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Blame game follows cancellation of women’s cycle rally

Updated January 20, 2019

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Women ride bicycles while taking part in Girls on Bike rally in Islamabad. ─ Reuters/File
Women ride bicycles while taking part in Girls on Bike rally in Islamabad. ─ Reuters/File

PESHAWAR: The organisers have begun playing the blame game following the cancellation of a bicycle rally for women and transgender persons over backlash from clerics, who called the event organised by three non-governmental organisations promotion of ‘vulgarity and obscenity’.

Accusing an organiser to have put lives of participants at stake by leaking the information about event and inciting the clergy’s hostile response, two organisations involved in the holding of the ‘Women on Wheels’ cycle rally in Peshawar say the event will happen soon.

The rally scheduled for Saturday (Jan 19) was cancelled Friday night when first Majlis Ulema Hayatabad condemned it in Friday sermon and other religio-political parties, including Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl and Jamaat-i-Islami held protests to block the event declaring it the promotion of ‘vulgarity and obscenity”.

Two NGOs accuse another of leaking event details, third insists rally cancelled over reaction

The Pak Development Mission in collaboration with the Professional Development Organisation and Zmung Jwandun (ZJ) had planned the event in the Hayatabad Sports Complex and got the permission of the local administration for it.

The two main organisers issued a joint news release on Saturday starting the blame game over failure to hold the event. The PDO and PDM accused the ZJ of endangering the life of participants and the bicycle rally.

The release issued by the PDM and PDO said the provincial government had been very supportive but Wafa Wazir, founder of ZJ, leaked the rally’s information to the media though the three organisations had agreed not to disclose the event details for the safety of participants.

“Expecting backlash, three of us had agreed not to leak out any event information. The rally participants were selected, while their privacy was ensured through a WhatsApp group but it all was put at stake by Wafa Wazir through violation of the agreement,” said PDO head Eiman Jamil.

She, however, declared said the event would happen soon.

“Hopes are high. We are keeping our fingers crossed,” she said adding that the participants continued to take place in the event.

As the PDO and PDM announced to hold a news conference on Monday (Jan 21), Wafa Wazir of ZJ said she would speak to the media about the rally cancellation today (Sunday).

She said she didn’t want to endanger the lives of participants and cancelled the rally to ensure their safety and show respect to the local culture and traditions.

Ms Wafa said there were no direct threats to the event but when she saw adverse reaction on social media and decided to cancel the event.

“We had even asked women participants to wear shalwar qameez and cover face with veil,” she said adding that she wanted to show through the rally that peace has returned to Peshawar.

Ms Wafa said the event was not about women’s empowerment and instead, it was just for promoting softer image of Peshawar.

“We cancelled the rally for the sake of the safety of participants. The mindset would slowly change,” she said.

Rights activist Tahira Kaleem criticised organisers for cancelling the bicycle rally and said it seemed that the rally was a mismanaged event.

“The mismanagement of three organisations holding the rally gave space to the extremist mindset to push back the women seeking and working for social space for women,” she said.

Ms Tahira said the rally’s cancellation encouraged extremists to exert themselves and that the whole episode turned out to be counterproductive.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2019