Egyptian women take back the streets with parkour

These screengrabs show members of the Ladies Parkour Egypt group in mid-action in Cairo. (Videos posted on the group’s Facebook page.)
These screengrabs show members of the Ladies Parkour Egypt group in mid-action in Cairo. (Videos posted on the group’s Facebook page.)

A group of young Egyptian women in Cairo have formed a parkour group – quite the feat considering that Egypt was classified by the Thomson Reuters Foundation as the most dangerous country for women in 2018. Our Observer is the founder of the first all-girls parkour group in the capital. She says that parkour allows girls to reclaim the streets in a country known for street harassment.

The sport parkour, which was created in France in the 1980s, got its name from the French word “parcours”, which means “path” or “course”. Participants criss-cross cities climbing walls, jumping and running between buildings. It’s essentially like an urban obstacle course. Men have been doing parkour in Egypt for at least the past decade. However, parkour for girls is new in Egypt.

“When you are a woman, the streets don't belong to you”

Yasmina Abdallah is 24. Back in 2014, after graduating with a degree in accounting, she decided to try training with a men’s parkour team.

I started training with the men’s team. I wasn’t the only girl there – there were a few of us. Little by little, I realised that it wasn’t just a sport and that parkour can be an amazing thing for women, especially women in Egypt. It can have a positive impact on your body and allow you to stand up for yourself. In late 2017, I decided to create an all girls group, which I called the Parkour Egypt Ladies.

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Abdullah was working in a bank during the day, but she spent most of her free time on parkour, either training or finding the perfect spots in the city to practise. She thinks it's important to have this kind of intense schedule.

Our group includes five young women. I’m the oldest at 24. The youngest is just 10! We come from middle-class or underprivileged backgrounds. As women, we’ve had to do twice as much work because, unlike our male counterparts, we didn’t have much access to sports or athletics during school or university.

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The young women train at least once a week. During their practices, they learn to scale urban landscapes and how to land correctly after jumps. They hope to recruit more young women so as to one day build a professional team.

The men were quite impressed by the idea of seeing women climb walls or jump between buildings. There were a lot of curious onlookers who would watch us and film us.

Luckily, I had the support of my family, but not all the girls are that lucky. Some of them have been told that girls don’t belong in the streets and that we shouldn’t jump or make ourselves visible in this way. When you are a woman in Egypt, the streets don’t belong to you.

“Parkour enables Egyptian women to take back the streets”

Parkour changed my life. Before, my body was weak. I weighed 45 kilos. I was often harassed in the street. When people bothered me, I would barely react. Parkour isn’t like boxing – I’m not trying to fight the person who is being aggressive with me. But what’s changed is how I feel and react when I am faced with aggression. Now I know that I am capable of responding and that gives me more self-confidence.

It has enabled me to feel stronger when I am out and about in Cairo, a city where street harassment is an everyday occurrence. If a man tries to touch me or steal from me then I can run away and he can’t do anything. Men aren’t used to seeing us respond in that way. Parkour enables women to take back the Egyptian streets.

Egypt isn’t the only country in the Arab world that has a women’s parkour team. There are women doing parkour in the United Arab Emirates, in Morocco and in Lebanon. For her part, Abdullah dreams of becoming a coach one day.

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