In The West Bank, Women With A Need For Speed A group of Palestinian women has entered the male-dominated world of car racing in the Arab world. The women, who call themselves the Speed Sisters, are breaking stereotypes — and raising the concerns of some Palestinian men who say the racetrack is no place for females.
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In The West Bank, Women With A Need For Speed

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In The West Bank, Women With A Need For Speed

In The West Bank, Women With A Need For Speed

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block. A group of Palestinian women has taken to the track to compete in the West Bank's burgeoning professional car racing scene. As Sheera Frenkel reports, the team has sped from curious anomaly to serious competitor.

SHEERA FRENKEL: It's anything but a typical race day at the small dusty field just outside the West Bank city of Ramallah. The mostly male spectators cheer and wave flags as a driver comes spinning out of a particularly quick turn.

Then the racer, 24-year-old Mona Ennab, jumps from her car. When she slides off her helmet and smiles at the crowd, it's not hard to see why she was a contestant for Miss Palestine, the West Bank's beauty pageant. But she's most proud of her racing skills.

Ms. MONA ENNAB (Race Car Driver): I was the first girl to make the race here in Palestine.

FRENKEL: Ennab says she's been racing for more than seven years, but this year, she's found herself as part of a team, the Speed Sisters, a group of female race car drivers that is breaking stereotypes and hopefully records in the Arab world's increasingly popular car racing scene.

Like many of the girls on the team, Ennab says she began her racing career almost by accident.

Ms. ENNAB: I love cars. I love speed. So I drive fast and also they see me (unintelligible). When I drive fast, they told me to come to the federation and join it.

FRENKEL: So they just saw you driving quickly in the streets?

Ms. ENNAB: Yes.

FRENKEL: How quickly do you drive?

Ms. ENNAB: Quickly.

FRENKEL: And by that, she means more than a half dozen speeding tickets in a single month. Nearly all of the team members have similar stories. They take pride in the fact that nearly every member of the Speed Sisters has been issued a speeding ticket.

Some, like Ennab, were told by police to speak to Khaled Qadura, head of the Palestinian Motorsport Federation. He says that it took no time for women to move from being novelty racers at the track to serious competitors.

Mr. KHALED QADURA (Chairman, Palestinian Motorsports Federation): (Through translator) I'm very proud to see our young women today taking an interest in race car driving and training in order to improve themselves.

FRENKEL: Some of that training has come, thanks to the British consulate, which flew in two professional drivers for a two-day workshop with the Speed Sisters earlier this month.

Karen McLuskie, the British political consul, first discovered the women last year and has since become a patron to the team.

Ms. KAREN McLUSKIE (Political Consul): I think for me, driving's not like other sports; men and women can compete in the same race. And, you know, they're beginning to get there. At the beginning of this season, we had one of our girls who won her category. And you should have seen the faces of the guys.

FRENKEL: In this season's race, nearly all the women fared well against men, and one of the Speed Sisters earned a spot in the top 10. Now the group has welcomed a potential new teammate, Sahar Jawabrah. At 44 and wearing an Islamic headscarf underneath her helmet, she stands out on the track.

During the daytime, she works in a library and tends to her four children, but she says she always fantasized about car racing.

Ms. SAHAR JAWABRAH (Race Car Driver): Here you are alone, just alone, just one, okay? So there's no danger. It's better than going fast in the street.

FRENKEL: As she takes her tiny Daewoo out for a trial run around the track, the engine stalls and she nervously jolts the car back to life. She doesn't place in the top bracket, but she finishes the race to the cheers of the other Speed Sisters.

But not everyone is happy to see her on the track. Despite the growing popularity of racing across the Arab world, a number of Muslim clerics have spoken out against the sport.

Sahar Jawabrah says she's heard men call it haram, or forbidden, but she thinks they're all ill-informed. There's nothing wrong with racing, she says.

While most of the men at the races applaud just as loudly for the female racers as for the men, some say they are uncomfortable with women at the racetrack.

Tareq Sarsou, a 33-year-old Ramallah store owner, said that while he was impressed by the sport, he isn't sure if it's appropriate for Palestinian society.

Mr. TAREQ SARSOU (Store Owner): (Foreign language spoken)

FRENKEL: It looks like fun, he says, but I would not allow my wife, my sister or my daughter to race here. For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel in Ramallah.

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