On the busy streets of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, Salma Awad, 28, rides her bike. Working as a messenger, she delivers orders to her customers through a social media app. While she loves the freedom her bike gives her, and the fact it keeps her in shape, Salma says dealing with all the negativity isn’t easy. For women, riding a bicycle goes against social norms in Sudan.
“I found many problems and risks on the street where I am harassed by drivers who sometimes throw water bottles and stones,” she says. “I usually leave the main streets and use side streets but then I’m chased by stray dogs.”
The number of women on bikes is growing thanks to groups such as the Sudanese Female Cyclists Initiative, based in Khartoum, which holds educational courses and workshops for female cyclists.
“This is first time in Sudan’s modern history that we’ve seen girls riding a bicycle,” says Enass Mazamel, who founded the group in 2016.
“It’s a human rights project to reduce the gender gap in public places and show women’s interests in sports that were the exclusively for men.”
Clerics and hardliners in Sudan say women should not be allowed to do sports. Women riding bicycles on public roads is seen as a violation of Islamic traditions.
Religious education teacher Mohammed Abuelnour says that Allah would curse men imitating women and women imitating men.
Because they have “difficulties with movement”, women should ride bicycles “for people with disabilities”, he says.
“But for the use of bicycles that show off women’s attractions in the public, they will have to do so in closed areas specifically for women not near men’s eyes.”
No to Women’s Oppression (NWO) is a Khartoum-based group calling for the repeal of laws restricting women, specifically their right to movement.
“We are working to raise awareness among girls and women to ride a bike in the streets,” says NOW member Hind El Tjani.
“This is their right, and we tell them they should be more courageous and ignore harassment, bullying and verbal violence while riding.”
This article was originally heard on RFI’s Africa Calling podcast.