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Speed Sisters: The Middle East's All-Female Motor Racing Team

Amber Fares' upcoming documentary follows five talented women unafraid to take risks on and off the driving course

by Katharine Erwin in Culture on 13 May 2014

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The Speed Sisters (aka Betty, Marah, Mona, Rhana and Noor) are the subject of a documentary by Amber Fares. The film—which is still in production—follows the lives of the Middle East's first all-female motor racing team, their struggles not only as women in a male-dominated sport, but also in one of the most unstable parts of the world.

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Fares moved to Palestine over six years ago; transitioning from a self-proclaimed "desk jockey" to a self-taught videographer/director. She started working with NGOs to create content when she was hired to make a small video for the British Consulate in Jerusalem—the subject was women drivers in Palestine. The Consulate had donated an old BMW and enlisted former racers Helen Eltrop and Sue Sanders to help instruct women interested in racing. What ensued was an unexpected "huge emotional journey" for Fares as she followed these talented women over a course of four years.

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You never knew where you were going to end up with them.

"You never knew where you were going to end up with them," Fares tells CH. "If they don't have the space to race, they have to find spaces." This isn't an easy feat in military-occupied areas riddled with check-points in a region where many find it peculiar to see women driving at all. The Sisters mainly practice in Ramallah and Jenin, on any available asphalt—which can be anywhere from a vacant fruit market to the tarmac outside of a prison, under watchtowers. "You can't drive your car everywhere you would like to go," says Fares, "But what the girls are able to accomplish is spectacular."

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I don't think we need to be tomboys just because we like cars. We need to be ourselves.

The women participate in Gymkhana-style, short-course races against mostly male drivers in the Palestinian Motor Sport and Motorcycle Federation, and they've proven themselves early on in the racing community by achieving high scores. "A car doesn't know if you are a woman or a man!" team member Betty says. "I don't think we need to be tomboys just because we like cars. We need to be ourselves." Indeed, gender is something that seems to be a point of interest for others, and not so much for the Sisters.

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"What the Speed Sisters are doing is amazing and what they are saying is, 'We are breaking stereotypes,'" says Stephanie Economu, founder of GearHeadGirls who recently held a fundraiser for the Speed Sisters at Lime Rock Park, Connecticut's road-racing venue. "Imagine these ladies: they are in a war-torn territory living a dream. And that dream is uncommon even in the USA. Racing transcends women; it is life, it brings us to together with other like-minded people. We are all speed sisters and speed brothers."

Support the Speed Sisters visit their website. To learn more about the filmmaker, watch Amber Fares' TED Talk.

Images courtesy of Amber Fares

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