While casual games of soccer or other sports are not uncommon on the streets of Cairo, women and girls are rarely among those spotted playing. So for one group of female Parkour enthusiasts, even practicing their sport in the country’s capital is remarkable.
Parkour is a physical discipline that evolved out of military obstacle course training, and it involves running, jumping, and climbing over objects in an urban landscape. In Cairo, a group of women can be spotted weekly running through streets and climbing walls, in the hopes of forming Egypt’s first professional Parkour team, Reuters reported.
But the group of women is doing more than jumping over barriers; they’re breaking them down.
While many Egyptian men practice Parkour, women — for whom it is considered improper to play sports in the streets — have been largely shut out of the sport. But female Parkour players in the city are pushing back against these restrictive stereotypes and the sport is starting to gain popularity among women.
"Women are now training and more women are starting to come," Mohamed Omran, the women’s coach, told Reuters. "As the sport spreads the acceptance of women training increases and it is not unusual for women to have a team and train," he said.
The female Parkour players are fighting an uphill battle.
More than 60% of Egyptian men admitted to sexually harassing a woman or girl on the street, according to a 2017 survey conducted by UN Women and Brazilian nonprofit Promundo. In practice, the number of women who have experience street harassment in the country is likely to be much higher. Over 99% of Egyptian women said they experience sexual harassment, including street harassment, in 2013, UN Women reported.
Gender inequality and discriminatory attitudes are stubbornly persistent in Egypt. The North African country was ranked 134th out of 144 countries for gender equality in the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap report.
But things are slowly changing.
Egypt sent its largest delegation of female athletes — 37 in total — to the most recent Olympic Games, held in London in 2016, though even elite female athletes continue to battle sexist attitudes and low wages in the country.
"Many people in Egypt are afraid athletes will lose their femininity, get injured, or lose their virginity," Shaimaa Mohamed, an Egyptian gold medalist in karate, told Vice. And female athletes are typically expected to end their careers to start families.
Still, Cairo’s band of female Parkour players hopes to help shift these social norms just by normalizing the sight of women playing sports in public.
"It is natural that people did not accept [women playing Parkour] because they were not used to it. They did not accept the idea that girls could play sports, let alone on the street," Zayneb Helal, one of the players, told Reuters. "It needs more time to evolve and the sport needs to spread more so that people would learn about it," she said.