Women in Egypt are fighting back against patriarchal norms, and getting fit while doing it. A new organization – Go Bike – is encouraging cycling in Cairo and women are joining in, breaking the strong cultural taboo against female cycling.
“Unfortunately, it’s socially unacceptable in Egypt for a girl to ride a bicycle in the street” says Yasmine Mahmoud, a 31 year old member of the group, who regularly braves Cairo’s notoriously dangerous roads.
They face daily sexual harassment, both verbal and physical. But they are determined not to become disheartened
Yasmine Mahmoud remembers the time that a young man tried to jump onto the back of her bicycle and grab her.
She just kept on cycling.
This is not the first time a women’s group has used cycling to fight back against sexual harassment. In November a group called “Tomorrow” organized a women’s cycle ride in Suez, in order to empower women and show men that women must be respected in the street and allowed to go about their lives without fear.
Coordinator Marwan Radwan said “The idea is to revolt against this model imposed on Egyptian women by society since the 70’s where everything outside of it is considered a crime that we have to pay for.”
The revolt is much needed.
During the Egyptian Revolution and in subsequent protests in and around Tahrir Square, sexual violence was endemic. An investigation into the extent of the violence was conducted by a coalition of feminist Egyptian activist groups.
The report was entitled Egypt: Keeping Women Out (Sexual Violence Against Women in the Public Sphere)
One of the coalition partners, Nazra for Feminist Studies recorded the following interviews with rape survivors for the coalition’s report.
“The men were like lions around a dead piece of meat and their hands were all over my body and up under my destroyed clothes. Again my pants and underwear were pulled down violently and several men at the same time raped me with their fingers. I was suddenly on the ground and the men pulled me from my hair, legs and arms while they continued raping me”
Another woman said:
“A group formed a circle around me…pulling my hair, pulling at my hands and feet… their hands were on every part of my body. The clothes covering my torso were torn off. I was holding my pants with one hand as they were pulling my other hand. They tore my pants from behind with pocket knives…They violated my body from Mohamed Mahmoud Street to Abdeen district, where people from the neighborhood saw me and rescued me.”
The women taking to the streets with Go Bike know all of this. As the report notes
“According to a survey by UN Women, 99.3% of Egyptian women reported having been sexually harassed, with 91% saying they feel insecure in the street as a result.”
Yet they remain undeterred. Go Bike’s spokesperson Hadeer Samy knows exactly what she is doing. She said “We want bicycles to be a means for Egyptian girls to break the moulds of customs and traditions.”
Every Friday morning the group arranges cycling tours. Every woman or girl who participates is playing their part in the fight for gender equality and against sexual violence.