With a Saudi-led bombing campaign leading to severe fuel shortages in Yemen’s capital, men in Sanaa have been forced to innovate. Some have run motorbikes on paint-thinner, others have hooked their car engines up to cooking-gas canisters to avoid the extortionate price of petrol. But women in the capital, also trying to adapt to the turmoil, face an obstacle men do not: tradition.
Last week, when freelance photographer Bushra al-Fusail told her friends that she was considering riding a bike to work, they warned her against it.
Female bike riding is almost unheard of in Yemen - many conservative Yemenis believe it's immodest or reveals too much of a woman's body. But after creating a Facebook group, 'Let's ride a bike' on Friday, Fusail convinced some of friends to join her on a women-only bike ride across the city, the first of its kind in Yemen.
"It is totally unfair that men can move easily by using their bicycles when women are expected to stay home. No more fuel means that we can't go to work, that we are unable to provide and help our families. Join us!" Fusail posted on the group. At noon on Saturday, 20 young women converged on al-Sabeen, a busy highway that runs past the presidential palace
Most wore veils and didn’t themselves own bicycles but the few who did cycled for an hour and a half, looping around the mosque as Fusail snapped photos on her camera. The pictures of the ride, which spread like wildfire online, were met with dozens of furious comments. “This can’t be real, these images were photoshopped,” commented one Yemeni man under a picture. “Those are not women, they are men dressed as women,” said another. Fusail, though, said that many of the Yemenis who saw the bike ride on the day reacted positively.
"I thought that people would come and laugh at us or try to prevent us from cycling, but this did not happen at all, instead there were some people who tried to encourage us, and this motivated us to continue." "Biking was our way of showing that nothing can stop us - not bombing not cultural taboos, this is our right; we have a right to live and the right to movement."
Basem al-Qubati, a 35-year-old car mechanic who saw the women biking on Saturday, said he was glad they were using the bicycles as a mean of transport, but that he worried men would harass them. Marwa Qaed, a 23-year-old accounting student, said she would love to ride a bike if she could and that some of her friends had started learning in their back gardens.
"Ten years ago it was considered shameful for a women to drive a car… now you can see women driving everywhere," she said. "I do not have a bicycle, but I will try to get one from my friend to teach me how to bike and I will join the women to do a revolution against the society," she added.