Guardian Cities staff
Monday 12 June 2017 12.14 BST
It’s a hot spring day in Tehran, and Negin, a 32-year-old IT manager, is riding her mountain bike through a park. “I love my bike. I often go cycling in the countryside with a group,” she says. “I also cycle in the city, when I go to visit my mother, for example. I think the number of women cycling in Tehran is growing. I even have a friend who goes to work on her bike. I would love to do that, but it’s too far and we don’t have showers at work.”
What Negin is saying might not sound strange, if it weren’t for the fact that she’s a woman, on a bike, in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In spite of the heat, Negin is conforming to the dress code – she wears long sleeves and leggings, a headscarf under her helmet and a skirt covering her hips – but religious leaders at the highest level in Iran are clear: women on bikes constitute a threat to morality.
The question has become a hotly debated point in Tehran in recent months, as the city grapples with two truly dire problems: air pollution and traffic congestion, both some of the world’s worst. With cars choking Iran’s cities, campaigns to encourage cycling are picking up speed.
When we heard the fatwa banning women from cycling, we immediately rented two bicycles
Woman who tweeted using #IranianWomenLoveCycling
In autumn of 2015, a young environmentalist in Arak, a city with pollution levels even more staggering than Tehran, started a “car-free Tuesday” campaign to encourage people to commute by bike. The campaign caught on, and other cities followed suit. Municipal authorities across the country began encouraging residents to ride bikes and leave their cars at home.
Women cyclists, naturally enough, saw an opportunity to support a good cause that everybody in Iran could agree on: clean air. After all, there is no law in Iran that officially forbids women to cycle