x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Women racers' 'unity drive' gains miles of support

When the Women Auto Racing Club began its first ladies' 'unity drive' parade through all the emirates on National Day, it was not well received. It is now.

The Unity Drive - a convoy of women driving through all seven emirates - passes through Umm Al Quwain.
The Unity Drive - a convoy of women driving through all seven emirates - passes through Umm Al Quwain.

Four years ago, when the Women Auto Racing Club began its first ladies "unity drive" parade through all the emirates on National Day, it was not well received - by police, or the men who were excluded.

"They didn't like the idea of girls driving. They found the idea of ladies driving around and attracting so much attention was scary," said Shaima al Sayed, one of the club's parade organisers.

"They tried to discourage us, but we were persistent. It was great driving around, especially in Sharjah where everyone looked at us, shocked to see and hear the parade, as they were expecting lots of guys. Instead, they found girl after girl after girl after girl."

This year, the women's police escort was not only enthusiastic - it turned up before the women did.

"Them showing up today before us just shows we have come a long way," Ms al Sayed said. "Now rulers and other officials take us seriously and support us and congratulate us on our organised parade."

Driving vehicles with patriotic decorations, the ladies-only parade dedicated its drive to support breast cancer and diabetes awareness, and helping children with special needs, under the slogan "Driving our Society Toward the Better".

"These are all big problems in the UAE," Ms al Sayed said. "Forty-four per cent of people who have breast cancer here die from it because of late detection; we are not just driving around to celebrate National Day, but also for a cause."

The women began at the Corniche in the capital at 7am. They had a police escort - with sirens - to ensure there would be no harassment on the road.

Nina Hoffman, 34, from Germany, was one of the first people waiting. After participating in the event last year, she said she was "extremely excited" about this year's event and eager to start early.

"I knew not many will be out so early, and a lot more people would join in our next stop in Dubai, so I drove here today from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, instead of meeting them directly in Dubai, to give them support," she said.

The five cars that started in the capital were joined by 15 more in Dubai. In Sharjah, the parade had grown to 25 cars, with about 50 female drivers and passengers.

"We wanted to drive to all the emirates, except Ras al Khaimah for the mourning period, to celebrate the unification of the United Arab Emirates, just like [the founding President of the UAE] Sheikh Zayed approached every tribe in all the emirates at the beginning of the formation of the state," Ms al Sayed said.

A few men tried to join the parade throughout the day, but were asked to leave by organisers and the police.

After driving for almost 12 hours, the women were still excited, and already looking forward to next year's event. "We don't feel tired because it is all exciting, " Ms Hoffman said.

osalem@thenational.ae