Amna Suleiman (right) and another of the women on their bikes. Image from Buzzfeed.

In parts of the Middle East, riding a bicycle is a strictly male pursuit. In Gaza, for example, unwritten morality rules state that women past puberty must not cycle, in case men should leer at their legs.

Amna Suleiman, 33 and originally from Syria, is trying to change that. She has started a bicycle club for women, which so far consists of four members. In doing so, she is challenging the cultural norms of the state.

Suleiman says she started cycling to keep fit and lose weight. At first, she rode at dawn so few would see her. Suleiman encouraged her friend to learn to ride, and she began to join her. Now they ride around their neighbourhood freely, and their bicycle gang has grown further.

Women riding bicycles in the area used to be common, but a decade of Islamist Hamas ruling has limited the opportunities for women, including bike riding. In 2013, for example, Hamas banned women from entering the Gaza Marathon.

The women attract attention as they cycle – words of surprise, jeers, and catcalls follow. But Suleiman and her bicycle gang are going from strength to strength. Suleiman is reported to have said, “Riding a bike makes you feel like you are flying”.

Female cyclists are fairly uncommon throughout the Arab world. A Saudi Arabian girl daring to ride a bicycle was the subject of the 2012 film Wadjda, which was nominated for an Oscar.

Amna Suleiman is a small part of a revolution in bicycling. She is an example of the power one person can have in challenging regressive cultural norms, and in leading change.

-Jocelyn Anderson-Wood
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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