Two thousand women in the Sudanese capital Khartoum have taken to the streets riding bicycles, breaking the norms and customs of the conservative society they are part of and promoting eco-friendly healthy living.
Launched In February of this year, the initiative was launched to encourage girls to ride bicycles, not only as a sport, but as an environmentally friendly day-to-day transportation method in a city that is suffering from a daily traffic congestion.
The “My Bicycle for me and my Environment” initiative, which started with two women, now includes more than 2,000 female riders who go cycling on a weekly basis on cycling routes in the cities of Khartoum and Omdurman.
Despite women in Sudan driving since the 50’s, cycling was never culturally accepted and viewed only as means of transportation for boys and men.
Co-founder of the initiative, Enas Muzamil, told Al Arabiya English that she loved cycling since she was four years old, but what held her back was the social norms of society where it was not acceptable for a young girl to be seen riding a bicycle.
“This denial deprives Sudanese girls of riding bicycles, and their right to this sport is beneficial both health wise and economically,” Enas said.
“There is no law forbidding a girl to ride a bicycle, but the public and families do not accept this. We are subjected to many negative comments. Even when positive comments are directed at us, they are very embarrassing,” she added.
Enas said that despite a lack of openness within Sudanese society and its acceptance of new ideas in many ways, including sports, her initiative was welcomed.
“Through this initiative, we are trying to break the barrier that prevents girls from cycling,” she said.
At launch, the initiative attracted a small number of women, and they were training in a closed space. However, as word got out, hundreds of women followed soon after.
Abeer, one of the cyclists, said that the initiative encouraged her to use her bike in her daily commute. Through her personal experience over the past months she discovered that the bike is faster than other means of transportation, adding: “After using the bike, I don’t call for any rides or have to wait for public transport.”
“Riding a bike is not just a sport but an attempt to deliver environmental awareness messages to the community as global awareness of environmental issues grows and communities join forces to preserve it,” Abeer said.
“The Sudanese street accepted my new hobby and I was not bothered or harassed,”she stated.
Another participant, Noha Abdul Mohsen, noted that the initiative allowed participants to fill their leisure time with active sports, social and volunteer activity, rather than other non-useful activities.
"The initiative also brought together participants from across the Sudan, contributing to the communication, exchange of knowledge and life experiences,” she affirmed.
“The environmental awareness campaigns we did have been welcomed by the community, official bodies and regional and national organizations working in the context of preserving the environment, which gave great support to the initiative and its objectives,” she underlined.
The initiative attracted the attention of many Sudanese and expatriate women of all ages and backgrounds since its inception, especially those looking for a sport that suits their lifestyle.
Furthermore, the initiative’s website on Facebook received a great following from over 5,000 subscribers.
Lilly Osman, an employee, says cycling is an economic sport that can be practised by most social groups, including low-income women.
“Bicycles are not expensive compared to other sports equipment, and you can ride a bike anywhere,” she said.
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