A group of more than 300 women from 34 countries are due to ride on bicycles into the Syrian capital, Damascus on 18 September as part of a regional tour to promote peace and change the stereotypes about Arab women in the Middle East, organisers said.
The Middle East Women’s Bicycle Ride will begin in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, on 16 September. From Damascus it will stop in Jordan before continuing to the Palestinian territories.
Almost all the countries the women will pass through are conservative societies where seeing a woman on a bicycle is not common.
"The main goal of the Women’s Bicycle Ride is to support women. Women and children suffer more from wars than others and could make peace by raising awareness in society," Mona Ghanem, chairperson of the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs said on Tuesday.
"We plan in future to organise exhibitions and seminars to promote the concept of accepting others and build leaders in our society," she added.
Leen Husary, public relations coordinator at Areeba Company, one of the organisers, said the goal is to support Arab women and children and strengthen their ability to express themselves, especially on the subject of peace.
"The impact of the Women Bicycles Ride in 2004 encouraged us to organize it this year again," she said.
The event is sponsored in Syria by the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs, Women for Peace, an organization established in Sweden in 2002, and the Areeba Company.
The women, who will be riding for about 50 km a day, belong to an international group called "Follow the Women", which aims to help end violence in the Middle East.
They include professional women, nurses, doctors, policewomen and mothers who say they have decided to take a break "for a good cause". They have also sent messages to US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to act and bring peace to the Middle East.
From Damascus, the riders will continue on 19 September to Quneitra in the Golan Heights and then to the historical site of Bosra, about 100 km south of the capital on their way to the Jordanian capital, Amman.
The final destination will be the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the West Bank.
The riders will visit the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila camps in Beirut, as well as Martyrs’ Square. They will also visit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and exchange messages of peace with Syrian and Israeli women.
In the course of their trip, they will meet with a number of political leaders in these countries.
Husary said the event was also aimed at encouraging women to take part in decision-making with regard to security, conflict prevention and resolutions. It calls attention to women and children in the Middle East during and after conflicts.
"The ride aims...to spread a message to support Arab women under occupation in Palestine and Iraq, for example," she said. "[It] carries a message of peace through areas that either have been unstable or are under occupation – places and conditions [where] women and children suffer more than anyone else."
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