‘Feminist revolution’ in Gaza – women dare to ride bikes

Four Palestinian Arab women have turned heads in the Islamist-run Gaza terror enclave by doing what would pass unnoticed in many other places in the world: riding their bicycles.

The women are bucking tradition in the enclave where the ruling Hamas terrorist organization has launched three wars since 2008, forcing the IDF and Egypt to implement a blockade to prevent the influx of weapons.

One of them says that beyond enjoying simply going for a ride, she also hopes to make a statement. Many people encourage and admire them, they say.

Others however insult or resent the women in their 20s and 30s because, in their view, they are violating Islamic decency.

"For lots of people, when a woman does anything outside, it's astonishing and surprising," said one of the four, 33-year-old English teacher Amneh Suleiman originally from Syria, sporting a black sweatsuit and matching hat.

"For them, it goes against our traditions, but nothing in our religion prevents it," she claimed.

She said that "those restrictions must disappear and I am trying to send this message. Women play an active role in society and have the right to freedom."

With her friends Sara, Noor and Assalah, Suleiman regularly wheels her blue bicycle out of her home in Jabalia "refugee camp."

Gaza has been run by the local Muslim Brotherhood offshoot Hamas since 2007, but it seems objections to their rides have more to do with traditional attitudes than any new regulations.

"I don't pay attention"

Palestinian Arab women have long taken part in the efforts to attack Israel, with female terrorists comprising a large portion of those behind the lethal attacks even from decades ago.

But while nearly 60% of Palestinian graduates are women – counting Gaza, Judea and Samaria – they represent only some 21% of the active labor force in Gaza. That amounts to one of the lowest rates in the world.

Official statistics show that more than two-thirds of the women who do not work say they must devote themselves to being a housewife.

For Suleiman, who moved from Syria with her family to Gaza in 1994, leisure can represent freedom, which is why she began riding in December, with her three friends joining her later.

"We told ourselves: 'When we were children, we loved riding bicycles. Why not do it again?'" she said.

Sara Sleibi, 24, has also defied restrictions that some would like to impose in Gaza. One of the radical Islamist movements in Gaza that has recently been growing is the movement of the Salafist jihadists who sympathize with the Islamic State (ISIS) group.

Their movement, which has presented a significant though still limited challenge to Hamas, has been growing in numbers.

When Sleibi takes her five-kilometer (three-mile) rides with her friends, all wearing leggings, jackets and trainers, she doesn't hesitate to stop to buy a bottle of water near a checkpoint run by Hamas security forces.

She says they greet her with a smile, like some of the drivers they pass, including those who stop to watch them go.

"Who will take taxis?"

"If all the girls start bicycling in Gaza, who will take taxis?" jibes Ayman, a 25-year-old taxi driver.

Not everyone is so welcoming, but Sleibi, who recruited her 20-year-old sister Noor to join the rides, says she doesn't let it bother her. "I don't pay attention," she said.

Suleiman said "the insults are not a problem. It only makes me sad for them. We put only two pictures on Facebook and we received around 40 comments – many compliments and four insulting us."

One said that it was "a great idea that shows Gazan women at their best." Another, however, told them to "get back in the house – it will be less shameful!"

Sleibi said the rides are a way of exercising and escaping the daily hassles of work and life. Neither she nor her friends wanted to fire up any "social revolution."

But after several rides, they found that "people's looks were positive" and she said the small group would be happy to take on new members and grow.

AFP contributed to this report.

Source: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/208396

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