Shaimaa Ali started an unprecedented scooter movement for girls in Alexandria, not letting the fact that much of Egyptian society is male-dominated stop her. Yay for girl power.
Fueled by the constant daily struggle of commuting, Ali was lured into the idea of riding to work on a scooter three years ago, thanks to the constant traffic jams that she endured every morning.
“At first, I didn’t know what they were. All I know was that they looked like motorbikes,” says Ali. “I would observe them each morning smoothly making their way through the congested streets while I waited in my car.”
It wasn’t soon before she found out that her sister had a similar interest in commuting on a scooter. The duo decided to share one, and then branched out to buy their own.
As Ali describes it, it’s always strange at first when a girl starts scooting, explaining that “a girl may be embarrassed or lacking the required guts.” That’s why she joined SRC Alexandria, a club for scooter riders.
“For an entire year, we were just three girls in the club,” Ali recalls, “and when I snooped around for the reason, I found out there is only one school that teaches scooter riding, and it’s pretty pricey.”
Seeing it was clearly an unmet need, Ali approached the help of Mimi El-Tayyeb who owns a motorbike and scooter shop. Excited about the idea, he agreed to provide Ali with the needed equipment, as well as a space to teach girls scooting.
In July 2014, Ali started Alexandria’s first scooting school for girls, "Let’s Scoot," through which she has taught about 30 girls and young women.
“Along the span of four classes, we discuss safety measures, and mostly practice scooting,” explains Ali. “The school’s main aim is to help the girls gain confidence to ride on their own.”
Through instructing girls on how to drive scooters, Ali quickly saw the many labels and prejudices that Egyptian society has about girls who scoot or ride motorbikes.
“I saw many girls walk in with their parents who were astonished to see that I was just a normal girl,” she exclaimed, pointing out that many people expected her to be a tomboy, or a girl with piercings and strange fashion choices.
“It makes me happy that we’re no longer confined to the community of bikers,” added Ali, mentioning that most of the girls and young women who ride are either married to bikers or have bikers in their family. “The community is definitely growing, and it’s becoming more diverse.”
“People in Egypt don’t easily adopt new approaches,” says Ali, “that’s why you have to present it, and explain it to them first.”
Unlike what many people think, Ali says that she gets a lot of positive feedback on the street. “Microbus drivers always make way for us to pass, and greet us as we do,” Ali says. “I was even once at the gas station, when one of the workers there told me that I encouraged him to buy a scooter himself.”
In addition to a cheaper form of transport, traveling by scooter also leads to faster commuting times, especially during rush hour .
“After three years of riding a scooter, your character starts to change,” she says. “When you’re scooting, you’re out there with nothing shielding you from the people around you."