BEIRUT: Thousands of women in Lebanon are turning to motorcycles for transportation as a means of cutting costs, with many saying social stigmas are disappearing amid the country̵7;s worsening economic crisis.
Many Lebanese no longer have the financial means to drive a car, instead opting for a motorcycle to cope with the economic crisis.
According to car dealerships in Lebanon, motorcycle sales account for about 50 percent of the consumer vehicle market.
Buying and riding a motorcycle is no longer limited to young men, delivery workers, university students and professionals who need to move fast on the roads to reach their workplace at the lowest possible cost.
Now, Lebanese women – in their 20s, 30s and 40s – are efficiently driving motorcycles around the country, with some even turning their bikes into taxis.
The economic crisis has placed a great burden on Lebanese women. Some have turned to traditionally male occupations, including selling vegetables in pickup trucks, working in butcher shops, at gas stations, in car repair, and as taxi drivers.
The Lebanese Civil War had previously revolutionized the role of women in the workplace, with many entering professions such as journalism, search and rescue, civil engineering and even front-line military positions for the first time.
Prior to the economic crisis, some Lebanese women joined the Harley-Davidson luxury motorcycle club, participated in car races, and participated in mountaineering competitions.
He became a source of inspiration for others.
Moni, a 29-year-old engineer, said she loved riding a motorcycle after being taught by her brothers.
“When the fuel crisis started, I forgot about my car and used it only when necessary. Instead, I opted for a motorcycle, as it is less expensive to fill up the tank and allows me to travel to Beirut during the day. Let’s avoid traffic jams,” he said.
“I found out I wasn’t the only woman riding a motorcycle, which encouraged me to keep at it,” she said.
Moni said: “During the 2019 protests, riding a motorcycle was a way of rejecting the traditional and everything oppressing us, the younger generation, from the ruling power to the small minority controlling our lives as women. to the smallest thing.”
However, she said that her family initially disapproved of her desire to ride a motorcycle.
“They were concerned for my safety in the chaotic environment, but during and after the protests, and after the Beirut port explosion, their views changed, and they saw how influential women were, and they accepted the idea. Took it because they believed in the need to change the prevailing reality,” said Moni.
A security source told Arab News that the increase in violations was due to an increase in the number of motorcycles on Lebanese roads.
“Most do not wear helmets, and they violate traffic laws, so accidents increase, and motorcyclists may die because of this,” he said.
But women riders often take more care on the roads and avoid harming themselves, the source said.
According to Information International – a research consultancy firm based in Beirut – 29,102 motorcycles were imported into Lebanon in 2021.
This number has increased to 47,077 by the end of July 2022. A total of 177,388 motorcycles are expected to be imported between 2017 and 2022.
There are approximately 289,000 officially registered motorcycles in the country.
It is estimated that approximately the same amount is unregistered, but there are no official figures.
Enam Halvi, 45, learned to ride a motorcycle after her husband’s encouragement and instruction.
Halawi and her husband own a shop that sells auto parts, and they started riding their motorcycles in the neighborhood they live in, a southern suburb of Beirut.
“I encountered five women on motorcycles, so I decided to be the sixth,” he said.
Halavi, who wears a ghunghat and is a grandmother, has been riding a motorcycle for 18 months.
“Initially I was afraid of being judged and bullied. But when I put my helmet on, I blocked out all the embarrassment I could ever feel. Over time, I became a more confident driver and started driving outside my neighborhood,” she said.
“Motorcycles made my life easier. A journey that takes a quarter of an hour by car takes no more than five minutes on a bike.
“Bullying from other drivers turned into respect, and they would give priority to pass us without harassment. Everyone is struggling with the economic crisis, so everyone is accepting other people’s coping mechanisms,” he said.
Having previously ridden a modest motorcycle, Halawi later exchanged it for her son’s larger bike when he left Lebanon for work abroad.
“I respect myself and know what I want from riding a motorcycle. I overcame my fear because fear causes accidents. Riding a motorcycle requires courage and quick decision making,” she said .
Rana Karzi, 40, who is married with two sons, has been riding a motorcycle since 2016.
“My brother taught me to ride a motorcycle. I bought my first bike because I could not afford a car and I wanted to avoid the harassment I used to face by taking taxis all the time,” she said.
Karzi lives in Tariq al-Jadida, one of Beirut’s most popular neighborhoods.
“When I rode a bike for the first time, I felt very awkward as I was breaking tradition. But with time people got used to seeing me and started respecting me.
“The other drivers used to be shocked, but now they encourage me; They stick their heads out of their cars and shout ‘Well done!’
Karji became so confident driving the motorcycle that the women in his entourage depended on him for their transportation, so he decided to convert the bike into a taxi.
She promoted her new business on social media to transport women within Beirut during the day, avoiding night rides due to the security situation.
During the protests, many women used to ask Karji for rides to and from Shaheed Chowk to or from their workplaces, including women doctors and health workers, especially since many roads were closed.
In winter, she puts a rain tent over her motorcycle to protect herself and her customers.
Karji later decided to teach young women how to ride motorcycles and has taught 20 people so far. “But not everyone is fit to ride a motorcycle,” she said.
“Nevertheless, the turnout exceeded my expectations.”