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Local officials delay sidesaddle
regulation

It’s our right: Two women ride a motorbike in the straddling position in front of Baiturrahman Mosque in Banda Aceh on Monday. The Lhokseumawe mayor was under fire recently for his plan to ban women from straddling motorcycles. Human rights activists strongly opposed the idea. JP/Hotli Simanjuntak
It’s our right: Two women ride a motorbike in the straddling position in front of Baiturrahman Mosque in Banda Aceh on Monday. The Lhokseumawe mayor was under fire recently for his plan to ban women from straddling motorcycles. Human rights activists strongly opposed the idea. JP/Hotli Simanjuntak

The administration of Lhokseumawe, Aceh, on Monday indefinitely postponed its plan to disseminate a circular on the issuance of a proposed bylaw banning women from straddling motorcycles, possibly due to rising public resistance.

“The circular has been signed by the Lhokseumawe mayor and the city’s legislative council speaker,” said the administration’s secretary, Dasni Yuzar, adding that it had not yet been distributed.

At a number of street corners in Lhokseumawe, several banners supporting the policy were on public display, including one sponsored by the Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI).

Arguing that straddling a motorcycle was “improper” in a province governed by Islamic law, Lhokseumawe Mayor Suaidi Yahya said that women should ride sidesaddle on motorcycles, with their legs dangling off to one side.

The planned regulation had been discussed with many parties, including local ulema, Suaidi said in his 2013 New Year’s speech.

The mayor said that the ban would restore fading local values caused by poor morality and make it easier to differentiate women from men as motorcycle passengers.

He said that the planned regulation would uphold the dignity of women in the region.

Responding to the resulting controversy, Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi said in Bogor, West Java, on Monday that his ministry would evaluate the bylaw and the reasons behind its issuance.

“We will see whether it is excessive or to maintain tradition. If it is to maintain tradition, there will be no problem. All things have to be evaluated, including what the objective of the bylaw is,” Gamawan said as quoted by tribunnews.com.

However, as of Monday, the Home Ministry had not received a copy of the bylaw. Gamawan said he would only comment after he received and studied the regulation.

According to him, as the bylaw would be issued at the municipal level, it had to be sent to the governor of the province before being transferred to the central government. The central government is able to push for an evaluation through the governor.

Aceh, the nation’s westernmost province, is the only region allowed to implement sharia under the law on Acehnese special autonomy. Lawmakers in the province have continued to ignite controversy due to the issuance of a number of sharia-based regulations.

Among the controversial regulations is a bylaw regulating Koran-reading proficiency levels for prospective civil servants and a regulation banning women from wearing “tight” dresses.

Women activists in Aceh have condemned the plan, calling it a lunatic proposal. “The way women ride a bike, how they speak and how they dress should not be the concern of the government,” Norma Manalu of the NGO Balai Syura Ureung Inong Aceh said recently.

“We haven’t seen the circular for the dissemination of the bylaw,” said Muktar, a Lhokseumawe resident.

“The policy is a bit weird. It is as if our government officials increasingly like funny things,” he said.

The planned bylaw banning women from straddling motorcycles is considered a controversial policy proposed by officials without any proper assessment with regard to people’s lives.

“If such a bylaw is for internal purposes, it will be no problem,” Acehnese social affairs observer Saifuddin Bantasyam said.

According to Saifuddin, the Lhokseumawe mayor should have made a preliminary assessment before introducing it to the public. If straddling a motorcycle is considered a violation of religious rules, the assessment should be entrusted to ulemas, but if it deals with safe driving, it should be referred to the police, he said.

“I think such a ban constitutes private consideration of the mayor without examining wider interest through comprehensive discussion and assessment,” he said.

Saifuddin expressed concern that if a bylaw was not supported by the public, its enforcement would be difficult, especially if dedicated funds were not set aside for its enforcement.

“We can learn from other cases in the implementation of regulations that were not supported by adequate funds and manpower. Due to ineffectiveness, this ban will become a kind of boomerang for the administration because of a loss of public trust,” he added.

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