Girls in Egypt Are Biking For Equality
Israa Fayed first rode a bicycle in her hometown of Port Said, Egypt, when she was five years old. But on any given day, Israa, now 15, along with women across Egypt, faces increasing harassment on the road.
A group of teenagers in the northern coastal city is trying to change that.
In an initiative launched last month, the group, known as There Is No Difference, organized a large bicycle ride protest in Port Said. Between growing intolerance toward female cyclers and high taxi and bus fares, hundreds of bikers took to the streets to stand in solidarity.
“The idea was for girls to not feel lonely riding their bicycles,” said Israa, one of the organizers of the mass bike ride. “We want to be equal with men, especially when it comes to riding bicycles.”
A woman on a bicycle shouldn’t be a shocking thing, Israa said. Instead, she and her group are trying to normalize what many consider to be a controversial sight.
“Some people think that riding bicycles is not good for women and not suitable for our customs and traditions,” Israa explained.
Attacks on women’s rights in Egypt are some of the harshest in the Arab world, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation study. Discriminatory laws and a spike in trafficking got Egypt ranked as the worst country for women’s rights out of the 22 Arab states surveyed in 2013. A subsequent United Nations report said 99.3 percent of women and girls in Egypt had been subjected to sexual harassment.
Most recently, a prominent women’s rights attorney was arrested for “receiving foreign funding to harm the state’s interests” as part of a countrywide crackdown against nongovernmental organizations and human rights activists. If convicted, the attorney, Azza Soliman, faces up to life imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 Egyptian pounds. A court hearing is pending.
Kahila, a feminist group, is one of many organizations helping to promote and protect women’s issues around the country, including sponsoring the mass bike ride.
“There was a great turnout. We think it is the beginning of a change," Enas al-Maasarawy, the organization’s founder, told the BBC.
More than 1,000 people responded to the event on Facebook, leaving comments of encouragement and photos from the ride.
“My regards to all of you girls and guys, decent and loving his country,” one attendee posted.
“Bravo you girls, beautiful initiative,” read another.
The mass bike ride was the first of what There Is No Difference hopes are many events.
“It was very big and interesting, most people supported us and still do,” Israa said. “A lot of people who came were of different ages. We did our best to organize with the help of Kahila.”
For Israa, the health benefits and money-saving aspects of bike riding in her country are secondary to being able to ride alongside her peers.
“We got to stand beside women,” she said.