pants and "straddling" bikes
  • The central government could step in and prohibit the law, which hasn't be formally passed
  • Mayor: Law will "save women from things that will cause them to violate Shariah law"
  • Indonesia human rights advocates were upset by the move, calling it discriminatory

The central government may step in to stop a city in Aceh province from prohibiting women from wearing pants and "straddling" motorbikes or bicycles, requiring women to instead ride two-wheel vehicles "sidesaddle."

The mayor of the town of Lhokseumawe told the Jakarta Globe this week that the town planned to submit the new rule because "we've seen that people's behaviors and morals are getting far from Aceh's Islamic cultural values."

Photos: Women of Indonesia

"We want to save women from things that will cause them to violate Shariah law. We wish to honor women with this ban, because they are delicate creatures," the Globe quoted Mayor Suaidi Yahya as saying.

Home Affairs Ministry spokesman Reydonnyzar Moenek said "the proposed regulations need to be clarified and evaluated by the home affairs minister before the local government can issue it as a decree."

"There have been criticisms that the proposed decree is discriminatory and has a gender bias," said Reydonnyzar. However, he added that local regulations, particularly for Aceh -- which has a special autonomy status -- need to reflect the local culture, traditions and aspirations of citizens.

Read more: Muslim protests may force cancellation of Lady Gaga concert in Indonesia

The ministry will wait for the Lhokseumawe authorities to submit the draft for consideration, the spokesman said. The ministry can repeal local regulations.

In 2012, Jakarta identified 173 local regulations that were contradictory to national laws and interests, the ministry spokesman said. Some were Shariah-based laws; others were regulations considered unfavorable towards investment and business.

Indonesia human rights advocates were upset by the move. "Why deal with something like (straddling)?" asked Destika Gilang Lestari, Aceh coordinator for the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, a nongovernment organization. "The mayor should focus on the fulfillment of the rights of victims of conflict that still needs the government's attention," as well as poverty alleviation and social welfare, she added.

The area was hardest hit by the 2004 South Asia tsunami, which killed tens of thousands across 14 countries. In 2005, the Indonesian government and Aceh rebel signed a peace treaty that ended nearly 30 years of fighting in a civil war that killed 15,000 people.

Read more: Indonesia: The newest BRIC?

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