More and more women in Egypt are starting to ride scooters in spite of the social stereotypes that hinder and shame them from taking part in the practice. The move is being triggered by high rates of sexual harassment in the country, which in turn is forcing females to seek their own means of safe transportation.
A group of startups has emerged encouraging females to ride scooters, promoting them as cheap compared to cars, fast, and a good way to reduce traffic congestion and eliminate pollution.
The startups include Two Wheels, Cairo Scooters Club, Alexandria Scooters Club and Dosy. Dosy launched in April 2019 and put up a website in December where females can go online to book their scooter-riding classes.
Dosy is a tech-based scooter- and bicycle-riding platform founded by two sisters who aim to reach females interested in learning to drive scooters. They'll also help those who want to work after their classes to provide delivery services via scooter for restaurants, coffee shops and bookstores. Dozy also hires female trainers who have ample experience in riding scooters.
“At first, we received a lot of criticism on social media because it is not common in Egypt to see women riding scooters. But then the criticism fell away and many people started to accept the idea. And we are seeing more and more women in the country riding scooters — especially since they are private means of transport,” Nouran Farouk, co-founder of Dosy, told Al-Monitor.
Farouk added, “We have trained so far 1,000 women and girls, and our overall market target is 13 million Egyptian women and girls across Egypt.”
Egyptian celebrities Sandy and Rania Mansour took scooter-driving classes with Dosy trainers and now recommend other females do the same. Other celebrities — such as Dina el-Sherbiny, Naglaa Badr, Heidy Karam and Samar Yousry — posted on their Instagram accounts that they ride scooters as well.
Although enthusiastic about spreading the practice in Egypt, these scooter-riding females face uphill challenges such as the absence of safe, dedicated scooter-riding lanes, the negative social perspective of women riding scooters and sexual harassment.
“It was in Tunisia where I found myself suffering from the weak transportation system and lack of taxis. When I looked around, I saw that the scooter was a perfect solution. When I moved to Egypt, I found another issue, which is the nerve-breaking traffic and lack of parking spaces everywhere I go,” Nada Ebkoora, scooter-rider and trainer, told Al-Monitor.
Sally el-Gendy, or as the media calls her, the “Iron Woman of Alexandria,” is one of the first female scooter-riders in Egypt. She established her startup, Go Wheels, to train girls and women in how to drive scooters.
“When girls saw me riding my scooter, they approached me and asked me if I could train them on how to ride a scooter,” Gendy told Al-Monitor.
“This was the main reason I decided to have an academy — to help all these girls who want to learn. And recently I began accepting men as well,” she added.
In July this year, victims of sexual harassment voiced their anger via social media. They spoke out about how they were harassed and revealed identities of harassers.
The hashtag #MeToo invaded Egypt's social media with stories about sexual harassment written by hundreds of females, many among them accusing alleged serial sexual abuser Ahmed Bassem Zaki of harassment. But this time, the women are calling for actual change in the way authorities and officials respond to such crimes. They have spoken out in public and on social media and are taking legal action against harassers and rapists.
A poll released by Thomson Reuters Foundation revealed in 2017 that Cairo is the most dangerous megacity for women, while the United Nations disclosed in 2014 that 99% of women in Egypt reported sexual harassment.
A crime known as the Fairmont incident took place in 2014, but the crime was only recently revealed after the incidents involving alleged rapist Zaki went viral. In the Fairmont incident, a woman was drugged, rendered unconscious and repeatedly gang-raped by nine men at Fairmont Nile City Hotel. Information about the rapists spread on social media, forcing Egypt’s prosecutor general to launch an investigation.
Despite these challenges, the startups have decided to encourage females to hop on their scooters and take the streets back for themselves.
“Society assigns masculinity and femininity to means of transportation; people will always consider female scooter-riders weird and the practice unacceptable. The decision of a girl buying a scooter or a motorbike in itself is a big deal,” Alia Soliman, an Egyptian women's rights and gender advocate, told Al-Monitor.
“We have to normalize the practice and present more role models promoting the idea that it is not monopolized by men,” Soliman added.