Saudi women in Juddah embrace change and the bicycle

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Saudi women embrace change
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Saudi women embrace change
A Saudi woman drives her car along a street in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah, on September 27, 2017. Saudi Arabia will allow women to drive from next June, state media said on September 26, 2017 in a historic decision that makes the Gulf kingdom the last country in the world to permit women behind the wheel. / AFP PHOTO / REEM BAESHEN (Photo credit should read REEM BAESHEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah International College, checks her Instagram feed for her fashion line, Lin Collection, as she sits in a car in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, February 3, 2018. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah International College, rides her bicycle in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
Saudi woman Nouf Khayat, a Zumba instructor, poses for a photo during a running event marking International Women's Day in Old Jeddah, Saudi Arabia March 8, 2018. "I am a mother and a woman in this society. Finally we are capable of speaking up and of expressing our passions. The time has come to speak about the things that we can do," she said. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
A Saudi woman sits in a car during a driving training at a university in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
Saudi women watch the first Riyadh International Marathon, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia February 24, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal al Nasser
Maryam Ahmed Al-Moalem, a Saudi female bike rider, talks to Reuters during her lessons in advanced motorbike training at Harley Davidson training centre in Manama, Bahrain, March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah University, reads a bedtime story to her children at her house in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A Saudi woman attends a driving training at a university in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah International College, critiques one of her students' work in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah University, takes a selfie in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah International College, applies a print to a bag she designed for a client at her house in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, February 3, 2018. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah International College, looks at balloons in a shop in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, January 27, 2018. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah International College, sits in a car with her children in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah International College, plays basketball during the Rajana Ayamona festival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Amirah al-Turkistani (C), a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah International College, visits her parents in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2018. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah International College, plays with her husband and children at Middle Corniche Park in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, January 27, 2018. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah International College, sits with her father at her parents' home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2018. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah University, sits at her favourite coffee shop in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, October 20, 2017. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah International College, wears a garment she designed as she plays with her son Dani at their home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah International College, attends a friend's birthday with her husband in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, November 24, 2017. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah International College, relaxes with her husband and friends in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, November 24, 2017. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Amirah al-Turkistani, a graphic design lecturer at Jeddah International College, shops with her children and husband at a supermarket in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, February 3, 2018. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen SEARCH "BAESHEN WOMEN" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, April 9 (Reuters) - When Amirah al-Turkistani left Boston in 2015 after earning a graduate degree, friends mocked her decision to ship her beloved pistachio-colored bicycle back home to Saudi Arabia.

"They told me, 'What will you do with it in Jeddah, hang it on the wall?'" she laughed, referring to her hometown on the Red Sea coast.

Riding in public was unthinkable at the time in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom, where religious police patrolled public spaces to enforce modest dress, bans on music and alcohol, prayer-time store closures and the mixing of unrelated men and women.

Fast forward three years and Amirah is riding regularly on the seaside corniche, alone or with her husband and children.

On the bike, the 30-year-old wears an abaya, the loose-fitting, full-length robe symbolic of religious faith and still required public dress for Saudi women.

But instead of traditional black, she chooses from a range of pastels she designed herself, trimmed with lace and sporting patches of bright colors.

"Jeddah today isn't the same as Jeddah five, six years ago," she said. "The scrutiny on clothes (has eased), there's more places to go, working opportunities for women are the same as for men."

Saudi Arabia, which for decades seemed irreparably stuck in the past, is now changing by the day.

Under a reform program aimed at modernizing the kingdom and transforming its economy away from oil, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has eased social restrictions, clipping the wings of the religious police, sponsoring public concerts and ending a nearly 40-year ban on commercial cinemas.

The government has also announced plans to allow women to drive cars starting this summer, and Amirah is raring to hit the road.

"It's not like I want to drive just because I want to drive," she said. "It's a need."

The mother of two has a full-time job teaching graphic design at Jeddah International College and freelances on the side. Selling her homemade abayas brings her fulfillment and a little extra income.

Fluent in English, Arabic and Turkish and trained in ballet, Amirah is part of a young generation of Saudi women seizing new opportunities in spite of a guardianship system that still requires women to have a male relative's approval for certain key decisions like traveling abroad.

In her spare time, she does yoga and trains at a Crossfit studio.

Yet she realizes that not all women in this country of 32 million have the same opportunities. Tribal customs, domineering male relatives and lingering religious conservatism keep many Saudi women from accessing basic rights.

"She can be (modern) but her family isn't. She can be like this but her husband doesn't allow it," said Amirah, who believes some people still oppose the new reforms.

"There's a change, that's true, but I'm talking about something very miniscule," she said. "I don't know about other places, other cities. I'm just talking about Jeddah."

See related photo essay at: https://reut.rs/2qgn0Pe (Writing by Sarah Dadouch Editing by Stephen Kalin)

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