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Bicycles as a Solution in the Streets of Damascus

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

If you walked the streets of Damascus these days, you would probably run into a young man or woman riding a bicycle, happily overtaking a car trapped at one of the endless checkpoints plaguing the city. The promotion of bicycles in Damascus is part of a campaign called She Wants a Bicycle Now led by college students, most of them from the Faculty of Engineering.

Young participants of the She Wants a Bike campaign. Source: Syria Untold

Young participants of the She Wants a Bike campaign. Source: Syria Untold

In Syria, bicycles have been traditionally considered a lower-class means of transportation, used only by those who could not afford a motor vehicle. They are also associated with male riders. To break both stereotypes and provide a solution to the traffic jams created by checkpoints, a group of young men and women decided to start riding bikes to travel around the city, and encourage others to follow suit.

Their aim, as the organizers told Syria Untold, is “to change the habits of the community and promote the use of alternative means of transportation.” They consider the cycling culture a good way to improve society by saving fuel and reducing pollution.

“It is also a channel for Syrians to break their fear of tradition, which has prevented many from riding bikes. For years, concerns over what people will say have stopped women, especially those wearing hijab, from using them.”

Girl riding a bike in Damascus. Source: She Wants a Bike´s campaign´s facebook page

Young woman rides a bike in Damascus. Source: She Wants a Bike campaign´s Facebook page

 

To this end, the organizers called on everyone interested in joining the campaign to park their bikes by their universities, quite a symbolic gesture, since bikes are traditionally not allowed on Syrian campuses.

The initiative was very successful, and hundreds of bicycles were seen on campuses on October 4, photographs of which were shared through Facebook afterwards. Many young girls were among those sharing their photosgraphs, along with personal experiences. One of the girls recounted:

I wear hijab, and a manteau” (dark coat used by Muslim women from conservative backgrounds), and this was my first time riding a bike. I left my house in Mashru Dummar at 7am, along with my brother, who encouraged me to do this. I went down Rabwe, and continued to Mazzeh street, and there I parted with my brother, who had to go a different way. “You can do this on your own”, he told me, “break your barrier of fear and don’t worry about it.” This is where my adventure started. I continued and met many checkpoints on my way, but I have to say everyone was very nice to me, some even smiled and blessed me when they saw me. It was an amazing and liberating experience and I encourage every girl to do the same. It feels a little awkward in the beginning but you get used to it very quickly.

Among the obstacles to spread the use of bicycles in the country is the fact that they are usually quite expensive for an average Syrian – their cost has not decreased despite the currently dramatic situation – and the fact that women riding is still frowned upon in conservative areas.

However, the organizers of the campaign are committed to overcoming these obstacles by providing solutions to improve the country from the inside, pedal by pedal.

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

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