Bushra Al Fusail on starting a women-led movement in Yemen

Tell us a bit about yourself and life back in Yemen

I'm a photographer and activist and am currently based in New York City. Back in 2014, we were living generally 'normal' lives in Yemen before the conflict started. What really hit our community hard was when the siege was started by the Saudi-led coalition. The siege hit us so hard that there was no gas or petrol. That is when things really changed for me.

What are the biggest issues that women are currently facing across Yemen? Particularly in light of the recent conflict?

I'll have to answer this in two parts: before the war, and the current situation. Before the war, there was a strong feminist movement. The Arab Spring in 2011 saw strong, amazing voices - especially for activists. It was really powerful to watch. After that, you could both see and hear the women's activists - fighting for equal work and rights that they didn't have.

I was able to put on art exhibitions in Yemen. People started really talking about women's rights in magazines and journalists were really interested in talking about these issues. However, women still weren't able to get a passport without a guardian.

I went to get a passport one time - my dad normally did it for me. I went with my mother, because they said you need a parent. However, when we arrived together, the officials said I had to have a man with me. I protested this and they ended up giving it to be because they didn't want to make a scene. They saw me as a threat and thought I was going to influence other young women.

The [Saudi-led siege] wound women's rights back even further. Communities became really poor. Many women lost their husbands in the conflict and had to work but didn't have the skills. No one could really talk about women's rights. Early marriage started increasing as parents were unable to feed their daughters. Now they are currently stopping women from getting birth control.

What led you to establish the Yemeni Women Bike Group and #BikeForYemen?

The siege wound back rights dramatically. The [Saudi-led] coalition announced on the first day when they started to bomb that it would only be for two weeks. When Trump because President of the United States, it got even worse. We were locked down in our houses and stopped going out.

Everything was locked down into a ghost city. I was sick of staying inside and just needed to go outside. But when I went outside, there was no gas or petrol, so I couldn't drive my car. I had to go to the black market, and prices were almost tripling. There was clearly a crisis happening and it made me realise I had to do something about it.

Biking in Yemen is not common and not in our culture. I saw that men were out cycling because there was no petrol. I love cycling, so started talking to friends and wanted to start cycling - and thought that people would follow. My friends and I decided to start a Facebook page and see what impact we could have.

So we started the Facebook page and started the conversation. We thought that no one would join us, as it was risky to go outside. We didn't want anyone to die as a result of violence on the streets.

When did you decide it was the right time to launch the campaign?

It was announced that there was a truce for three days, and I wanted to just live my best life for those three days. I thought it would be safe with no air strikes, and that it would be a good time to start the cycling. I reached out to everyone I knew and got a massive reaction on social media. We had the mindset of 'let's do something to survive and resist this conflict.'

The problem was that we didn't have bikes. We went to the bike shops and they were selling bikes for hundreds, because of the surge in demand. So, we turned to our neighbours and borrowed bikes. We decided to do it early in the morning to avoid harassment. We woke up at 6am and took all of the bikes to the streets. Then it hit me - what if we got shot at? But I took a deep breath and knew it would be OK.

The women cycling with us momentarily forgot that we were under siege. It gave us so much hope.

I was initially worried that no-one would come, but all my friends showed up. That's all we needed to just take photos and put it on social media, to show the girls that women can ride bikes and resist this conflict. One after the other, girls started to show up. Girls were coming who I didn't even know. Girls were even driving past and stopped to join in.

The women cycling with us momentarily forgot that we were under siege. It gave us so much hope.

We started to post more photos on Facebook and it got the attention of people around the world. Yemeni women living abroad also started a solidarity movement - I saw photos of women all over the world posting about our campaign.

There's now a new movement of women speaking up in Yemen. Girls in college are wearing less conservative clothes and are feeling more comfortable pushing boundaries and the rules. It's really interesting to see.