Baghdad woman on bicycle: Iraqis need to get used to it
‘My ambition is not just riding a bicycle… riding a bicycle was a symbol to break the status quo of Iraqi society,’ Marina Jaber said
The 25-year-old Iraqi Muslim woman who rode her bicycle to break the status quo in her society’s norms told Al Arabiya English that her “ambition” is beyond her “simple right” to ride.
“My ambition is not just riding a bicycle… riding a bicycle was a symbol to break the status quo of Iraqi society,” Marina Jaber said. “Before I used to blame society for so many things that I could not do as a woman, but I discovered that the society is me.”
Jaber’s pictures came to the fore after an Iraqi social page on Facebook published on Monday two of her pictures in the capital Baghdad defying traditions by riding her bicycle in public.
The page called ‘Baghdad Aladmya’ captioned the two pictures: “A Baghdadi girl challenges traditions and rides her bicycle in central Baghdad,” and describing her: “You are the society, you are reality.”
The Facebook page garnered at least 141 shares and more than 3,000 likes in five hours following the publishing of the pictures. ‘Baghdad Al-Adhamiya’ has at least 932,444 likes, testifying to its popularity and following.
The pictures of Jaber riding her bicycle were part of an exhibition called Tarkeeb held in April, which she will also repeat again on Jan. 1.
“I started riding a bicycle in different areas in Baghdad, and it is part of my exhibition aimed to study reality,” she said. “My aim was to know why for the Iraqi people, a female cannot ride a bicycle and what is the solution.”
Jaber, who is a painter, started her project in areas considered more relaxed and less conservative to finally gather more courage to cycle in more traditional areas. She also posted some of her pictures online under the hashtag in Arabic “I am the society.”
“At first I was scared,” she said. “So I started in easy areas such as Abu Nuwas, Shawaka, Jadriya, Mansour, and Al-Mutanabi, I had people starting at me.”
But when Jaber started reaching to more conservative areas such as Shorjah and Al-Meedan, she had a different experience.
“They pushed me and they tried pull the tire so I can fall. I heard nasty talk,” she recalled. “For seconds, I kept quiet and dismounted from the bicycle and I was thinking, what am I doing, I doubted myself, but then I continued,” she added.
But what made her go forward is “how do I want girls to rebel against their society and take their simple rights if I don’t dare to ride my bicycle.”
She found the solution
In one of the pictures posted by ‘Baghdad Aladmya,’ Jaber was seen riding her bicycle in front of a shocked old man and a surprised young grocer who is smiling.
“I kept riding near the shocked man in the picture,” she said. “I took about four rounds.”
“When at first he was shocked and unaccepting, later he turned his head and starting doing what he needed to do in the market…that means I found the solution,” she added.
“The solution is repetition, which will make it normal,” she said, urging that “the Iraqi people need to see this more often. The Iraqi people we can say are victims of the society because we women ourselves agree to stay quiet on what society does not accept.”
This kind of “repetition” had diven Jaber’s own internal change.
“I use my bicycle in my daily routines. Now I don’t care about people’s stares, and I must endure until it is broken.”
Father, brother did not know
Jaber has a rebellious streak, especially as she did not inform her ‘conservative’ father or brother of her doings initially.
“My family is like any other conservative family, and is scared of people’s gossip. I did this without my father’s and brother’s knowledge. They are men, they are scared.”
While Jaber does not like to be “confrontationalist,” she argued “if I don’t get the simplest of my rights, I don’t expect women to stand up for themselves.”
After her exhibition, Jaber has another project in store and that is to start a cycling marathon for girls in Baghdad.
People on social media, meanwhile, commended her bravery.
“The best thing in life is for one person to do what he or she thinks is right, not caring what others say,” one lady named Muna Al-Shatawi commented.
Another woman under the first alias name Um Rukya Al-Mayahi said: “With God’s willing I will break this tradition.”
Others too echoed in agreement, with one man named Faleh Abu Liqa’ saying “Very nice, why not!” and NorAlhuda Imad describing the lady as “breathtaking.”
In the picture, where Jaber was seen riding her bicycle in front of a shocked old man and a surprised young grocer smiling, peoples’ comments continued unabated.
One man named Rabea Al-Abadi said: “This is a scene between an absolutely free person that put traditions behind her, and a stare from a person who is criticizing her and loaded in traditions.”
Why girls cannot ride bicycles?
It is not illegal for women to ride bicycles in Iraq, and women have participated in a cycling marathon in the conservative city of Najaf.
Young girls also can always ride their bicycles, but once they are older and their bodies start morphing into their more lady-like figures, Iraqi families ban their daughters from enjoying this sport in public, making it not socially acceptable and a rare sight for women to commute using their bicycles.
Faten Al-Jubory, who is now a 33-year-old Danish citizen after leaving Baghdad at the age of 13, remembers how she used to feel that she was “flying when we rode fast…kind of freedom” in her old neighborhood in the country of her origin.
“It was OK for small girls to ride bicycles but things do change when we grow up from age 12,” she told Al Arabiya English. “We have an old thought about virginity that girls could possibly lose their virginity if they ride bicycles.”
She also said that there are “not many” females who worry about this issue.
Jubory, who loves sports, is continuing her passion she first enjoyed in Iraq alongside her husband and daughter in northern Europe.
“Still love it,” she said, enjoying this “kind of freedom” again as an adult woman from Denmark.