Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

She rides

Nour Hanna went on last week’s She Rides Marathon in the Cairo district of Zamalek to mark International Youth Day and hopes for gender equality

Al-Ahram Weekly

Around 30 women and girls of ages ranging from 14 to 50 years old gathered last Friday in the Cairo district of Zamalek for the She Rides Marathon in support of women’s empowerment and their right to take up leading positions in society. 

The Marathon was organised by the Misr Foundation for Health and Sustainable Development, an NGO, in collaboration with Global Youth Ambassadors in Egypt (GYAT). 

The participants were carrying pink banners with the slogan “She Rides” written on them to indicate that women can take leading positions in the country. “The Marathon is part of the Misr Foundation’s campaign to raise awareness about women’s health and help provide ways to sustain a healthy lifestyle and prevent disease,” said Amr Hassan, a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Cairo University.

The marathon lasted for almost six hours, starting from 7 am and going on until 1 pm, by which time the participants had cycled for eight km. The starting point was the Le Pacha restaurant boat on the Nile, moving towards the Fairmont Nile City Hotel as the next stop, and then heading to the Al-Ahly Sporting Club before returning to Le Pacha as the finish line. 

While the participants waited for the arrival of the bikes, a professional coach gave them a warm-up session so that they would be physically able to ride a bike for eight km. The event’s organisers were also keen on providing first aid for the participants throughout the Marathon, and there were four cars responsible for road safety and the safety of the cyclers. 

Egypt’s attempts to implement gender equality have been recognised by multiple organisations, though there is still some way to go. The Marathon was designed to help deliver the message of the need for greater gender equality in Egypt and the message of the Foundation, Hassan said.

“He for She,” associated with the Marathon, is a solidarity campaign for gender equality initiated by UN Women, a UN programme designed to help support gender equality and women’s rights. According to Hassan, this is the first time a bike marathon for women only has been held anywhere in the Middle East. 

“In Egypt, the majority of marathon participants are men due to the Egyptian culture that says that sports are somehow masculine activities and women are not encouraged to participate, especially at an older age. This can cause health issues for many women,” he said. 

The idea of organising a marathon for women only was to promote the importance of sports for women, arguing that they are just as important for women as they are for men. “Our goal is to attract people in general to a wide range of exercise and to help tackle health problems regarding weight, nutrition and other things that can affect women’s lives whatever their socio-economic class. We hold sessions after each event to help people adopt healthy lifestyles, and we want to raise women’s awareness of health and help eliminate illiteracy about medical matters in Egypt,” Hassan said. 

The She Rides participants expressed their enthusiasm at riding safely without being harassed or annoyed by others in the streets as they did so. Some of the participants were riding their own motor bikes, showing that society has started to accept women taking part in this traditionally masculine activity.

“The Marathon is an opportunity to ride a bike in Egypt while feeling safe and protected,” said Sandy Mohamed, one of the cyclers. Another participant, Sherine Mohamed, said she had joined the Marathon to support women’s rights. “I like the idea of combating the negative stigma of a woman cycling in Egypt and the way that some people judge her actions as being against Egyptian traditions and beliefs,” she said.

One participant who refused to give her name due to family conflicts mentioned her difficulties in being allowed to accomplish her dream of cycling. She said her family had eventually agreed to the idea of a girl riding a bike, though they still did not like the thought of a girl allowed to share in men’s activities. She expressed her happiness at finding a group that helps women reach gender equality through various activities.

Among the event’s supporters was GYAT, along with The World at School, an organisation that helps to support young people. Naglaa Fathy, a representative of the organisation, said “it is a sort of rehab for youth and teenagers at school and this is our first time at trying to help empower women through joining the She Rides Marathon.” 

Along with helping to provide a healthy lifestyle, researcher Iman Kamel, a nutritionist and child health consultant, emphasised the importance of women’s health in maintaining their positions as leaders. Kamel gave a session after the Marathon on the importance of eating healthily and practicing sports. These things would make women feel better about themselves and look better, too, she said.  

“Cycling regulates the heart, gives more self-confidence, helps prevent cholesterol and improves sleep,” Kamel said. It is a good form of exercise for women as it is not difficult to practice. Girls need to take safety precautions when cycling in Cairo, however, and they need to drink plenty of water while out on the streets. 

“Half an hour’s practice a day can guarantee a healthy and toned body,” Kamel said.

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