Yiota Kamaratos
Middle East Times
April 13, 2007

BEIRUT — Follow the Women, a group whose like-minded female members hail from 30 countries, is currently on a 12-day bicycle ride for peace, aiming to raise awareness for Middle East crises, in solidarity with the women of the region.

This worthy initiative was born out of concern for the situation in the Palestinian territories and the daily suffering of Palestinian women and children due to the ongoing Israeli occupation.

Today, the almost 200-strong group has brought together female cyclists from Arab countries, the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and South America, all dedicated to showing the world their support for a Middle East peace.

Day One, April 7, began with the women cycling through Aleppo, Syria, where they were warmly welcomed by locals who had lined the streets to shower the riders with flowers and offer them their thanks.

A day later, the cyclists were pleasantly surprised when the First Lady of Syria, Asma Al Assad, rode the 36-kilometer (22-mile) route with them in Lattakia.

Now, halfway through the awareness-raising event, the participants continue to be overwhelmed by the generous hospitality of the people of the Middle East.

In the land of the cedar, the women have been cycling through different regions of Lebanon, taking in its beauty and meeting the people of the local communities. In the words of Bahia Hariri, sister of the assassinated former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, “Inside every woman, there is a real power.”

Follow the Women is releasing this inner power to touch and empower women of the Middle East to make a change in their own lives as well as in the region’s future.

The emotions experienced have been unique. All the female participants, regardless of their nationality, have been warmly embraced by the Syrian and Lebanese people, helping to dispel the earlier misconceptions some had carried from their own countries.

The hopes of the women participating in the event are centered around the idea of gaining a greater understanding of the realities on the ground in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories, so as to return to their homelands and share their experiences with others via awareness campaigns, as well as to be able to exert pressure on their local authorities regarding the issue of peace in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, during the course of the ride, the cyclists have bonded by sharing discussions, exchanging views, beliefs, and experiences from their daily lives, allowing a multicultural learning process to develop naturally.

Follow the Women has had a definite impact on those participants hailing from countries outside the Middle East. Western riders have been reflecting on the situation in the region, learning and absorbing its history, culture, and present realities, not merely as tourists passing through, but as part of a peaceful event allowing a firsthand awareness of life in the Middle East.

In addition to the personal development taking place, the women are building a wider network of worldwide contacts to facilitate cooperation on future awareness-raising projects on issues such as human rights, gender issues, and Middle East youth. It is worth noting that the first Follow the Women ride in April 2004, raised money and donated funds toward a youth counseling center in Ramallah, West Bank.

The fears some of the cyclists have regarding the issue of peace vary between the Western participants and those who come from the Middle East. Western women have no apprehension when it comes to a peace initiative, whereas the majority of Middle East women have said that they fear peace would be brought about at the expense of the Palestinians’ right to return to their homeland.

As the second leg of the ride begins, the women continue to press on in their mission of peace, taking their message to Jordan and to the West Bank.

On a personal note …
I salute Syrian’s First Lady, Mrs. Basma al-Assad for setting a formidable example of taking initiative. Her participation is a clear and bold statement PRO PEACE – for others to follow!

I’d LOVE to see Israel’s First Lady, Mrs. Aliza Olmert to participate in PRO PEACE-women events, just as the wife of Jordan’s monarch, Her Majesty Queen Ranja. I’d hope Egypt’s First Lady, Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak would hear the call as well as Lebanon’s First Lady Mrs. Andree Lahoud, the Palestinian First Lady Amina Abbas and of course Prime Minister Haniya’s wife who’s name, I apologize, I was unable to find out.

Women have the ability to solve problems off the battle field and should definitely take advantage of that. Can you imagine the POWER behind such a movement? NOTHING could block their way … and this region would work toward REAL PEACE!

I firmly believe this planet would look different today – in an absolutely POSITIVE sense, would women rule!


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