Six years ago, Sarah Zein decided that the traffic in her hometown Damascus, Syria was too much, and there had to be a better way to get around. So she turned to her bicycle.
Bicycling had advantages, but Damascus was not well suited to bicycling as dedicated bike lanes did not exist. Due to attacks and bombings, security checkpoints were built around the city, making short work and school commutes last longer than two hours. Poor roads, traffic and aggressive drivers were one problem, but even more off-putting was regularly having to deal with verbal sexual harassments on the streets.
With a view to supporting women and girls to achieve their full potential without stigma or discrimination, Sarah saw cycling as a daring act to change the status quo and co-founded “Yalla Let’s Bike” (Come on Let’s Bike), an initiative to defy gender roles, beat the traffic and promote cycling as an eco-friendly mode of transportation.
Shortly after, the initiative started breaking the stereotypes of war and setting a positive example of youth promoting peaceful coexistence, taking climate action, and empowering women and girls.
Working with the local authorities, the group has successfully worked for the installation of 10 km-long bicycle lanes in Damascus. Since 2013, over 4,000 girls and women have taken part in cycling events. According to Sarah, bicycle sales have risen by 60 per cent in the last few years.
“Cycling gave me wings to fly away from the noises of war,” Sarah said, adding that it also has helped reduce carbon emissions in the Syrian capital by enabling people to use a healthy and sustainable mode of transportation.
Cycling gave me wings to fly away from the noises of war.
In fighting gender-based discrimination “Yalla Let’s Bike” is also opening up new opportunities for women and girls by. Women and girls represent almost half of the “Yalla Let’s Bike” team, with 32 female instructors are now teaching others to ride.
Her work has recently been recognized by Momentum for Change, an initiative spearheaded by the UN Climate Change Secretariat to shine a light on the activities that are moving the world towards a highly resilient and low-carbon future.