In this week's African Women Cycling feature, we tell the story of a group of women breaking norms and getting out on their bikes in Cairo, Egypt
This is the amazing story of Nouran Salah in Cairo (Egypt) and her ground-breaking work to empower women through the bicycle whilst also helping refugees in her city. They are called the Cairo Cycling Geckos!
"I had rented a bicycle before in Cairo and I loved how you can use it for everything, from going to work, to doing exercise, to running errands; but never had I witnessed any women cycling anywhere I have been! I wanted to encourage other women to cycle in Egypt by breaking the shackles of unjustified social taboos and freeing them from social limitations.
We launched our initiative in June 2016 during Ramadan when we fast for an entire month, starting from dawn and breaking the fast at sunset. During Ramadan, everyone tends to be kinder, extremely caring and many giving to less fortunate people. Usually we go by car or on foot and give food to the less fortunate. I then thought why not do this by bicycle and go to the underprivileged areas this way, where it is also impossible to see women cycling. It was definitely a challenge and a risk but if a women can cycle there freely and safely; she could cycle anywhere in this city with no concern."
You can watch a short film about Nouran and the cycling here:
So how did the Ramadan initiative actually work?
"We prepared a variety of homemade sandwiches and sold them for Suhūr (the meal at dawn) at a price of 10LE (about $0.50) in areas like Zamalek, Mohandessin, Maadi and Heliopolis (which are fortunate areas in Cairo) . The proceeds go towards purchasing economical meals prepared by a Syrian refugee family, which are then distributed by bicycle to people in need for Iftar (the meal at sunset) the following day.
The Suhūr contribution empowers a refugee mother to support her family and provides a clean and healthy Iftar meal for some of those who need it most. At the same time, it motivates the women in our group to take on a fitness-boosting and environmentally-friendly activity."
The Cairo Cycling Geckos hand a food parcel to a refugee mother
...and why bicycles?
"Cars aren't actually allowed into the narrowest streets of Cairo and we want to reach those who are most neglected. Some of the women and girls in our group were also scared or worried at the beginning, but I always tell them there is no danger. All it takes is courage.
I know that there are no bicycle lanes and it may take time to cross the street, but people do make way for you. I find it amazing that they consider cyclists the weakest on the road, so they always leave space for you. A lot of people cheer us and the old women shout ‘Go girls!'
The Geckos celebrate another successful group ride in Cairo!
Some people may try to flirt with our riders once we reach the destination areas, but as soon as they see us distributing food they say ‘may God bless you'. I believe that when you do something good, God will always protect you; and when people see you doing something good, they support you and help you.
I was really impressed by how brave these women are. I felt they were waiting for this chance! They would come every day for every event, with their empty stomachs and unbeatable energy, to face sexual harassment, scary roads and everything people would say. However, god willing, nothing has happened to our riders yet.
As the summer faded away, our project has now turned into an all-encompassing initiative for female cyclists which now organises weekly discovery rides and charity rides across Cairo and beyond. More and more women are joining our group!
With a little homemade food and a bicycle, a hugely positive 'cycle' has been set in motion!"
A selection of photos from the Cairo Cycling Geckos in action are HERE:
Amazing work Nouran. Truly inspirational!