Speedsisters: Battling sexism in West Bank motor-racing

By Jon Donnison
BBC News, Nablus


For Nablus High Street at 9am on a Friday there is quite an atmosphere.

Thousands of cheering locals line the pavements and rooftops. A DJ belts out dance tunes on a huge sound system. And most strikingly there is the overwhelming smell of burning rubber.

"They call me Sunacher," beams racing driver Suna Aweida, appropriately decked out in Ferrari red, but sadly only driving a slightly souped-up Vauxhall Corsa.

Nevertheless, she proceeds to put pedal to the metal, provoking an emphatic screech of wheels and a roar from the flag waving, Palestinian tifosi.

Difficult donuts

Among the 70 competitors for the Nablus leg of the Palestinian motor-racing season there is no shortage of boy racers. But not all of them.

Suna is a self-proclaimed Speedsister - a team of women drivers trying to break into the testosterone-fuelled world of Palestinian motor-racing.

"Driving is driving. There is no difference between women and men," she says.

Image caption,
Motor-racing is a hugely popular sport in the West Bank

She and the other Speedsisters are competing in an event called Speedtest and it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Drivers race against the clock around a narrow pre-set slalom course, weaving and spinning their way around a series of orange cones.

"The donut is the most difficult," says Suna, referring to the full 360-degree spin they have to perform at the end of each lap.

"I think it is good that women are competing against us," says male driver Joseph Handal. "But they need a little bit of help to make them better."

And that help is coming from the British government.

FCO backing

The Speedsisters team is being partly funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as part of its efforts to encourage development on the West Bank.

Image caption,
The Speedsisters are trying to break into a male-dominated sport

Later in the summer, a team of coaches will fly out from London to offer training to the women.

"My favourite driver is British," says Speedsister team member Marha. "It's Lewis Hamilton because he's young like me."

One clear disadvantage the women have is the cars.

While the male drivers are mostly racing round in huge BMWs and Mercedes with all the boy-racer trimmings - wide wheels, multiple spoilers and go-faster stripes - Suna has to make do with a 1.4 litre hatchback donated by a local car rental company.

It is not much faster than your average family run-around.

"Today, I had a problem with the grip," says Suna, pointing at her narrow regular tyres.

British rules

And some of the fans are not convinced the women have much of a chance.

Image caption,
Some 70 competitors took part in the Nablus leg

"If they are good they will win," says Muhammad Darwish, a young man sporting a Ferrari hat in the crowd.

"But I don't think they will; there are too many good male drivers."

I ask Suna about the overall standard of driving on the West Bank, which for a foreigner can sometimes seem challenging, to say the least.

"That's because you are British so you stick to the rules too much," she laughs.

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