“Women can keep their hijab and wear modest clothes while practicing sport."
These are the words of Ndima Abul-Enein, the Saudi woman behind a collective of female cyclists in Jeddah.
Although the sight of women biking on Jeddah's corniche is unusual, Abul-Enein and her friends are determined to challenge conservative societal stereotypes.
With some 30 women in her cycling crew, Abul-Enein has founded the first female cycling group in Saudi Arabia. Although the women have not yet participated in any local or international competitions, the founder says this is part of their future plans if the opportunity arises.
Launched a year and a half ago, the team has grown incrementally as Saudi women have taken note via social media. Due to conservative societal norms, women in the kingdom aren't usually encouraged to ride bikes and are still forbidden from driving cars.
In general, exercise and athletics have not traditionally been encouraged for women. But that has definitely been changing in the past few years. The kingdom sent its first female Olympians to participate in the 2012 London Olympic games. Women went on to participate in the 2016 games as well, drawing significant international attention.
Earlier this month, Saudi Minister of Education Ahmad al-Issa issued a decree, which laid down a physical education program for girls' schools. Previously, state schools didn't provide physical education for girls and private schools were often neglected as well.
In line with these changes, Abul-Enein's cycling initiative shows women and men in the kingdom that the hijab and the conservative dress does not hold anyone back from being active.
One team member, who has special needs, sees cycling as providing her a sense of freedom, despite her disabilities.
"After my brain operation, my right side was very weak. I could not ride my bicycle or even leave the bed," Sawsan Abdullah said, according to Arab News, explaining that she had a special bike designed to allow her to pursue her passion for cycling.
"After joining the team, these wheels were designed to support me and riding became very easy," she said.
”I hope the community will accept us coming out and freely practicing our hobby without harassment," Dina Al-Quthmi, a member of the team, said.