See How Girls All Over the World Are Freewheeling in the Streets for Equality
For women around the world, getting anywhere in life often begins and ends with the ability to move freely beyond the confines of their homes. When it comes to driving cars, riding bikes, or taking advantage of wheels of any variety, the roadblocks are many: Unequal treatment by government, religious fatwa, patriarchal culture, or fear of harassment keep many women off the streets in too many places.
It’s not just a problem of women not being able to go for joyrides—though that has its own value. Lack of transportation also limits access to education and work, and restricted mobility can make it more difficult to build the social networks that are crucial to business development, according to the World Bank. With 60 percent of people in developing countries living more than eight kilometers from a health care facility, getting medical attention is not an option without physical mobility. In many countries, women are paying the price of restricted transport. Just 11 percent of Saudi Arabian women are employed, according to the World Bank. And in Yemen and other countries, lack of mobility limits girls’ ability to go to school.
Which is why it’s worth celebrating the women who are claiming their right to drive, ride bikes, and skateboard in public by taking to the streets. Check out these five groups that are defiantly taking the wheel—or wheels—in the name of equality.
The Speed Sisters in Palestine
The first women’s streetcar racing team in the Middle East, the Speed Sisters like to move fast, and they often win against men in professional races. Formed in 2010, the group was welcomed to the Palestinian Motorsport and Motorcycle Federation—Palestine’s version of NASCAR— by its leader, Khaled Khadoura. Still, there are men who are critical, saying a woman’s place is not behind the wheel.
Initially united by a simple love of racing, the team has achieved much more, defying stereotypes and making headlines around the world after being featured in a documentary film this year.
An All-Girls Biker Gang in Kabul
“It’s kind of cliché, but it’s really important for a woman to be able to get somewhere without a man’s help,” Fatima Haidari, founder of Afghanistan’s Girl Up club, told NPR.
Haidari’s club of more than 20 girls meets every week to ride bikes around Kabul and celebrate their freedom of movement—which didn’t exist when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan under fundamentalist Islamic law from 1996 to 2001. Under the Taliban, women weren’t allowed to use many types of transportation or even leave home alone, stuck in a virtual house arrest. Though there are greater freedoms in Afghanistan now, seeing women bikers is still rare. Haidari’s goal is to empower women to transport themselves independently.
A Women-for-Women Cab Company in New Delhi
More often than it should be, safe transportation is a luxury in India—and one that women are not always afforded. Sexual assault by New Delhi’s auto-rickshaw drivers has been alarmingly common in recent years, sparking a range of government and activist activity pushing for change.
Enter Sakha Consulting Wings, a transportation organization run exclusively by women. Sakha operates a cab company that gives women safe rides at any time of day. What about men who want to hitch a ride? They can—but only if accompanied by a woman.
Yemeni Women Biking Across the Country
In the midst of internal crisis in Yemen, interventions from Saudi-led coalition bombings have led to mass fuel shortages. When bombings hit Sana’a this May, citizens had to get creative with transportation, using paint thinner oil and bikes to get around without paying outrageous gas prices.
Women in the capital faced an extra roadblock: sexism. Women’s biking in Yemen is rare because of the country’s conservative tradition of patriarchy, but in order to keep jobs and provide for their families in the wake of the fuel crisis, women needed to transport themselves. So freelance photographer Bushra al-Fusail decided to do something about it. Defying the gender norm, she organized an all-women’s bike ride across one of the city’s biggest highways.
Though some responded to Facebook photos of the ride with anger, Fusail said she was surprised by the positive reactions on the road. “I thought that people would come and laugh at us or try to prevent us from cycling, but this did not happen at all, instead there were some people who tried to encourage us, and this motivated us to continue,” she told the Middle East Eye.
Brujas in the Bronx
These New Yorkers shatter the stereotype that skating is a boy’s game. Brujas, which means “witches” in Spanish, is a group of skater girls in the Bronx that hopes to empower Latina and other minority women to engage in the sport.
“We put forward a vision of a world where women from the barrio, girls like us, are powerful and have agency and channels to express themselves in the streets,” said member Arianna Gil in an interview.
In American culture, where there is far less funding and viewership in women’s sports compared with men’s sports, Brujas are one example of women who are prepared to steal the spotlight.
Saudi Women Drivers
Saudi officials will say there is no official law banning female drivers in Saudi Arabia, but the government won’t issue a woman a license, and religious edicts forbid it—which makes it impossible for women to have the same rights as men. In order to get around without waiting for a husband or other male relative to accompany them, some women have turned to ride-sharing apps like Uber to get around. Some courageous Saudi women have also fearlessly protested the ban by getting behind the wheel.