CAIRO – In Egypt, women often travel on motorcycles as passengers and are rarely seen steering the bikes, but a group of female bikers is breaking the mold and challenging stale stereotypes.
Women who travel as passengers sit behind, sideways, often closing their legs and holding on to men who drive the bikes.
However, a group of more than 20 leather-clad women is challenging the demure and traditional image of women in Egyptian society.
They meet weekly and biweekly to drive their Harley Davidson bikes openly on the streets.
For Dina Sharawy, driving a motorcycle was a dream come true six years ago, but despite being 44 she has hidden the fact that she drives bikes from her family to keep them from worrying.
“It was very strange to see a biker girl (in Egypt) and people were always looking at me (...) but it changed a couple of years ago, people are (now) more used to seeing female bikers,” Sharawy told EFE while riding her Harley Davidson in the outskirts of Cairo.
The biker said that the first Harleys, which are perceived as an American symbol of freedom, ridden by women started to appear on Egyptian roads 10 years ago.
Nowadays, thanks to motorcycle clubs like Harley Davidson Cairo Chapter, many women tour on the backs of their hogs.
“Every Friday we go for short rides and every month or every two weeks we go for a long ride,” Deena Khattab, a woman Harley rider, told Efe.
Khattab fell in love with this expensive hobby when she had the chance to borrow and use her friend’s bike.
Other women in the group say they ride to break prejudiced gender notions in Egypt.
Salma Salem, 33, has already participated in two rallies in the United States and Jordan along with her father.
“It’s just a matter of leaving the gender rules behind because today women can be anything they want to be,” Salem said with a smile while gripping the handlebars of her bike.
Although she likes to travel with other bikers, Salem prefers to go solo.
She has ridden on most of the roads in the country atop her Harley Davidson and, according to her experience, there are two types of Egyptians: those who laugh when they see her and those who encourage her to continue this hobby that she learned from family members.
Salem says that she usually meets good people at rest stops while traveling on her motorcycle.
“When they see me alone at the rest stops, no one will let me pay,” Salem explains, “They’re very hospitable and very good, especially truck drivers. They like it.”
Kholoud Nagui, a 33-year-old employee in an Egyptian customer-services company, is another woman who decided four years ago to buy a motorcycle and joined a riding club, and since then, she has traveled to several Egyptian cities.
“The big trucks and buses support us a lot, especially when they see that I’m a girl, they open the way for me. They’re great,” Nagui explains, laughing.
The number of Egyptian women motorcyclists is increasing with time.
On designated days like 8 March, International Women’s Day, or the first Saturday in May, International Female Ride Day, Egyptian women ride their motorcycles through Cairo’s downtown Tahrir Square and other symbolic places like the Giza Pyramids, to claim gender equality in the country.
While these female drivers do continue to get looks of surprise, it seems that little by little gender stereotypes are gradually changing in this North African Arab country as women are not giving up their fight for equal rights.
“This (movement) is growing. With time, there are more and more biker women,” Khattab said.