Thousands of ‘Fancy Women on Bikes’ Defy Intimidation to Claim the streets of Turkey

Women’s Voices salutes courageous women everywhere—especially women who must summon up courage just to participate in the ordinary activities of daily life. In some Middle Eastern countries, for instance, only a daring woman will defy patriarchal tradition by hopping on a bike and traveling her city’s streets.

In Afghanistan, to do so is “incredibly risky,” Canadian cycling advocate Shannon Gilpin notes in CBC News.  “They’re harassed, rocks are thrown at them, they are targeted by motor vehicles. But also their honour is at risk, and the honour of their family for allowing their girl to ride a bike.” Why? Because it is considered obscene for a woman to straddle a bike, and because cycling allows a woman (horrors!) independence of movement.

That’s why the news that thousands of women took part in the recent “Fancy Women on Bikes” event in Turkey is so heartening. At 3 p.m., hundreds of well-dressed women began cycling along Istanbul’s coastline, while thousands more, in 25 other provinces, did the same.

But it takes courage. Banu Gokariksel, a feminist scholar of geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Didem Tali of Women in the World, “The rising social conservatism in Turkey in the recent years deteriorated women’s public status and freedom. With harassment and road bullying, women are denied their rights to the city. . . . Regardless of their backgrounds, transportation is a big issue for all women around the world. Women being able to peacefully ride bikes isn’t a trivial thing. This movement can trigger bigger changes, if it can overcome the differences such as class, religion, ideology and ethnicity.”  Sema Gur, who declares that learning to cycle at 38 “changed everything for me,” sparked the formation of Fancy Women on Bikes. The group’s highly reasonable motto: “We should go wherever we want, dress however we like, be visible, yet not be disturbed.”

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