It’s rather amazing to know that a country that still limits the rights of women celebrated International Female Ride Day! Here in Kuwait, where only in 2005 passed a law that for the first time in history allows women to vote and contest elections is embracing women and motorcycling and embracing the messages for International Female Ride Day.
During the 2009 edition of International Female Ride Day- motorcycle motors revved as a group of bikers manoeuvred around Kuwait’s weekend traffic. Dressed in leather and denim jackets, equipped with helmets and protective padding, the ride seemed nothing out of the ordinary at first. However, this group of riders was special. They were not exclusively made up of males, but many females joined in the fun as last Friday was ‘International Female Ride Day’.
This is a synchronized worldwide event where women motorcycle riders ‘just ride’ together. This annual event was created as a campaign to highlight the number of women bikers and create more awareness. By riding in public, women can demonstrate their joy and passion for motorcycles.
“Kuwait was the first country in the Middle East to participate in this event,” said Salem Al-Rumaid, the event organizer of Kuwait BMW motorcycle club. “We got an invitation from South Africa and because we have female members in our club, they wanted us to participate. We were interested to take part in this event, “explained Al-Rumaid. Although there is a large data base of women bikers in Kuwait, not many participated.
We know of many female bikers in Kuwait, but not all wanted to participate in the international female ride event. Some of them said they did not want to be seen in public because it went against their tradition, and others were busy or travelling,” said Al-Rumaid.
They were able to convince seven women to join the event which kick-started at the TriStar Motorcycle showroom in Kuwait City. About 50 riders created a convoy and set off to Doha Port just before sunset. “We wanted to introduce this yearly event to the public. We wanted to tell the public that bikes are not for men only. In Europe and in North and South America, women ride bikes to commute as well as enjoy it as a sport. Here in Kuwait they see it more as a sport. We would like to bring attention to the public that women can ride; they have the license to do it and they do it well,” said Al-Rumaid.
Al-Rumaid believes that women riding bikes is more accepted in today’s society, but more work needs to be done on public awareness. “We are now in 2009; the idea of women riders is welcomed more easily. About 10 to 15 years ago there would have been some major issues with women riding alone,” he said. Al-Rumaid thinks that the issues that people have with women bikers – or even bikers in general – derives from the fact that there is not much awareness about the topic.
Many people think that when we say ‘riding in a group together’, it means up and down Gulf Road. We have different ways of riding; we can ride south, north, away from traffic and have a good time – not necessarily where the traffic is. Because Kuwait is packed with cars, we ride late at night or early in the morning. When we ride in a group, we are very organized, have a safety officer, and a road captain; it’s very safe, ” explains Al-Rumaid.
He believes that for more women to start riding in public, events such as ‘International Female Ride Day’ must become more frequent in order to allow women as well as society as a whole to become comfortable with the issue. “We need to be more visible in order to show women that there are other women who ride. This will make it more acceptable in society,” Al-Rumaid said.
Rania Al-Ghazal, a Lebanese rider took part in the event last Friday. She has been riding since December 2008 but has been interested in riding for a long time. “I was riding a scooter and I wanted to ride a motor bike. I was influenced by my husband who rides regularly,” Al-Ghazal explained. She does not find it difficult to be a female rider in Kuwait. She says that with all the padding and the helmet, cars have a hard time telling that she is a female rider. Al-Ghazal is a regular rider and says “I ride every week with TriStar, its great.
Patrina Fernandez was another female rider who took part in the event. She has been riding for six months but has been interested for 10 years. “I would meet with my guy friends and ask if I could ride with them because I love bikes,” Fernandez said. Having learned to ride from her room-mate, she decided to purchase her own bike. “I ride all the time. And if I’m not at work or on the weekend, I’m riding with somebody. It’s a great way to make new friends,” she adds.
Like Al-Ghazal, Fernandez does not find it difficult to be a women rider in Kuwait. She does, however, notice a different reaction when drivers realize it’s a girl riding the bike. ” I’m like a celebrity,” Fernandez says jokingly. “I always get people beeping at me, chasing me on the street, girls and guys throwing their thumbs up. They love to see a female ride,” she grins. The BMW Moto Club was established in 2006 to create a venue for people get together and ride motorcycles from different brands. “We established this club so that when people buy a motorcycle, they can ride together like a community. The club has the name BMW, so there are a majority of BMW bikes in the club, but we welcome all types of bikes and owners, such as Harley and the Japanese brands,” said Al-Rumaid, the BMW Club event organizer.
Club members have a membership card, and get discounts to join in on gatherings. There are many events, such as camps, and tours of Kuwait. “Our rides have a purpose, sometimes we have auctions, and we have had three festivals. As a BMW club, we had a big event a few months ago for blood donation where the slogan was ‘Don’t waste your blood on the asphalt; donate instead,'” said Al-Rumaid. He points out to the fact that there are women who despite being a part of the club, share their passion for bikes but ride them.
The process of learning to ride a motorcycle is similar to getting a car license. First a learner’s permit has to be obtained after which an eye exam is conducted. TriStar offers lessons where they teach the dangers and features of handling a motorcycle. Then that is followed by a three-level teaching program: The first level consists of riders learning to manage either an automatic or small bike with gears to enable them to learn to ride short distances.
In Kuwait, we have at least 700 riders, as far as I know” says Al-Rumaid. He believes that Kuwait is a great market for motorcycles and points to the fact that there are 10,000 motorcycle licenses issued here and has over 3,000 regular riders. “These numbers are great when compared per capita,” says Al-Rumaid. “He knows of 15-25 women who ride in Kuwait regularly, and many more who ride off-road and at the chalets. Al-Rumaid is hopeful that the more girls will learn to ride motorcycles and those who know how will come out in public and start riding regularly.
*Source Kuwait Times/ by Sawsan Kazak; photo Kuwait BMW Club