When four women get on to bicycles, they can truly create a stir in a ravaged place like Gaza. Typically women are restricted from going out, meeting people, driving or even riding a bicycle! But here are four women who braved up to pick their bicycles under the scrutiny of three-wheeled tuk tuk which is a jeep filled with Hamas gunmen. They dodged men on motorbikes and many other prying eyes. For some who saw them had a look of shock on their faces.
People thought that the girls were some foreigners since no one thought women in the state would dare to get to their bicycles. And women tasting a slice of freedom under their noses? How was that even possible. The women neglected the slight commotion that had taken men by shock and rode along Jabalia, a small town in Gaza’s north all the way to Hamas checkpoint- a highly guarded area.
In 2013, Hamas put a ban on women participating in a marathon.
They took some time off riding and parked their cycles nearby the checkpoint and went for a picnic. Amna Suleiman, 33, the group’s leader was also the oldest of them all. She asked them to keep riding bikes forever as a symbol of freedom. She urged her team to ride bikes even after they got married to which a girl laughed that her husband would beat them if they did so.
During the mid eighties, Gaza was a much peaceful place where women could freely roam around and riding bikes was an everyday site. But since Hamas takeover, these little joys have been banned. In 2013, the Hamas brought an end to women participating in a marathon. They are also not allowed to ride bicycles, as according to Palestinians, men might ogle at their legs and so think inappropriately for them. This is not it, women athletes practice in a closed building, and either they can’t enter gyms or have separate timings (that too, too few).
Ms. Suleiman moved to Gaza in the nineties and saw the hard and fast rules people lived here with. She rode bicycle back in Damascus, Syria where she was born. Her biking mission again started off with a bet she had with her friend to lose weight. She lost 11 pounds and saved up $75 bucks with which she bought a bicycle for herself.
A female journalist was spit at for riding a bicycle along with her female foreigner friends in 2010.
She started with riding it just around her locality and that too during dawn. So that she does not attract too much attention. Then, she encouraged the other partners into doing it together.
For lots of people, when a woman does anything outside, it’s astonishing and surprising. For them, it goes against our traditions, but nothing in our religion prevents it. Those restrictions must disappear and I am trying to send this message. Women play an active role in society and have the right to freedom,” said Suleiman to Israel National News.
This Friday was the first time, these women moved to as far as the Salahuddin highway. The others who followed Suleiman’s shoes were her sister Noor (21), her friend Asala (21) and Sara Salibi (24). All the women peddled away wearing their track suits and scarves covering their heads.
“I feel like I am flying by riding a bicycle,” said Amneh Suleiman- the group leader.
While many came in support of these four revolutionary women, saying things like it’s fine for women to ride bikes, “people have reached the moon already.” And many criticised them saying it was ugly and detestable to watch women ride on the roads.
Most of the Middle Eastern states are ridden with outdated rules for women to curb their freedom. While for men, everything comes easy as it is them who make rules for both- themselves and women. It is severely unequal to bash women for something that is not even their fault. How is stopping women to ride bicycle going to help more than teaching boys to respect women, is out of an average person’s understanding.
Picture Credit- NY Times