If there’s a story about female empowerment through sport, especially when it is about breaking stereotypes or cultural barriers, you can be sure we will be covering it! Although we are big believers in the importance of policies which ensure equal rights are afforded to ALL human beings, in many parts of the world, democracy via politics isn’t always a viable option.
Thankfully there are a number of mediums where women, minorities and the marginalized are able to use their voices as a powerful tool for change in a way politics cannot. One of these areas is sports. We have covered quite a few stories about women in developing countries and across the Middle East who are turning to athletic endeavors in order to break through burdensome societal barriers.
In Egypt, a badass group of women are doing just that, with the sport of roller derby. The CaiRollers, Egypt’s first roller derby team, was formed in 2012 by Shaneikiah Bickham and Angie Malone-Kaster, two American teachers who were working in Cairo and had previously played the sport in the US. The women have since left the country (in 2014) but the team remains strong.
To date they have 25 team members (mostly Egyptian women), and have only just started participating in competitive matches in 2017. In January they hit the tracks against an Abu Dhabi team, and in April will go head-to-head with Marseilles’ league.
As CNN’s Nosmot GbadaMosi reports, these are the first significant roller derby matches to be played in the Arab world. Eventually the CaiRollers want to see a full professional league in Egypt, but for now they are focused on recruiting and spreading the word about their endeavors.
They are also focused on diversity in the team by welcoming skaters of Egyptian nationalities, dual-citizenships, and ex-pats, as well as people of different beliefs and and various professions and backgrounds.
The CNN report on the Egyptian team also mentions how the sport has seen somewhat of a recent revival around the world, especially in unlikely places. China is one of those locations where amateur teams have formed with the intent not only to raise the profile of a relatively unknown sport in the country, but also leverage it as a way to promote gender equality by showcasing events for organizations such as UN Women’s He For She.
The CaiRollers have been advertising for more team members on their Facebook Page, which attracted 24 year-old research analyst Rahma Diab. She told CNN that since joining 3 years ago, she has found a new type of confidence.
“It’s not the thing that you expect from the culture and the Arab girl so it was very interesting to try that out. No one had heard about the game before here in the region.”
One of the founding members, Susan Nour, a teacher, says the team came together during a turbulent time in Egypt’s history – the Arab Spring. Some of the initial games were held after the infamous Tahrir Square protests which ended bringing down former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Many girls on the team took part in the protests, and carried that powerful spirit into their involvement in roller derby.
“We definitely felt like we were in some small way a part of history. that created a real feeling of sisterhood among the founding players, and even now as the people on the league have come and gone, that sisterhood remains,” said Susan.
Each of the team members are expected to take on other responsibilities outside of the track, including fundraising, generating press coverage or managing their social media accounts, and that is on top of their regular day jobs. But it does not seem like such a huge burden from what the women say in various interviews, because the simple act of participating in sport in such a public manner is a mini-revolution in itself.
Another player, 27 year-old Lina El-Gohary, says boys in Egypt typically grow up playing soccer in the streets, whereas girls are generally forbidden. Sport is seen as a boy’s endeavor, yet women like the CaiRollers are slowly breaking down stereotypes and misconceptions about this. Thankfully, a lot of the families of the team members are supportive of their participation.
“Most of our families are supportive about us playing sport now, they just worry about us getting injured…The team is my support network. Whenever I have any problems at work or with my family, I skate it out and everything feels better,” Lina said in an interview from 2016.
NPR reports that more than half of the world’s amateur roller derby teams are from the US, but with the growing number of teams in countries like Egypt, those numbers could well change in the future. If you are based in Egypt and want to join the CaiRollers, or simply learn more about the team, visit the website.
Get to know more of the women breaking barriers in the short documentary video below: