Iraqi woman defies social norms to ride bicycle through Baghdad in viral photo

Published November 28th, 2016 - 01:45 GMT
A woman cycling is a rare sight in Baghdad (Pixabay)
A woman cycling is a rare sight in Baghdad (Pixabay)

A young Iraqi woman has stirred debate about gender norms and social conservatism in her country after sharing a photo of herself cycling through the streets of Baghdad

Marina Rada posted the picture, taken by photographer Ayman al-Amiri, on her Facebook page, accompanied with the caption: “I am society”. It has since been shared on a number of other Iraqi pages, where it has gained hundreds of likes and received many supportive comments. 

There’s no problem, in fact quite the opposite, it’s really great.

Good for her. I support this idea. May God help you and all open minded people to succeed and please don't talk to me about customs and traditions because the girl isn't doing anything wrong.

In fact, many young Iraqis took it as an opportunity to open up a debate around social norms, and to push for greater openness in society’s attitudes towards women:

Everyone is saying that it’s not a problem, but these people, if their sisters or wives did this, he would immediately say "isn't it shameful - what will people say?"

I hope you go to Europe and then come back to Iraq, you'll see how backwards we are. I swear two days ago [here, in Sweden] an old 85-year-old woman went out with a bicycle, and she rode it, and it’s completely normal, no-one even looked at her.#DamnOurTraditions

It has to be not one but 40 or 50 bicycles so that everyone is not surprised by just one person.

In fact, negative voices were very much in the minority:

This shouldn’t be allowed, out of respect for the traditions of the area.

Like in many of its neighbouring countries, social conservatism prevails in Iraq, where a family’s honour is often felt to depend upon the perceived modesty of its girls.

The freedom to ride a bicycle has often been seen as symbolic of the fight for women’s equal rights in the Arab world. The award-winning 2012 Saudi film Wadjda shows a young girl’s fight against social norms to own a bicycle, contrary to the wishes of her family and school.

In Egypt this month, five young women launched a campaign called "There is No Difference" to promote women’s cycling in the northern city of Port Said. They hosted a mixed-gender mass bike ride to kick off their campaign. 


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