An all-female Arab sports team with a need for speed has been breaking through the tradition and regional conservatism of Palestinian society to compete in motor racing alongside men. The Speed Sisters are gaining attention and the adoration of crowds in the West Bank’s burgeoning racing circuit.
”I have loved cars since I was really young, and it has always been my dream to drive” says 21 year old Noor Daoud.
Whatever problems Western women face in pursuing their dreams in motorsport, it is nothing in comparison to the adversity the Speed Sisters have had to overcome. Daoud, who has competed professionally in boxing, tennis, and football, began drift racing on the streets of Ramallah in 2008 and was spotted by the head of the Motorsports Federation, Khaled Qadura. Male drivers were sceptical when she first began racing “they watched me driving and drifting and were like, ‘Wow,’ but when I took my helmet off and shook my hair, they kind of freaked out at first.”
Team manager is 34 year old Maysoon Jayyusi, who recalls in an interview that her close-knit family were originally horrified that she was racing cars. ”They were saying ‘no, you cannot do it, what if you are injured?’ When they found out how much I liked this sport, and they saw my picture in the papers after I had raced, they accepted my decision. That was two years ago.”
Breaking speed barriers, breaking cultural barriers
The Speed Sisters span a breadth of ages and the team is made up of both Muslims and Christians. They hoped their achievements would be a way of breaking down the perennial problem of religious barriers in the West Bank. But the women have faced criticism for their actions from both sides. As the journalist Tanya Habjouqa has commented that the women “represent the diversity of what Palestine has become – fragmented West Bank cities divided by checkpoints, settlements and lifestyle differences depending upon identification and socio-economic class. Yet they are tied together by an intense love of racing, their Palestinian identity and their willingness to compete in a male-dominated sport.”
Perhaps the thrill of motor racing for these Palestinian women appeals so much because it directly contrasts to the driving experience of Palestinians in the West Bank whose journeys are made up of continual road blocks and check points.
The team has the backing of the British consulate in East Jerusalem, which has invested about £6,500 in helmets, training and revamping the car and has said “they are a positive role model for women and all Palestinians. They are inspiring in a conflict zone where fun is low on the priority list.”
But women who drive race cars remain to divide the Muslim world. With motor racing growing in popularity in the Middle East, some Muslim clerics have condemned it for being frivolous and un-Islamic. Others call it haram, or forbidden according to Islamic law and going against the words of Allah. Sahar Jawabrah is Speed Sisters first member to wear the Hijab, the Islamic head scarf, under her racing helmet and many religious elders were opposed to a Muslim woman behaving in what they perceived to be an unladylike fashion.
The Speed Sisters achievements are in stark contrast to the plight of some women in Saudi Arabia who are defying the law which forbids women driving entirely.
The team should be applauded for their pioneering attitude in pursuing their goals and to laying the foundations for women in motorsports in the West Bank. Their accomplishments are a way of bringing women’s issues into the light and beginning a dialogue. They are championing their dreams alongside women’s rights and their ferocity on the track proves that femininity and fearlessness can go hand in hand.
Team member Marah Zahalka, 20 has signified what The Speed Sisters are communicating to the rest of the world in their racing success:
“The act of Palestinian women racing for me is so important. It shows real freedom. Everywhere people think Palestinian women are held back, but actually here we are racing in a sport that is known as a man’s. Racing lets people know the Palestinian people can never be trapped in a hole. We go out and we race, just like any place in the world.”