LAHORE: Around 700 women were handed over keys of motorcycles under a project of the Chief Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit (SRU) at an event held at Alhamra on Sunday.

The keys were handed over by Punjab Excise Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman under the Women on Wheels (WoW) initiative. The minster announced that while the programme had been initiated in five districts of Punjab, they intended to expand it to all 36 districts of the province and make the sight of women riding motorbikes common for society.

Lawyer and civil rights activist Hina Jillani said it was time that a positive social change regarding women came to the mainstream. It was pleasing to see that so many women had come to attend the event.

“I hope you will continue fighting,” she addressed the women in attendance. She said it was a wonderful initiative taken by the chief minister to ensure that women had the freedom to travel, but that he must also make sure the streets were also safe for women.

Shirkat Gah Executive Director Farida Shaheed said that Jinnah’s speech of 1948 had in so many words mentioned that women were to stand shoulder to shoulder with men, but today women were just being locked up inside their homes.

“These roads were built for women too, and it’s high time they can travel on them. The country is not just for men and boys,” she asserted.

UN Women Country Director Jamshed Kazi said that in a recent survey it was discovered that 86 per cent of women who travelled in public transport were subjected to harassment. The highest form of harassment was at bus stops, he quoted the report as saying.

The Women on Wheels project comes at a time when UN Women, Aurat Foundation and the Punjab government released a report discussing lack of public safety for women. Yet many people looked at a woman on a bike in disdain. “One girl managed to save her father from a heart attack thanks to her motorcycle,” he said. “We must not underestimate the power of women being mobile.”

Minister Rehman said the country would progress only when women were bold, brave and ready to break stereotypes and regressive norms. The Punjab government had included women in its cabinet and ministries. He specified that this project helped women purchase motorbikes on subsidised rates and with the collaboration of the traffic police they had also learnt how to ride them too. Women would be able to purchase these motorcycles at Rs25,000.

He added that 3,000 women from Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Sargodha and Multan have been handed over motorcycles in the first phase. These motorcycles had been especially manufactured by Honda Atlas for women. These motorcycles are expected to increase not just mobility, but also access to health and education and, of course, safety from harassment.

Salman Sufi, head of the SRU, said the Punjab government’s work on welfare of women was an excellent example of how committed the government was towards eradicating discrimination.

Later, women took out a ‘bike rally’ led by Sufi and Minister Rehman along with all participants of the event.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2018

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