Meet The Female Palestinian Racers Empowering Women In The Middle East

Motorsports has been a male dominated world since forever, but some pioneering women called the Speed Sisters are chipping away at that status quo with determination to develop their talents behind the wheel and make car racing more accessible to other females who will follow them.

Film director Amber Fares is in the process of shooting Speed Sisters; a movie about the first all-female racing team in the Arab world by the same name. Based out of Palestine, the Speed Sisters compete in racing events around the Middle East. Here's a taste of how the movie's coming together:

We got to a little bit of time with Ms. Fares while she was in the US, and got some background on the Speed Sisters movie.

On why she undertook the project...

"Well, when you come across a story about women race car drivers in the Middle East it is sort of a no-brainer ;) For me personally, it sort of hits a sweet spot. I grew up playing sports quite competitively, so always loved sport and competition. And after 9/11 I saw a real need to show humanizing stories from the middle east, especially about Arab women who are often portrayed in a one dimensional way.

I met Marah [one of the Speed Sisters the movie focuses on] at the first race I attended in Bethlehem in 2009. She was one of the 3 women racing in that event. I started filming Speed Sisters during the 2010 season."

On what her greatest challenges have been...

"Funding is always a challenge in independent documentary and that's something that's taking a lot of our focus right now. We are trying to raise enough money to finish the post production of the film and have launched an online crowd funding campaign: http://donate.speedsisters.tv. All donations from the US are tax deductible."

The project's definitely hungry for a capital infusion to get finished and get produced in time to show it off at some major film festivals. Amber told me she'd had no trouble finding people who "loved the idea" of the Speed Sisters, but shrugged and walked away when it was time to step up with tangible support.

On what she's hoping to achieve with the film...

"our aim is to tell a powerful story that offers an intervention into one-dimensional media coverage around women in the arab world."

One of the movie's star drivers, Marah Zahalqa, was in the US this earlier year to speak at a TEDxTeen presentation in New York. "TED", named for Technology, Entertainment, Design, in 1984, has grown into a full-fledged nonprofit "devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks."

Stephanie Economu, race driving instructor and founder of "Gearhead Girls Racing," helped Marah get a stopover at Connecticut's Lime Rock Park for some sideways action in one of Skip Barber's RX-8s.

Meet The Female Palestinian Racers Empowering Women In The Middle East

She'd never driven in snow before, but didn't have much trouble stepping the car's tail out on Lime Rock's little autocross course.

Ms. Economu founded Gearhead Girls Racing as an online community to help women get educated and involved in the world of motorsports. In her words:

"Gearhead Girls Racing is a community of women that serves as a conduit to connect like-minded women, whether they are active participants, professional racers, or weekend enthusiasts.
 We look to a quote by Ayn Rand in our pursuit of a women's racing league: "The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who's going to stop me."

Through profiles of dozens of drivers, both vintage and current, gearhead girls racing conveys the stories behind the women who take the wheels of very, very quick cars. The event on March 3 facilitates gearhead girls racing's work to fortify the roles of women on the track.

In addition, it makes sense to promote racing as an accessible opportunity for females both on the track and on the business side of things. Speaking of the business side, (team management, PR, engineering, etc) it would be outstanding to see more women in the shops and the pit lanes providing feedback and analysis and engineering skills because psychologically women often approach problems from a different angle of thought than men, often more comprehensive. This has obvious advantages for problem solving. The industry is wide open with opportunities for those ambitious enough. And it is our job here at gearhead girls racing to know exactly who those ladies are."

Meet The Female Palestinian Racers Empowering Women In The Middle East

On the unique barriers women face to getting involved with car racing...

"The only barrier I see is perception. This is one of few sports, in my opinion, where men and women are equal. Women have exactly the same obstacles to overcome as men with the same ability to do so making it a more inclusive sport than most others which put men and women on a different level due to size and weight reasons.

It makes sense to promote women in racing for PR and sponsorship opportunities because it is a hot topic and top of mind in dispelling stereotypes."


On how she got connected with Amber and the Speed Sisters movie...

Without Renee Dupuis, none of this would have happened. Had it not been for her last minute invite back in September 2013 to meet with Lyn St James, Vicki O'Connor and the Womens Sports Foundation at Lime Rock Park for a symposium, the power of networking would not have taken hold to make this event possible.

Months after that symposium, Vicki O'Connor, having remembered me from that event, sent a simple email one wintry Saturday in early February (3 odd weeks before our event on March 3rd) asking if we would be interesting in putting a little something together while Marah was in town... thus began the labor of love to create the event you witnessed."

Meet The Female Palestinian Racers Empowering Women In The Middle East

I'm really looking forward to seeing more female talent coming up in motorsports, thanks to initiatives like Gearhead Girls, the Speed Sisters film and ladies like Marah who indulge their passion for driving.

Images by Mati Milstein.