Seoul (AsiaNews) - Like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Indonesia's Aceh province, North Korea has decided to bar women from riding bicycles. This is not new. In the 1990s, Communist authorities had introduced a similar ban, claiming that women on bicycles went against "Socialist morals". Last year however, the ban was lifted as a token of new leader Kim Jong-un "reformist" spirit.
A source from Hoiryeong in North Hamkyung Province told Daily NK today that "The use of bicycles by women was officially allowed last year, but was prohibited again on the 10th [of January]. There have been local People's Safety officers patrolling since the day after that."
Under the country's young dictator Kim Jong-un, the third son of the late 'dear leader', the authorities have decided not only to stop "women using bicycles, but also banned them from riding on the backs of bicycles and placed a weight limit on the luggage that can be placed on them," the source explained.
"Before the ban was lifted last year, if a woman was caught riding a bicycle she was fined just a bit of money, no more than 5,000 won. But now they are confiscating the bicycle instead, and this has been causing a bit of upset."
If the ban is widespread and lasts any length of time, it will have a deleterious effect on the functioning of North Korea's markets. Bicycles have been a critical factor in helping to spread commerce as a means of survival.
Indeed, North Korea's economy largely survives on barter. Rural markets are crucial for exchange. "Bicycles are essential in North Korea," the source explained. North Koreans "have no cars, motorcycles or other means of transportation. Bicycles are very useful; women can not only go to and from the markets on them, they can also give their children lifts and carry as much as 50".
Kim Jong-il imposed the ban, ostensibly because the practice of women riding bicycles was contrary to the country's Stalinist ideology and "social morals.
In fact, some experts believe the second Kim banned the use of bicycles in the 1990s after the daughter of a high-ranking official was killed in a traffic accident in Pyongyang.